'The Patels of Filmindia' by Sidharth Bhatia. Indus Source Books, 2015.
'The Patels of Filmindia' by Sidharth Bhatia. Indus Source Books, 2015.

‘A kick in the pants’

COLUMN: Of a writer and a magazine that brought drama to film criticism.

Some years ago I accompanied my colleague and friend Sidharth Bhatia to a bungalow in the starry Mumbai suburb of Bandra. We had an appointment with Sushila Rani Patel, the widow of the prolific film writer and politician Baburao Patel. Sidharth was then researching his book on Navketan Studios and wanted to consult Sushila. He was also hoping to dip into the archives of Filmindia, the pioneering film magazine edited and published by Baburao Patel, which first came out in 1935. Sushila met us resplendent in a beautiful sari, makeup in place, fresh flowers in her hair. She was 92, and a treasure trove of facts and anecdotes about the film industry, which she had observed intimately for decades. She showed me her law degree, as well as photographs from the film, where she played the leading lady. Talking to her, I felt this was a Bombay story – one that was not only about the life and times of a couple, but of an era in the city's history and its cinema.

Years later, Sidharth has carried the visit to a satisfactory conclusion with The Patels of Filmindia, a delightful volume of writings selected from back issues of Filmindia. What leaps off the pages of the book – as it did of the magazine – is Baburao's personality, who wrote with a vitriolic pen and a dramatic style that was entirely his own. He imprinted his character strongly on the magazine, which he wrote virtually by himself for a long while. This made him unpopular among those he chose to pan (always in the strongest terms) but also immensely loved by a loyal and large pool of readers. It also gave Filmindia great clout in industry circles, and for several years, it was without serious rivals. The magazine might have faded from the public memory in the last few decades, but in its heyday, it held sway in the most influential quarters, and thanks to its editor, was quite unique.

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