It was a few months back that I was looking for a copy of Eurekha! to read. I searched and searched, but this famous (read notorious) book about legendary Bollywood actress Rekha was nowhere to be found.
“Come on now stop looking for the book. It seems that the only existing copy of the book is with the author of the book”, said a friend to me. And that is when I started looking for the author. I really wanted to know more about my favorite screen goddess Rekha and the only unauthorized and much talked about biography of the actress was written by Mohan Deep sahab.
One fine day I looked up his social media contacts and dropped him a line via Twitter. “Is there any way I can have a copy of the books you have written? I want to read them but they are not available in Pakistan”. The next day, Deep sahab replied to me via twitter.
“Let me know which book you want to read. I will send it across”. I was ecstatic. “Mohan Deep has written about Madhubala too and O My God! I can get hold of his book about another favorite actress of mine, Meena Kumari. Oh and yes, Rekha to phir Rekha hai!.
It is a long story how over a long period of time and over a handful of discussions about films, actors, actresses, and the industry as a whole that this relationship shaped itself up into a “guru-chaila” relationship. I am proud to say that I have learnt some of the craft of writing from the real master of the game, Mohan Deep sahab.
Despite being constantly in touch with him, it took some convincing to talk about his experience as a writer especially with reference to his trilogy of books about leading screen goddesses of Bollywood. A special point to mention here is that he has not provided any critique on these actresses but has dissected their lives as people who were ordinary, and full of flaws, and he is still not judgmental in his writing.
While my guru and chaila relationship continues, here is the interview. We have disagreed on the nature of questions too. I am a serious Rekha fan, and I wanted to know more about her and how Mohan Deep sahab researched for his book. He wants to focus more on his fiction books. Both of us got away with almost equal share in the pie!
“No star biographies! It is Feng Shui and Fiction for me now!” – Mohan Deep
Indian author and controversial star-biographer Mohan Deep has been an active part of Indian media scene, as a journalist and writer for over 40 years. He was a leading short story writer in Sindhi when he moved to English. His three bestselling star biographies (Mystery and Mystique of Madhubala, Simply Scandalous: Meena Kumari and Eurekha!) published in the nineties placed him in a different class.
Unlike the regular biographies these books treated the subjects as human beings and portrayed them with warts and all. He became famous as star biographer but his roots were in literature. This was the reason he has returned to fiction again and again. His first novel was It’s My Life and the last is The Five Foolish Virgins. He is working on a novella tentatively titled Love Story Gone Wrong.
But that is only one side of Mohan Deep. He is the face of Feng Shui in India, giving consultation on lay outs and by personal visits. He counts several film stars among his clients. Add to that his Feng Shui paintings. He is the only Feng Shui Master in India who paints and energizes his symbolic paintings.
In his most sensational interview to Films Plus Movies, Mohan Deep answers some questions.
Q: If you hadn’t written the three star biographies, who would you have written about? You were also actively writing about the politicians and underworld figures.
A: I toyed with the biography of Haji Mastan and we even shook hand about it. But there were complications. He wanted me to keep out many things, things that I knew to be true. I wanted to write a biography that could satisfy me on creative level, as a writer. Mastan wanted a vehicle that could justify and glorify his life. I even considered a biography of Sindhi martyrs Hemu Kalani but it didn’t have larger appeal. Who besides Sindhis know about him?
Q: Tell us about your days as a Sindhi writer.
A: I wrote in the Sindhi language and I have been published in Sindhi magazines in India and Pakistan. It was creatively a rewarding period, when I wrote over 200 short stories and a couple of novels. Unfortunately, the readership in Sindhi was very limited, so I decided to write in English. I took up freelance journalism as a career. Though it was an exciting profession, I couldn’t imagine being a journalist for the rest of my life. I decided to quit while at the top, when every article I wrote was creating waves. I wanted to write books.
Q: What did you really do?
A: I gave myself a creative challenge by selling the idea of a biography of the late film star Madhubala to the boss of the Magna group, which had planned to get into book publishing. I was thinking of Arthur Miller’s biography of Marilyn Monroe, without realizing that we don’t have – and never had – the culture of honesty in biographies, have never had.
Seeing that Miller was Monroe’s third and last husband, and I had never met Madhubala, who was already dead, I ended up doing a Kitty Kelly act on her. I investigated her life, read whatever had been published about her in English, Hindi and Urdu, interviewed everyone who had worked with her, and wrote The Mystery and Mystique of Madhubala. It is considered the most authentic book about her.
My next biography was Simply Scandalous: Meena Kumari. I used the same method for this biography too. And then I completed the trilogy with Eurekha!, an unauthorized biography of Rekha. It was translated in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali and this bio too fared very well. The trilogy was bestsellers, and was received well, and they placed me in a different league as a writer. I’ve been told that these biographies were of the standard of BBC.
Q: Because they exposed the truth about the three actresses?
A: It is not right to call them exposures. These three legends were not scams waiting to be investigated. My bios elevated the stature of the three legends by bringing the spotlight on their work and private life like it had never been done before.
Rekha must be grateful to me for including her in the trilogy with the other two legends. I can imagine how left-out the others must feel. Of course, they can have all the books on their lives, but – I say it very humbly – no biography would match the honesty and objectivity of my trilogy? “Rekha was over the hill when ‘Eurekha’ brought the spotlight on her.”
Q: Tell us more about Rekha and ‘Eurekha!’
A: I was no fan of Rekha. Come to think of it, I have never been a ‘fan’ type journalist. Rekha was over the hill and out of the news when my book ‘Eurekha’ brought the spotlight on her. There isn’t an interview of her since then, that doesn’t mention my book. Whatever she had achieved as an actress and all the colourful scandals in her life were past and forgotten.
Q: But Rekha has always distanced herself from the biography.
A: Yeah, she wanted people to forget her scandalous past. She didn’t want people to know that she had attempted suicide, that she was caught shoplifting in London, that she had been humiliated repeatedly on the sets and off it, that she was involved with Kiran Kumar but his family was against their marriage, that she had married Vinod Mehra but his mother had thrown her out on the day after marriage, that she was seriously linked with Sunil Dutt and Sanjay Dutt at different times, about her marriage with Mukesh Agarwal and his suicide, her emotional dependence on her girl Friend Farzana…Rekha would only like to be remembered as Tulsi Amitabh ke Aangan ki…And she might have gotten away with it, but for ‘Eurekha!’.
Q: There were other journalists of your generation who would know about her true story.
A: Every journalist of my generation knows the reality of Rekha. That is why no one disputed my version. Not even Rekha! Honestly, Rekha should have been grateful that I had devoted several months to write a book on her life. It extended her ‘shelf life’ in the media, if not in films. This happened to Madhubala and Meena Kumari too.
Q: So you think that you added glamour to Rekha, Meena Kumari and Madhubala!
A: My biographies extended their life! TV channels frequently run stories on these three actresses quoting extensively from my biographies and displaying my books. They don’t run similar stories on, say, Nargis, Raakhi or Zeenat Aman.
Q: Some said that Rekha got ‘Eurekha!’ banned?
A: Fortunately, we have democracy in India! There is no question of Rekha getting her biography banned. Why, even Indira Gandhi couldn’t do it when my friend Dom Moraes wrote her biography. During the writing of ‘Mrs. Gandhi’, Indira Gandhi got annoyed at his probing questions. She called off the project, but Moraes went ahead and completed the biography anyway. Though she was the PM, Mrs. Gandhi couldn’t stop him. Do you think Rekha could do it and I would watch silently? ‘Nehru and the Tantrik Woman’ wasn’t allowed to be staged on the grounds that “it could cause a law and order problem.”
Q: What was the trouble about ‘Nehru and the Tantrik Woman’?
A: I wrote a play. It was based on facts and some fiction. Historical fiction, First the fact, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had a torrid affair with Shardha Mata. Mata delivered his baby which was given in adoption.
No one knows who adopted the baby. I set my play in the emergency period and it was about the imaginary search for Nehru’s son. I suggested that he could be the messiah when all the top opposition leaders, including Jaiprakash Narayan, Atal Behari Vajpayer, L K Advani, and George Fernandes were behind bars.
Q: And this play was banned!
A: We have a Censor Board for public performances. They refused to issue the permission, on the grounds that “staging this play could cause a law and order problem”. It was the Congress government. May be now it can be staged, but I have lost interest. In fact, and I am admitting it for the first time, that for a long time I lost interest in writing because of this stifling atmosphere.
Q: Now when the present regime in India seems to be systematically destroying what is considered ‘Nehru Legacy’, do you think the time has come to take a second look at ‘Nehru and the Tantrik Woman’?
A: I have been approached by one theatre group in Mumbai for staging the play but the talks are at preliminary stage. My idea of writing this was not to destroy ‘Nehru Legacy’ or even to damage the image of Pandit Nehru. Years before, stories I newspapers had established Nehru’s love child. I merely took that as the ground for my fictional play. It doesn’t make any difference to me if the world takes a second look at my play now.
Q: Your biographies can be made into films or docudramas!
A: Yes, I had almost made a proposal for the BBC when Feng Shui happened to me. I had also lost interest. It changed my life. I went as deep into this subject as I had gone into the life of the three leading ladies. I practiced Feng Shui for over a decade, content and happy. I still practice and offer consultation. This has been my main profession, but the thought of writing more books always remained in the back of my mind.
“I saw that Feng Shui really worked.”
Q: How did Feng Shui happen?
A: I was always interested in painting, and also in the oriental philosophy. I came across books about the ancient science of geomancy. It is now popular as Feng Shui. I wrote a few articles and had long discussions with some friends in the industry. I also did a couple of courses. They were ready to experiment. I saw that Feng Shui really worked. So, I started giving consultation occasionally. And then I wrote a book. Feng Shui for the Bold & Beautiful, the Rich & Famous.
Q: And you again returned to writing fiction?
A: I had never gone away! This story of The Five Foolish Virgins remained in my mind for a long time. I don’t write an outline and then build a story around it. I let the characters become familiar to me, I let the people I have known over the years become part of those characters, and let some characters take birth from thin air. I also create some loveable characters. If your characters are loveable, you have won the battle.
Q: And the plot! The Five Foolish Virgins is a sure page-turner. Tell me, is Sam, the journalist who lives in with an actress, your alter ego?
A: There is a lot of me in Sam, but very definitely not a relationship like I have depicted in the novel.
Q: Your female characters have been the most talked about. You seem to go deep into their minds and portray them authentically. There is Shano, Sita, Sheila, Nafisa…Let’s talk about Sheila.
A: I got the name from the 50s actress Sheila Ramani. She was my father’s cousin. I had never met her. Clearly, she shortened her surname from Chandiramani. I too wanted to do it but I dropped my surname altogether. As for the empathy with women characters, I remember receiving the first compliment from Prof. Mangharam Malkani, a huge scholar and a literary critic. It was for a short story entitled Nari Jo Mann which means ‘The Woman’s Heart’.
He said that I was one of the few writers who understood the mind of a woman. (Smiles) I don’t think he was right. No one, not even a woman knows her mind! But I have been successful in portraying women as I love and respect them and treat them like that. You’ll fail in your depiction if you place them on a pedestal. The same woman who sits on a pedestal may also be the most foxy, sly, vengeful, selfish, greedy and ambitious person. There are many women hiding in one woman.
Q: Which authors have influenced you and your writing?
A: A very difficult question. I have read extensively fiction in Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi, Sindhi and English. So the influences come from all these cultures, and then, American and British authors.
Q: Tell us about your next novel. Is it woman-centric?
A: It is a Love Story Gone Wrong! I am writing this in a little different way. The Five Foolish Virgins worked on two levels – outer conflicts and inner conflicts. It was a saga that started in Karachi during the partition, had a life span of over 60 years and ended in today’s Mumbai. The one I am writing now is a novella. Every chapter – short or long – is a scene. Quick and easy to read.
Q: Why the change in style?
A: The readers’ profile has been changing. People have become so used to 140 characters and 250 word posts that a long novel bores them. Their attention span has reduced.
Q: What about the future?
A: More novels, of course! But I have an instinctive dislike for routine… so you never know. My favorite quote is of John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Note from the interviewer: We as a team are thankful to Mohan Deep sahab for taking time out for this detailed interview. He has spent a life time researching these topics and I do believe we need to conduct another interview with him to know more about his work on Dilip Kumar sahab too. Thank you, sir, for your time. And despite all you have written, am still Rekha fan!