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  • What the Stars TellThe Year in India
  • Pramod K. Nayar (bio)

Four Bollywood stars—three established and one "moderately famous," as she describes herself—contributed to the genre of star auto/biographies in India in 2017–18: Rishi Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Karan Johar, and Soha Ali Khan. Two of the books list co-authors, although the extent of the collaborations is unspecified. As befits the star memoir or biography, each text is interspersed with photographs of the star's illustrious family, the star in the company of other celebrities, and occasionally film posters or stills. These books include a considerable amount of family history, which in all cases is also a history of Bollywood's top film-families. They offer glimpses into scandals, rumors, and individual moments of despair and uncertainty. In what follows I will discuss select features common to these star biographies.

Life Writing, Adaptation, and Interart

Star biographies, especially those that have their provenance in the world of arts, may be profitably read as adaptations that result in "interart" forms (Kamilla Elliot's term, cited in Andrews 368). Discussing the use of poetry in biopics of poets, Hannah Andrews argues that the incorporation of artwork into the written life of the artist emphasizes the "biographical understanding of artwork." Further, it raises questions as to whether poetry is an appropriate form for "textual transferal" (370).

Following Andrews, my proposition is that the star reinforces their star-value through the generation of an interart work, in which the life story is framed within the film history of the individual, and the films are framed by the life of the actor. The films are the subjects of the adaptation process, and they underscore the fact that the life of the star has been adapted for life writing in print. In other words, we as readers recognize that the star's life has been adapted for our consumption precisely because the filmic elements are part of this narrative. We are never allowed to move too far away from the auto/biographical subject because the art—the films—is [End Page 62] always intruding in the form of a paratextual apparatus.

In star life writing, the paratexts—or the films—extend the main text, as Gérard Genette suggests. The filmic photographs included in these print biographies are paratexts that move from one form of narrative representation—memoir, biography—into another, the film, and back again. The film and the life narrative are bracketed off from each other, but osmotically feed off each other. We can see how Sanjay Dutt looked in his first film in 1981, Rocky, from the reprinted film poster, or a collage that shows Rishi Kapoor in his various celebrated screen roles. Karan Johar's An Unsuitable Boy gives us photographs of the events that happened behind the scenes during the shooting of his films, thus creating an additional layer of signification: the director-producer is himself filmed when speaking with the stars. This additional layer, via posters, shots of the filmmaking process, among other things, ensures that we understand the auto/biography is a sum total of the star's filmic roles but also a star-bildungsroman. This last becomes evident when each of the star auto/biographies attempts to map the growth of the boy or girl (the star-child) within the space of the home but also within the space of the film industry itself. Thus, Johar and Kapoor recall how, in their childhoods, several film stars visited their homes and interacted with their families. They record their own awe but also quiet acceptance that their families were different in the sense that the stars whom others could only see on screen came to their homes.

The additional layer of signification that adapts the art to the life and vice versa is further complicated by the family portraits that every single star biography includes. Thus, we see the entire Kapoor clan, the Khan family, the Johars, and the Dutts represented in family portraits. Each film star, as noted before, comes from a distinguished film family. Rishi Kapoor reminds us twice that of the over one hundred years India has had cinema, the Kapoor family...


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pp. 62-68
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