Gallery of memories
Himmat Singh Gill

Counting My Blessings
by B. K. Karanjia.
Penguin-Viking. Rs 495. Pages 297.

Way back in 1943 he passes the Indian Civil Service examination but refuses the job and joins up as a literary assistant in the National War Front organisation in India. He then switches to film journalism, abandons that too after some time and joins Godrej, which is setting up a factory in Malaysia, as their publicity manager. Some time later, believing in the maxim, "Once a journalist, always a journalist," he accepts the editorship of Filmfare and joins the world of the Times of India where: "Every day, morning and afternoon, we were served tea by liveried waiters. I must say this of the Times of India organisation–they did everything in style." A man of many parts, B.K. is stylish and versatile in whatever he did, and humorous to the core. He describes a star-studded cricket match, "Nalini Jaywant refused to go back after being clean bowled and skippers Motilal and Raj Kapoor had to save the situation by lifting and carrying her all the way to the pavilion".

B.K whose other brother was Russi Karanjia of the Blitz magazine, has served the readers a feast of unpretentious yet unputdownable account of life in the times when the present-day Bollywood was just about finding its feet in the Indian Republic after World War II.

Every bureaucrat, technocrat and corporate captain should read this book to remind himself of the joys and pleasure of running a happy and efficient team where tradition and the right work ethics ( as opposed to just making money) were king.

Interspersed with never-seen-before photographs of the captivating beauties Nargis and Suraiya, a most handsome Dilip Kumar with his comely wife Saira Banu, Raj Kapoor clowning away at cricket, and peppered with anecdotes sentimental and sweet(Nargis and Dilip Kumar are both retiring, and Nargis says, "We’ll build two cottages.You grow vegetables and I’ll grow flowers, and we’ll exchange them." Dilip says, "We will build one house.You live downstairs and I’ll live upstairs." Nargis retorts, "You send your wife to me and I’ll send my husband to you." And Dilip commiserates, "Both will be hard up!"). The down-to-earth Karanjia can really tell a story well. He recalls the last moments of that vivacious and stunning beauty Madhubala, whom the film industry "notorious for its short memory" ignored, with all the producers who had made fortunes on her not even calling on her or sending her a bouquet of flowers. Or about Dada Saheb Phalke, the father of Indian film industry, not being able to find a job and joining up with a small Marathi weekly to keep himself afloat.

Often without a job himself, B.K had modelled himself on the lines of Gen Douglas MacArthur, who at a critical juncture in the Far-East during the World War II in retreat had said, "I will return".

Written with complete honesty and sans bravado, this is an author who has seen it all in the film world. The ups and downs of life, the cussedness of many from whom better was expected, and at 86 savouring it all in his reflective moments that are now many. This is a powerful slice of famous men and women playing out their part on the world’s stage. Editor of Filmfare and Screen, and stewardship of FFC and the NFDC, Karanjia has chronicled the history of the film world of his time in a riveting manner.The censors then were as bad as they are now but Karanjia tells of ways adopted to keep ahead of their cutting scissors;(By showing the heroine drenched, "her charms showing through".Or when you could not show a women’s bust, by "make(ing) her ride a horse").Having told a story well yet B.K in all his modesty feels that he is not clear as how to sum up his 40 years in film journalism.He says that in his moments of loneliness, "I visit my gallery, not of events but of memories, and I find myself back in time by forty years".