Friday, Oct 19, 2018 | Last Update : 08:48 PM IST

Elegant writing that doesn’t reveal much

Published : Jan 7, 2018, 1:07 am IST
Updated : Jan 7, 2018, 1:07 am IST

Khan also notes more than once that she would not have gotten a chance to write this book had it not been for her surname.

The perils of being moderateLy famous by Soha Ali Khan, Penguin Random, House, Rs 171.
 The perils of being moderateLy famous by Soha Ali Khan, Penguin Random, House, Rs 171.

The author makes it clear from the first line that anyone picking up her book for tidbits on the makeup skills of her sister-in-law Kareena Kapoor or brother Saif Ali Khan’s controversial eugenics theory will be disappointed.

To that I may add another caution: there are no bombs dropped either, a la Nawazuddin Siddiqui in his (now withdrawn) book about sensational romantic exploits. But a little into The Perils of Being Moderately Famous and you get a sense that it is only to be expected.

The daughter of Sharmila Tagore and Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi is too classy to be a name-dropper or sensation-seeker. It would be “unfair” to parade old relationships in public, she says so she gives a general feel which communicates her experiences but doesn’t get specific or shame anyone. As for her famous sibling or the rest of her family, she maintains the memoir is a tribute to them as she is who she is because of them but that the book is about her, not them. The parents’ relationship is documented more in relation to their parenting - she mentions their “love” once as the reason for her existence, though Sharmila herself described the relationship between herself and the late Nawab in more measured terms as “a memorable partnership”.

We know, of course, that Pataudi was a towering figure in the world of cricket besides the enigma of royalty he carried and Sharmila is a superstar, related to Rabindranath Tagore but their role as parent figures, with liberal values and family wealth that can create opportunities for their children and steer them in a certain direction adds an interesting dimension that only this book could give.

Soha Ali Khan is at her best, tender and affectionate, writing on them, packing in anecdotes that build a sketch of the values and upbringing they provided. It is undoubtedly a life of privilege but with a legacy that can be intimidating, even to those born into it. Stardom may have gone to the brother but grace seems to be a legacy received by Soha, another reason why she gets away with this book.

She lists the achievements and Nawabi traditions as well as the intellectual and artistic pursuits of the maternal and paternal sides of her family but does so in a touchingly self-deprecating manner, contrasting the tough daily regime her great grandmother, the ruler of Bhopal, placed upon her daughter — lessons, sport, more lessons, in a typically “early to bed, early to rise day” — with her own bum-my routine of rising late, too many cups of coffee and checking through Instagram feed. She’s hilarious in parts.

Khan also notes more than once that she would not have gotten a chance to write this book had it not been for her surname. She mentions how doors opened to her or film roles have walked in due to connections. She is aware both of her privilege and also that she has not lived up to the stardom of her family.

Yet she aspires to work for her supper, fulfill her creative pursuits and learn from the opportunities life presents, be it chucking up a “list” of must-haves from a prospective husband (“must have lived or studied abroad”, “must be a non-actor”) or travel outside her comfort zone and hiking across Europe with college friends while at Oxford.

Shoestring budget and friends with lack of access to foreign stints may be unremarkable reality for most of us but they are big life lessons for Soha, born with a silver spoon in her mouth and she navigates them with honesty and humility.

Everyone loves a “rags to riches” story. Everyone loves a “riches to riches” story as well because the pomp and show seems out of grasp of ordinary mortals. But Soha fits neither bracket. Nor does she position herself as a poor little rich girl that would make it easy to dislike her slightly or feel a reverse pity. She has worked for and achieved a respectable working life so she cannot be faulted as a bum who lived off her family but she is unmistakably aware that while she has strived to be good at what she does, many things have come to her easier because of her inherited name and fame. That she can put her face on the cover of a book and pronounce herself “moderately famous” also requires some comfort in her own skin. It takes a firm head on one’s shoulders, not to mention perhaps a decent upbringing, to be grounded. This book is, therefore, significant for the perspective that rich and famous or not. In the end, it is our values that define us. And perhaps, that grace, class and humility are not the domain of either the effortlessly rich or the long-suffering poor but traits that can be acquired or inherited across the board.

Is the book good as a read? It’s patchy, or in Bollywood terms, evoking “mixed response”. While reflective and insightful on family, she gets banal with her pontifications on Mills & Boon vs Real Love, or way too self indulgent when on her pregnancy —  she does, again, have the intelligence to know she is inflicting it on the reader, asking forgiveness for feeling they have stumbled into a “pregnancy chat room” but it’s all she can think about for the moment.

She’s caustic about the 90s era which put her off Bollywood and pushed her towards a corporate job initially and charmingly funny when juxtaposing her “accomplishments” with those of her famous family. She could have elaborated on her life in Bollywood, providing some insight into the workings of the industry but she skims through and even only giving a summary of some of her films like Rang De Basanti where she was part of an ensemble cast while only mentioning in passing Khoya Khoya Chand which was a memorable film though not a box office hit. Instead she takes the easy way out, using too many pages for her views on difference between Delhi and Mumbai for a working person, a Lutyens’ staple drawing room conversation carried into the book and not one to which she brings enough depth or perspective for it to be of any note.

She is an elegant writer but you get the feeling she lacks the push or didn’t take it seriously enough — maybe because, again, she got it so easily. But that is one of the perils of being moderately famous like Soha Ali Khan.

The writer is a blogger and freelance journalist based in New Delhi. She is author of Among the Chatterati.

Tags: book, book review, kareena kapoor, saif ali khan