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Did you know, cinema legend Kishore Kumar wanted a swing like Tarzan's in his home? Or that the great Rafi fell in love with a fragrance? Bollywood stars often generate controversies on websites, but virtual encounters with them can be both enriching and meaningful as Asha Bhosle's tweets show, serving up delectable tidbits on films, artistes and backdrops.
Much has been said about Hindi film celebrities on the social networking website, Twitter. Bollywood stars are often criticised for using the site only to publicise films, brag about hits, nod graciously to gushing fans or publish inane statements, sometimes in eclectic English. However, like every mirror of society, Twitter, with its galaxy of stars and universe of fans, has a positive flipside - it often gives lovers of Hindi cinema a chance to learn more about the industry, teaching fans a thing or two about language along the way. Twitter features a variety of Bollywood stars, including the 'holy trinity' of Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, superstar Amitabh Bachchan, the iconic Shammi Kapoor, actors Akshay Kumar, Arjun Rampal and Ajay Devgn, directors Karan Johar, Shekhar Kapur and Sajid Khan, character actor Boman Irani and younger stars like Sonam Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Imran Khan. Interestingly, there are few female superstars on the site;Madhuri Dixit was rumoured to join, but Sridevi, Kajol and Katrina Kaif aren't following anybody's tweets just yet. However, slightly redressing the gender and age balance, one of the most active tweeters is the legendary playback artist, Asha Bhosle. The singer of more than 12, 000 songs, including super-hit numbers like Dum Maro Dum, Chura Liya and Dil Cheez, Bhosle has taken to Twitter like a fish to water. Her page is filled with insightful, witty, oft-sharp comments as she expresses a diversity of views while interacting with fans. Pleasantly, Bhosle takes pains to provide small details and 'backdrop' stories about other extraordinary stars of the cinema industry, most notably her fellow playback singers Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi, and the inimitable composer R D Burman.
Sample this - on his birth anniversary, Bhosle tweeted a story about the golden-voiced Rafi saab loving the Yardley perfume, Bond Street. It became a signature scent, signaling his arrival and departure from recording studios, the white-suited singer even wiping mikes down with his perfumed handkerchief. Tweeting that Kishore Kumar wanted a swing in his living room just like Tarzan's, Bhosle recounted Kishore-da refusing an invitation to sing a complimentary song in exchange for an award, stating, "Mujhe award nahin, reward chahiye (I need reward, not award)! " Bhosle regularly recalls details about littleremembered, yet wonderful artists (including composer Jaidev, poet Anand Bakshi and comic actor Johnnie Walker who apparently played tournament tennis). She tweets tales of musical milestones, including Gulzar's gorgeous poetry set to music with Mera Kuch Samaan (humourously called 'the luggage song' by Burman) and the memorable Seene Mein Jalan, which some musicians referred to as 'the acidity song'. In addition, Bhosle tweets about her travels, political takes and her colleagues' experiences, including Kishore Kumar being removed from a South African beach during apartheid. For those who love Hindi cinema, these are invaluable stories, precious nuggets of information from a glittering mine that has enthralled India for over a century. Despite its longevity and significance, there have been startlingly few books published on the Hindi cinema industry, tracing its history, highlighting its characters. Few avenues take fans to the backdrop behind movie production, helping enthusiasts understand how lyrics are written, scenes composed and 'classics' breathed to life. Few magazines provide information on cinema beyond gossip or hagiographies, and few crossroads exist where stars can interact with cinema-lovers without jostling for autographs or preening for pictures. In contrast, the West understands the profundity of popular culture. Renowned institutions regularly feature in-depth explorations of popular, particularly cinematic, culture. Recently, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised a retrospective on contemporary filmmaker Tim Burton while the Victoria and Albert Museum in London highlighted vintage star Grace Kelly's career. Such shows serve a dual purpose - they celebrate the zest and verve of popular culture, created by and for ordinary people, not princes or popes. They also explore the context to such culture, threads of the times that embroider costumes, shades of the economy which colour film sets, moods of the people that form the dialogues they speak, the music they play, the expressions they depict.
These aspects are important in the process of a society learning about itself, knowing its past, imagining its future, loving its strengths and improving on its weaknesses. Sadly, in India, we have no institutions that encourage such introspection through an intensive look at what we love seeing anyway. In this scenario, Twitter and its more erudite artistes, willing to discuss cinema and concepts freely, come as a refreshing breeze. Where else do you get Shekhar Kapur debating environmental perils, Amitabh Bachchan musing over capitalism and Lata Mangeshkar quoting the poet Mir? The mingling of thoughts with languages via tweets is, in fact, one of Twitter's finest 'freeze-frames' for Indians, where our film personalities tweet in Hindi, Marathi, Bangla, Punjabi and, occasionally, English. This might be the Queen's English or our very own desi variety, spiced with the easy breeze of Mumbai, the eccentric elegance of Calcutta, the energy of Delhi, the tooting of trucks that say 'Horan Please'. It is such 'English' that seizes the essence of India in all its madness, sadness, genius and joy. And here's the best part;from 70 mm, our film personas have learnt to capture and convey a nation in 140 characters or less. That's quite an act.
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