Well, that was a terrible terrible very fun book! I believe essentially not one word of it, but BOY was it fun to read! Oh, and it also taught me nothing about the film industry, just a lot about Anu (who wasn’t really in the industry for that long).
You know how basically every film actor/director/composer/singer in Hindi film has a personal story that makes you go “wait, isn’t that a movie?” Like Shahrukh finding Gauri magically on a beach in Bombay after she’d run away from Delhi and he followed her. Or Amitabh rising from the dead thanks to the prayers of his devoted wife. Or Yash Chopra seeing Pamela singing at a wedding.
My theory is, it’s not that their lives are film-i-riffic, it’s that they see their lives through that filter. In the same way I take what happened in my life and when I tell the story, I turn it into funny-cynical-blogspeak. When you work and live every day telling a certain kind of story, you start to think that way too. A story that could be a cynical jokey blog story turns into an epic filmi type story, just because everything is always seen as an epic filmi type story.
Now, the thing is, Anu’s autobiography is NOT an epic filmi type story. It is an epic badly written female empowerment type novel story. Like, Judith Krantz. Or Lace (the novel/miniseries that Dil Aashna Hai is based on). Our heroine is naturally gorgeous, men fall in love with her at first site. She has an exciting life traveling the world and breaking hearts on every continent. She is naturally sensuous, with an always amazing sex life. But, she is also more than just her beauty and wealth and talent and amazing life. She goes seeking for a higher purpose, and quickly becomes the most centered and spiritual and perfect person EVER. Oh, and everything bad that happens to her is just because people (usually women) are jealous of her beauty/sexuality/talent/spiritual powers. I believe everything she is saying, but I also think this woman has spent way way way way way too long massaging her life until it fits with a set format for these kinds of stories. At least, in her own mind.
(It even sounds like a Judith Krantz novel, right? With the title and the subtitle and all?)
It’s also super fun to read, but SO BADLY WRITTEN. Which is kind of what makes it super fun. But I pity the ghostwriter who had to listen to this woman. Reading Karan’s autobiography made me fall even more in love with him, because he is super charming and witty and self-aware. Reading Rishi’s autobiography made me never want to work with him, but also was fascinating because of his honesty both about himself and others (the same reason I wouldn’t want to work with him). Reading this book made me think “either this woman is terrible at presenting herself, or she is one huge bottomless pit of self-involvement.”
The fascinating thing is, I absolutely believe all the details of her life. Details which should make her a really deep and interesting person. And yet, do not. Which is also where it reminds me of a bad novel. Vanity Fair, great novel about a flawed beautiful woman who goes through many exciting experiences and love affairs in her life. Scruples, terrible and addictive novel about a beautiful woman without any particular flaws and the ridiculous adventures she gets in to.
So, what are the details of Anu’s life? I’ll give her version first. In her version, as a beautiful 19 year old (although she never thought about her looks), she came to Bombay from Delhi for vacation. She had just finished a course in social work (placing top in her class and loving helping people and seeing the real dirt of society and so on and so forth). And now she came to Bombay, uninterested in the glamour and wealth of it all, eager to go back and start a very very prestigious and important job for a foreign NGO.
(She really was beautiful)
But, she fell in love! Or rather, “Rick” fell in love with her. First quote! “In my life, I had never seen a grown man cry-for me!” And so, because “Rick” (sensitive brilliant handsome jazz musician) had fallen passionately in love with her, and would die if she left him, she had no choice but to give up her dreams of serving others through social work and staying in Bombay and becoming a model.
Not that she WANTED to be a model. No no, it was only because the modeling agencies “followed me like a dog with a bone”. Only took a meeting because Rick begged her to go, then quoted an exaggeratedly high price trying to get rid of the offers, only to be surprised when they agreed! And then she continued to model. But primarily not for the money or fame or adoration, but because “I hoped young girls in schools would get fascinated, inspired, and never again be ashamed of having dark skin.”
I could give you SO MANY of these quotes and details, but I will resist. Let’s leave it that she became a model, the photographers wives were all jealous of her but it wasn’t her fault, without even trying she was offered a series of overseas jobs, a Duke in England said he loved her, etc. etc. Meanwhile, “Rick” became increasingly jealous of her success and finally left her (because The Media drove them apart! Evil media! Probably filled with jealous less attractive women).
And then Mahesh Bhatt appeared. Who writes a movie (Aashiqui) based on her (innocent young woman turned supermodel), and tells her “If you don’t act I will reconsider making the movie…Besides, no other actress has the sensibility to play this role.” She, naturally, wants to refuse as she is never ambitious or wants anything for herself. But the script captivates her, and she feels bad for Mahesh, so she takes the part. Despite meaning a delay in going back to Paris where (once again) a man has fallen completely in love with her.
Shooting begins, Mahesh and the rest of the crew are astounded at her talent and professionalism, the film comes out and the country falls in love with her, etc. etc. She is quickly offered more films, the “fun” movie King Uncle, a “leading role” in a Mani Ratnam movie (I still haven’t seen Thiruda Thiruda, but I somehow suspect she isn’t actually the lead), and an anti-hero role in a film I have never heard of but which apparently caused Amitabh Bachchan to come up to her at a party and say “Wow!” Oh, and then she was the only actress with the bravery, the sensibility, the so on and so forth, to take a role in “Cloud Door”, an erotic international production that got her rave reviews worldwide.
(An erotic movie with a parrot. I don’t know)
But stardom was empty for her, while another woman might have been satisfied with money, jetsetting life, beauty, fame, and constant adoration by a rotating international gallery of men, Anu was better than that. And so she stopped talking offers for films and instead began traveling around the world, looking for inner peace. Oh, and also at some point in there resolved a legal dispute with her landlord (which only came up because of her innocence and giving nature in some way I am not clear on?) and ended up in possession of a massive sea facing apartment in a restricted building. And then a friend of hers called her up and invited her to come hear a talk on Yoga.
She heard the speaker, felt an opening in her soul, and applied to his “Yoga University” program. And was accepted not just because of her perfect academic record from pre-film days, but because of her brilliance in the interview. Of course, shortly after arriving, she had her first run in with the superstar Yogi who ran the center, and he convinced her to stay. And then fell in love with her. Both with her incredibly sensual body, and her brilliant mind. And deep instinctive sensibility for yoga. And unique honesty and fearlessness and so on and so on and so on. Anyway, they start secretly having sex. But not just “sex”, no no, it is because he sees her as a Goddess (he tells her this) and they are having an amazing spiritual connection. Through sex. In secret. In his office. While he is technically the head of the school where she is studying and has total control over every aspect of her life and she is not allowed any communication with anyone outside. Sure, it’s a “deep spiritual connection”.
Oh, and then in the middle of their “deep spiritual connection” phase, he leaves to go give a lecture somewhere, and while he is gone, the other teachers gang up on her and throw her out. Because of their jealousy of her deep spiritual connection. And immediate perfect mastery of yoga. And her beauty. You know, the usual. NOT because this is a toxic cult like environment in which obsession and paranoia flourish.
So she goes back to her amazing Bombay apartment and starts her life anew, now deep and spiritual and stuff. But still agrees to go to a fancy party with an old friend. Where she catches some young men in the bathroom doing drugs, then gets in a massive car accident on the way home. Very confusing in how it is written, not clear if these two things are related or not, I think they were trying to build suspense and excitement around what is essentially just a bad car accident, but it didn’t work.
(She came out of the accident pretty well, really. Her face looks different, but not that different than just aging would have caused. And her body is fine. Go yoga!)
Right, so, massive car accident, in a coma for months, then slowly her body comes back to life despite partial paralysis and so on through her deep inner strength and yoga practices and so on that amaze her doctors. Until finally her Yogi sex partner bothers to reach out to her, learns for the first time (he says) of her massive accident, and tells her she should come back to his Ashram and give up the rest of her life. Which she does. And suffers extreme pain and no one seems aware of her massive injuries or willing to help with them and even the Yogi isn’t that interested once she is back under his control. But it’s all good, she is spiritual and stuff and shaves her head (which also causes massive pain thanks to her head injuries that have made her skull soft and sensitive). Until the Yogi out of nowhere blows up at her in the middle of a general meeting and verbally abuses her. Which, after thinking about it, she understands as her final test, if she is able to withstand his abuse. And so, after having sex one last time, she leaves again.
Sells the flat (WHY??? It was SEA-FACING!!!!), gives up all her possessions, and finds peace and happiness in dedicating her life to bringing yoga to poor slum children. She calls it “Anu Fun yoga”. And that’s the happy ending of the book. You see why I say Judith Krantz novel?
So, somehow breaking free of this sea of self-involvement and excuses and re-writing history, here is what I got from it. She was a young woman with a striking look who came from money (you don’t just casually decide to move to Bombay without money in the background). She had the right connections to the right wealthy people to get noticed by modeling agencies. She really was a beautiful woman on camera who really did quickly get to be a successful model. And also there was a much older man (“Rick” was 28) who was using her a bit. And after him came a series of other men who wanted to have a fling with a gorgeous exotic model.
Mahesh Bhatt decided to make a movie mostly based on his love story with his first wife. He needed an actress who would be cheap and young and willing to do sexy scenes. So instead of looking at established stars or star kids, he picked a random model and offered her the part. And then paid lip service to the idea of her being perfect for the role, and a brilliant actress once she took the role, and so on and so forth. Poor Bhatt Sahib! This whole thing really makes me feel for him.
(although he is a naturally very nice person, maybe he didn’t mind)
And then a couple other directors had a similar “she’s good on camera and willing to push the envelope” feeling and offered her other films. But not that many directors, Anu can spin it as her being “picky”, but she really just doesn’t have much on her filmography. I am guessing, not that easy to work with!
And so in her self-delusion she spun that as “I am above and beyond regular film work” and went off on her journey to “find herself”, which was really more of a trip around the world by a rich young woman at loose ends. Until it ended, as these things often do, when a charismatic figure spotted her and sucked her in.
The whole section at the Ashram is really strange, because she must know on some level that this was all a practiced seduction, so she keeps putting in these things about “I saw through his pretenses” and “I had figured out where I could hide so he couldn’t find me on the grounds”. But then she will turn it around and be all “I understood then that we were Shakti and Siva, meant to be joined.” I mean, she even says that the first time he invited/ordered her back to his private quarters, he gave her a glass of strange sparkling water, and then a few minutes later she saw him astrally project and fly and stuff. He obviously drugged her, right? This is his deal? He finds the prettiest new recruit, grooms her, invites her back to his quarters, drugs her, convinces her he is on a higher plane, and then she overlooks her lack of attraction to him and decides to try sex with him. In return for mysterious aphorisms and a pen (yes, he gives her a pen. In return for sex).
Besides that whole weird vibe, I was super interested on getting a glimpse of the inner workings of one of these places! Here’s something, she was one of only 4 Indians in the whole place. Thousands of people, her and the Yogi and 3 others were the only desis. Everyone else was lost sad souls from everywhere else in the world. Now, why is this? She even says, way at the beginning, that she found the classes useless and shallow, because it was all just repeating stories she had heard as a child about Siva and so on, and the teachers didn’t even know how to pronounce the words correctly. But then all the flattery and drugs and sex worked on her and suddenly it was all brilliant.
Oh and, coincidentally, an awful lot of her fellow “students” were also models or otherwise famous/rich/beautiful. Almost like they were picked based on those aspects, not on their innate yogic tendencies! Could it be? Surely not!
And, please, there is NO WAY the Yogi only broke his celibacy for her. She even mentions in passing something about another one of the teachers there (who was bitter and jealous of Anu’s beauty/wonderfulness/etc.) saying that last year SHE had spent the full dark moon night with the Yogi. Anu repeats this in the book, and yet also stays firm with the whole story of “only my amazingly sensual body and deep connection was enough to bring him out of his celibate life”. And she also doesn’t even address that there is something way way messed up at this Ashram if as soon as the Yogi leaves, his current “favorite” is packed up and thrown out. And then, why would you EVER go back? Her family must have been so angry and confused Especially after her parents moved in to help out post major accident, and then she just dumps them before her rehab is done to go running back to her, let’s just say it, cult.
The accident recovery was fascinating, and that I absolutely buy as part of her yoga mastery. Yoga seems like a pretty great way to prepare for a massive accident with long term bone and nerve damage. What does not seem great is to return to your cult, where there is no breaking of the rules even when you are barely alive post accident. And, again, she KNOWS this! She repeats it in the book, how incredibly painful all the things where, how she couldn’t even talk clearly because of facial paralysis, and she was punished for it. If you are in a place where the response to facial paralysis is punishment, this is NOT A GOOD PLACE.
Oh, and then she leaves again. Still spun as a good thing, not as a sudden disillusionment and realization that she was part of an abusive relationship. No no, he was teaching her a lesson about attachment or something! This completely makes sense!
And then there’s the whole rest of her life. Which isn’t even covered? This whole book just goes from like 1988 to 2000. Childhood and pre-Bombay, not covered. Post weird Yogi relationship, not covered. Maybe there were way more details, but the editor/ghostwriter new the readers wouldn’t care about the pre and post scandal years? Or maybe Anu herself prefers to talk about her beautiful sexy years and not her boring growing up, and teaching yoga to slum children years.
(Look at these cute little children! But do I want to learn more about them, or about strange yoga sex?)
And, well, it’s kind of true that the readers don’t care. At least I don’t care! I am very happy with my insane little book that took about 2 hours to read and had lots of yoga sex in it, I don’t think I could have taken another hour actually learning about the boring bits of her life.
So, to sum up, a qualified recommendation. Don’t spend more than $5 or 2 hours on it, and don’t expect anything deep, or even very informational. But if you want to read about a very self-involved woman with a crazy life, this is the book for you!