How book covers are born

Last week, I wrote about the five books on cinema that I have authored. A friend asked why I hadn’t mentioned 101 Haiku by Dinesh Raheja, but I explained that it didn't fit the film format of the column as it was a book of three-line poems based on a 400-year-old Japanese form.

It set me thinking about another necessary inclusion, and I decided a story about books on films would be incomplete without talking about how book covers are conceived.

Once I had the perfect ‘bookends’ — Amitabh Bachchan’s thought-provoking essay as a foreword and Rekha’s emotional note as the last page — for my first book, The Hundred Luminaries of Hindi Cinema, deciding on the cover posed a challenge.

A collage of a dozen representative stars was suggested, but we protested that it would make the book look like a stamp collector’s envy. Besides, it would somewhat diminish the importance of the giants of cinema if we were to reduce each to a small portion of the cover.

As a joint decision, Padmini Mirchandani, the publisher, Jitendra Kothari, my co-author, and I made the unconventional decision to avoid images on the cover, and rely instead on stylish fonts and design elements. After many consultations with the designer, the final, much appreciated decision was to go with white lettering against a pitch-black background with the predominant word ‘Hundred’ strikingly embossed in gold.

Since my second book, Indian Cinema — The Bollywood Saga, was planned for both international and home audiences and had a foreword by the famed Ismail Merchant, we chose Aishwarya Rai as the face for the cover.

Aishwarya was the crossover star that the entire world knew of thanks to her international beauty pageant win and her starring roles in western films like Bride and Prejudice.

Publisher Pramod Kapoor obtained a picture of Aishwarya Rai from Devdas, in which she looked breathtakingly beautiful, and the cover of the book was ready. Kudos to Amitabh for jointly releasing the book with Aishwarya though he was not on the cover and though she was not related to him then.

Recently, I penned three books on a trio of Guru Duty classics. The books encompassed screenplays, interviews, translations and analytical examinations of the films, and we carefully chose black and white images that evoked the mood of the film.

For the book on Kaagaz Ke Phool, we had written a critique on Guru Dutt’s Relationship With Fame, and Om Books editor Dipa Chaudhuri and we thought it befitting to choose the picture of Guru Dutt (who plays a director in the film) mobbed by excited autograph hunters.

For Chaudhvin Ka Chand, which was about the fate of two men linked with the same woman, we chose a close-up of the beautiful Waheeda Rehman with a maang teeka, a nose stud and a dupatta over her face; her eyes lowered and her lips parted ever-so-slightly to suggest a smile in the making.

Since Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam was about the ambiguous relationship between a lonely, married woman who forges an unusual bond with a man who is not her husband, we selected a still of Meena Kumari, looking beautiful and resplendent in a silk sari, resting her bangles-adorned hand on a cushion, with a faraway look in her eyes. She inspires awe, which is precisely the reaction of Guru Dutt’s character when he sees her for the first time.

I was interviewed by Satyarth Nayak, the author of the soon-to-be launched book, Sridevi — The Eternal Screen Goddess as part of his research. When I congratulated him on the cover, he revealed that the publisher had asked for pictures from many photographers before zeroing down on the Vickky Idnaani picture because it was contemporary and interesting.

Idnaani has also shot the cover of Rishi Kapoor’s Khullam Khulla by Meena Iyer and Hema Malini’s Beyond The Dream Girl by Ram Kamal Mukherjee, and become quite the filmstar cover specialist, but the photographer dismisses the idea and states, “I have no such delusions. I have just stayed true to my photographic voice and vision. But yes, these book covers have made my journey special.”

His journey of shooting the star covers is interesting because he was dealing with stars who have been in the field for more than four decades. He was surprised when Rishi Kapoor agreed to shoot in his son Ranbir Kapoor’s plush red bathroom.

While shooting for the cover of Hema Malini’s book, Idnaani didn’t want her in a Baghbaan style sari so he asked his stylist Kareen Parwani to carry three suitcases full of clothes. Surprisingly, Hema, who hadn’t done a fashion shoot in a while, told him to pick four outfits of his choice.

While Hema permitted Idnaani to pick his make-up and hair team, she kept her personal team as a stand by too. Idnaani says, “She loved working with my make-up artist Billy Manik but when a discussion on eye lashes cropped up, Hema in her characteristic style said, ‘Billy ko bolo Basanti ne apne baal dhoop mein safed nahin kiye’.” Since they were aiming for a soft look, an innovative Hema herself snipped her hair during the shoot to create photogenic bangs.

An interesting aside: Sridevi approved of her picture within seconds (at that time she wasn’t aware it would make it to the cover of a book). She didn’t have an email id and requested for the pictures to be emailed to her daughter Janhvi and Khushi’s ids.