Title: Freedom: My Story
Author: Arunaraje Patil
Despite the best intentions of the writer, an autobiography often ends up being an advertisement of the self, which is why many people shun the idea of penning their own life story in a glorious tribute to their achievements. However, there are some stories which need to be told. It would be a disservice if such stories are not made known to a wider public. Film director and editor Arunaraje Patil’s autobiography Freedom: My story is one such instance.
This is a story which takes us through a rollercoaster emotional journey at times making us happy, at other times making us sad, at one time forcing us to think, at another time inspiring us to push our limits. Despite being born in a high profile well off family, Arunaraje had to wade through a life full of pain and uncertainty that only underscores the fact that money is not all that we need to bring happiness to our lives. It is through her loss of family that we realise the importance of the happiness togetherness brings.
However, it is her fortitude, her grit and resilience, her tenacity and toughness that make the book so inspiring and memorable. It is a story of unflinching courage, indomitable spirit to do something, a passionate involvement with one’s art, a deep faith in one’s own talent and an ability to transcend sublunary afflictions that make a common man great. At a young age, Raje loses her little daughter to blood cancer and the same night, her husband seeks a divorce from her.
A woman, all alone in the world, in a profession that is largely a male bastion and a world that is chauvinistic and male-dominated, literally fights her way through all the muck and misogyny to make a mark. Arunaraje, for all she has seen and faced, throws lights on all issues under the sun that concerns her field right from the widespread prevalence of casting couch in Bollywood to the abominable situation of young girls in the brothels of Mumbai, from the lack of public conveniences and the problems of women actors and directors due to that, to menstruation, sex, unsavoury advances and her interactions with LGBT community in a no-holds-barred confessional tone.
The angst of an educated, well read, socially conscious woman against the social and civic ills she sees around finds more than adequate expression in her words. She becomes the voice of all of us who know and see the shape of things in our society and a dark underbelly of secrecy and evil that runs parallel to what is visible. The 240-page book by Harper Collins contains thirteen chapters covering various aspects of Raje’s professional and personal ups and downs juxtaposed against the social conundrum she grapples to tame and understand.
The best chapter of the all is arguably the ninth one titled, ‘Discovering poverty and depravity’. This chapter is a philosophical rumination following a firsthand account of all the gory realities of life she has seen from close quarters, especially regarding the plight of young girls and women trapped in the machinations of life they don’t even clearly understand. Raje is brutally honest and her empathy genuine, since most of her stories are drawn from her own raw experiences, often heartbreaking, that has made her the way she is.
Raje went on breaking new grounds with every opportunity that presented itself to her and excelled in whatever she did, be it impeccable editing of cult films like Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Masoom’ or preparing the syllabus for Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods film school. The book brings up references to several stars of Bollywood from Amitabh and Jaya to Vinod Khanna, Shabana Azmi, Jagjit Singh, Gulzar and Vasant Desai to Naseeruddin Shah and Smita Patil among others. Aruna has worked with many of them through her 40-year illustrious career and shares interesting anecdotes on and off the sets.
However, she is no litterateur and her work is not an art of excellence. The stories she tells one after the other in a flow are not very coherent and often feel like intrusions made purposely or forcibly to highlight certain issues or incidents good or bad close to her heart. They have been joined as best as possible, but the joints still show. At times she sounds pedantic and off mark as she exceeds the brief of her scope the book provides.
The language is engrossing but not literary per say. She is serving a mission to inform and enlighten her readers and that urgency and compulsion of purpose show through the chinks, even as the language serves up as the right vehicle for such business. Arunaraje is a woman of mission and purpose that has guided her films too like Rihaee, Sitam and Shaque, perhaps that being a reason for her deliberate absence from mainstream bollywood which she abhors in no uncertain terms. For her, film is a means of communication, where socially relevant issues are brought into the public discourse. It is not just entertainment and business for her.
‘Freedom’ is a hardcore real-life story that raises questions and leaves us wiser as she presents before us a tapestry of bitter realities of life and the ways she adopted to come out of the quagmire as a free spirit, fighting atrociously adverse circumstances all through her life. She teaches us how to reach a stage where sorrows and debilitations don’t matter anymore. Despite all the odds stacked against her, she finds happiness and contentment. As the veteran Shyam Benegal writes in the foreword to the book, ‘An autobiography is successful when it evokes not just empathy but transcends individual experiences to make them universal.’ Here is where Arunaraje is bang on.