Free Press Journal

The Perils of Being Moderately Famous by Soha Ali Khan: Review


Title: The perils of being moderately famous
Author: Soha Ali Khan
Publishing house:  Penguin Random House India
Pages: 207
Price: Rs 299

In the book’s first chapter, ‘Big Shoes, Small Feet’, Soha (meaning star in Arabic) speaks of people sometimes knowing her as ninth Nawab of Pataudi and brilliant cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and versatile actress Sharmila Tagore’s daughter or Saif’s sister.

The book, containing 9 chapters, begins by saying that if you bought/borrowed/shoplifted this book in the hopes of finding out the secret behind Kareena’s glowing complexion or what Bhai really meant when he talked about nepotism and eugenics, then unfortunately this is not the book for you. Here she mentions, to her credit, that she is content to bask in reflected glory while seeking out her unique destiny. Her self-deprecatory humorous streak shines through in a comparison of her paternal grandmother’s rigid daily routine as compared with that of her own on a non-working day. For eg: Stare in to fridge hoping something delicious and healthy will miraculously materialise…

Writing about her father, she mentions how if he went shopping in London for a pair of socks, he would buy just that, without falling prey to consumerist temptations. Also that he was careful with money, electricity and didn’t like to waste petrol. After a car accident, he said, “I lost sight in one eye but I didn’t lose sight of my ambition.” Even after he’d retired and was hospitalised, surrounded by tubes, masks, drips, pills, syringes and doctors he refused to make a fuss and was always polite, ever-charming – making every technician feel comfortable, despite his own discomfort.

In the ‘Coming of age’ chapter, while speaking of her experience at Balliol, Oxford University she says, … when you strip away all cultural affectations, you can make a genuine and lasting connection with people if you can accept, embrace and simply be who you are. But first you have to find yourself. And sometimes you need to travel 6000 km to do that.

In ‘Wakeful City’, in something most people can connect with, she candidly mentions how financial jargon of investment banking can be akin to googlies. She tongue-in-cheek adds that for bankers SLB is Securities Lending and Borrowing and not Sanjay Leela Bhansali, just as PC is P Chidambaram and not Priyanka Chopra.

In an anecdote about a dinner date, she says she sent a message, “Bored witless and we haven’t eaten yet. Yawn.” But by mistake she sent it to the person with whom she was out on a date with, instead of her friend Priyanka. Realising her mistake, since he had not read the message by then, she asked for his phone and deleted her message.

About the 2005 floods in Mumbai, she recollects how she was stranded after her car stalled on SV Road and how warm total strangers were in going out of their way to give her directions, offering drinking water and the use of their phones. At one point when she sat shivering on a stationary BEST bus, two women across the aisle glanced at her and whispered to each other, making her think of getting off the bus. But one woman said, “It has to stop sometime, don’t worry.” Here she candidly admits that they were not judging her, she was judging them. She ended up chatting away amiably with two women for two hours and for those two hours they were comfortable companions of circumstance. This bond with the city, its people, their resilience and compassion made her keen as per her own words, to do Tum Mile, the 2009 love story set against this very deluge.

In ‘Working actor’ about how ludicrous some Hindi film dialogues in the 1990s were, she gives us a gem – “Mera naam hai Pote, jo apne baap ke bhi nahin hote.” After her first film failed at the box office she opines that there will be always be good and bad reviews, dream roles and lost opportunities, hits and misses at the box office, success will never be final and failure will never be fatal and what matters is that you persevere – a thought applicable for many, if not all, of us.

A disturbing recent phenomena she flags attention to, is of how people misuse social media to revel in hate and troll people they have never met and know nothing about. In this context, she cites two examples of the time she was targeted on Twitter for having expressed regret over former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan announcing his exit in 2016 and then on another occasion when she had worn a sari.

About relationships, she opines that many seem to survive only on the surface, with an emphasis on having fun and living in the moment. It is too tedious to share our deepest feelings, too hard to commit to being there when things get too tough, too demanding to learn from our mistakes… so much so that people have stopped really knowing each other or impacting each other’s lives. It is more of an existence and less of a life, a life more empty than full. And love is not the absence of irritation, conflict or disappointment. It is hard work and there is always room for improvement.

The book proves right Gurveen Chadha, Commissioning Editor, Penguin Random House India who had said, “Soha Ali Khan was born to write.” The breezy read with reader-friendly text font sizes is based on her personal experiences and has warmth, candidness, humour, offers insights and features never-seen-before images of her family, childhood and her daughter Inaaya. It is hoped this book will help clear up people’s misconceptions about her and add to her fans in the days to come.

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