Shallow reflections

Dream Merchants, Politicians and Partition
June 19, 1998

Iqbal Masud, the pen-name of F. G. Jilani, former commissioner of income tax, is indisputably one of India's most intelligent and influential critics.

Masud began to write film reviews in the 1970s when already in his 50s. Even when one disagrees with his conclusions, his opinions are always worth reading.

Given that HarperCollins saw fit to publish this volume as "memoirs", I had hoped it would trace the thread of Masud's love of popular cinema through his orthodox south Indian Muslim background, his western-style education and his success in the Indian bureaucracy, with perhaps some piquancy added via an overview of cinema and some risky information about the system of finance that underpins the industry. The book, however, disappoints on all scores.

There is no exploration of the development of self in the book, and the Iqbal we meet as a young boy is the same as the retired bureaucrat. Masud gives space to his time in Yemen, but he does not talk about how this visit affected his thoughts. One is reminded of Naipaul's critique of Gandhi's account of his visit to England, where he talks only of his inability to see what is around him. I was interested to learn that the 1975-77 Emergency and the 1992-93 Bombay riots were almost more significant in his understanding of modern India and his place within it than the 1947 partition was. However he does not explain why this is the case. It is as if once Masud has decided to stay in India, that is the end of the Partition narrative. Is this his personal view or is it because of his south Indian roots?

Masud fails to charm: his eagerness to settle old scores and his dislike of many people is evident. There seem to be no significant intimacies in his life, and there is little if any mention of friends or other loved ones. The chapters on Masud's work as cinema and television critic are stitched on at the end, looking like draft notes, with his suggestive comments seeming like throwaway opinions that contain no analyses.

The photographs selected for the book are mostly stills from films mentioned only in passing, and most of them are irrelevant. I regret this lost opportunity for Masud to expand his views on cinema from weekly journalism into a broader picture.

The book is too short, and it must have been written with no editorial support. I cannot find in it the wickedly argumentative and amusing Masud, whom I have known for some years, always eager to talk, to listen, to read, to learn.

This sort of publication does real disservice to this endlessly entertaining man.

Rachel Dwyer is lecturer in Gujarati and Indian studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Dream Merchants, Politicians and Partition: Memoirs of an Indian Muslim

Author - Iqbal Masud
ISBN - 81 7223 262 4
Publisher - HarperCollins
Price - Rs 95.00
Pages - 152

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