Saturday, 21 February 2015

Write a stronger book instead of banning one: Interview with Yasser Usman (Part 3)

Read part 2 here: Rajesh Khanna loneliness killed him: Yasser Usman

Sakshi Raina: Did you find any difficulties in finding all these resources and integrating them together coherently?

Yasser Usman: Yeah. Normally in our Indian society  and not talking about only Bollywood, even general people are not open to talk about their personal lives. It is not so difficult in the west.

At the same time so much was covered about Rajesh Khanna during his superstar days. I spoke to his family and they said that they weren't interested. I think that they were scared or the other reason could be that they didn't knew me. I understand their point of view.

But his life was covered so extensively that I had to gather all those magazines and newspapers. It took me around 1.5 years. It was difficult but it was worth it!

Sakshi Raina: You're also a blogger.

Yasser Usman: Am I?

Sakshi Raina: You own a blog where you write movie reviews. It's not active though but yeah.

Yasser Usman: Actually yes. I'm very lazy to blog. I have watched all the Hindi movie since the last 20 years. Every Friday morning, I have to wake up and catch the first day first show. It's been a ritual. Even when I wasn't a professional, I did it and now I'm in media. I do it in Hindi because it is a Hindi channel.

 I used to be an active blogger when I used to write for a website called It was a very popular website. It has now been shutdown. Now since you have reminded me, i'll update it once i'm back.

Sakshi Raina: What is your view on paid journalism?

Yasser Usman: It is bad. It exist but not all journalist participate in this. For example, if you take The Times Of India, there is a small disclaimer in the bottom that says that they aren't promoting this and is paid.

Sakshi Raina: It's a different thing. I'm talking about journalist being said to take sides of a political party and be biased.

Yasser Usman: It has always existed Sakshi from the beginning. It is just that the war is too much in the open now. People are taking sides. Not every journalist are a part, there are a few of them but as a policy, I feel that it is very bad. I have never been a part of it nor I endorse it but it has always existed.

and my favorites! Something that he said in a way that got me new insights and I couldn't help more but agree. I have learned so much from him.

Yasser Usman on freedom of speech:
If they tell you to ban books or movies. My stand on it is that if you're angry with my book or unhappy with my book, write a book and prove it to me that it was wrong. I'm okay with that. Write a stronger book and tell me how it should be done. This should be the solution, not banning the book. Then what is the meaning of freedom of speech?

Yasser Usman on Ebooks Vs Paperbacks: 
Let's not compare paperback books and e-books. It doesn't matter. It's like saying, do you prefer a VHS Tape or a DVD? How does it matter? They both were good in their times. At the core, the content matters. If a book is bad, how does it matter to read it in an e-book or a paper book? It is the reading that matters.

You can find Yasser Usman on his website or Twitter.

Click here to buy his book on Flipkart.

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Rajesh Khanna loneliness killed him: Interview with Yasser Usman (Part 2)

Read part 1 here: Rajesh Khanna was a rock star!: Yasser Usman

Sakshi Raina: While you were researching for this book, did you find out things that you wished you never knew about him?

Yasser Usman: No, I don't really think. Since my training as a journalist, the first step has always been to research. During my initial research, there were more than 70-80 interviews of Rajesh Khanna. He was my subject. I went to the libraries all across the countries and somehow managed to gather all those interviews. I tried to study them underlying some points.

In all those interviews what came across was, I knew that he was an adopted child but in those interviews he nowhere mentioned his real family. So this was one thing which no one knew about. He was in complete denial of his biological parents.

This got me thinking why is he not talking about it? What is disturbing him so much?

Everyone knows about Rajesh Khanna as someone who was arrogant. He always wanted to control his relationships.

Sakshi Raina: So, this was because of his childhood trauma?

Yasser Usman: Correct! This was because of the trauma. So this was the untold part of the story. His behavior was something this way because of something that happened with him in his past and he could never forget that his parents gave me away. This is his feeling as a child. When you're six to seven years old, you cannot understand.

It wasn't like his foster parents were bad. He raised him like a prince.

When he became the superstar and the downfall happened. It happens to everyone. If you go up you need to come down. Success happens and failures also happens. He couldn't tolerate that.

He said that: Now my fans has also left me. What is wrong with me? and this was his problem throughout his life. This is what ruined him. So this is on a very psychological level and important in a way that makes it a non-Bollywood book.

It is a story of a human who had everything that money and fame could offer. At the same time, he was the loneliest man on earth. That is what he said " I don't know who to speak to". His relationships went bad. His wife left him. His children left him.

Sakshi Raina: I repeat the question, is there no such thing that you wish you never knew?

Yasser Usman: (long silence) Maybe.....

Sakshi Raina: ..Or anything that changed your perception about him?

Yasser Usman: Yeah, A change of perception. Definitely! My generation has always thought that he was such a loser, he is such a frustrated soul who cannot accept the fact that he is no longer the superstar. That was his impression on our generation. When I started researching about him, I found out that this was so human and money can change things. He had everything that money can buy but at the same time, he had his emotional issues.

People say that his alcohol or cancer killed him. I say that his loneliness killed him. 

Sakshi Raina: I agree. Unless you're happy from within, money can't make you happy.

Yasser Usman: He wasn't happy. He was too lonely.

Read part 3 here: Write a stronger book instead of banning one: Yasser Usman

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Monday, 9 February 2015

Rajesh Khanna was a rock star! : Interview with Yasser Usman (Part 1)

I had interviewed the controversial brothers of television,  Raghu Ram and Rajiv Lakshman on the set of Delhi Auditions when I was in class 11th which should be my first experience on anything closer to an interview but looking back how I was utterly nervous and excited at the same time while I stood there alongside my team trying to settle in the fact that this is real completely disrupts my definition of an interview.

I interviewed Yasser Usman three years later in what I would call as my first actual attempt at taking interviews. I had the pleasure to be talking to him in the Jaipur Literature Festival 2015. Just after exchanging a couple of e-mails, I realized how humble he is. During the entire interview session, he was warm, friendly and open to all sorts of questions. I would really like to thank him for making me feel such at ease on my first official interview taking session. I will have to post the interview in parts because the actual interview is too long and seems longer on text.

Yasser Usman in conversation with Shoba De at the JLF 2015

Yasser Usman is an award winner journalist and is currently working in the ABP news (formerly Star News). He has also been a founder member of India's first Iranian film club. His first book Rajesh Khanna: The untold story of India's first superstar talks about a side of Rajesh Khanna, no one has seen.

Read further as we discuss more about his life and the book...

Sakshi Raina: In almost all of your 'about me' sections, you call yourself a journalist by tribe, a television producer by creed and a film critic by caste and I found out this to be quite interesting. Why such precise distinctions?

Yasser Usman: I'm a journalist by profession and a T.V producer, that is my job. My passion lies in cinema, Hindi films basically. So I'm a film critic and that is my passion. I have to earn a living by being a journalist.

Sakshi Raina: So do you always wanted to become a journalist?

Yasser Usman: I basically wanted to become a writer and everyone told me that you can't earn money by being a writer in India. Still I wanted the profession to be remotely related to writing.

So they said "why don't you do a course in mass communication?"
and then I said "How will it help?" ,
they replied "You can explore the avenues, explore writing, journalism, film making."

So, everything is connected. This is how I got into the institute of mass communication.

I did some freelancing, wrote some scripts and finally I said that "okay, I will have to work to earn a living. I don't have a solid background in terms of money" and it's very important. So, I joined news channels and this is how I came into journalism.

Initially, I was not allowed to do any film reporting or anything related to cinemas. I made some documentaries and made shows on politics, crime and finally after working in these channels for 5-6 years, they finally understood that my passion lies in cinema so they gave me shows which were very close to cinema and this is how it all connected. So that's why I call myself a journalist by profession and... it all just connected. It's just a way to describe myself.

Sakshi Raina: What are your plans for your next book? Will it be celeb related?

Yasser Usman: There are so many ideas. I want to write a political thriller, if you ask me. I don't know if the publishers would allow that. I want to write a non fiction political thriller. You know, something like which is true and yet has some thriller elements in it and there are some stories in my mind. I don't know if I can discuss about it, that is one thing and something related to cinema, definitely in the Bollywood industry. But it won't be a celeb or a fashion based thing.

I don't see my first book as a celeb based biography. No.

Definitely Rajesh Khanna was a celebrity. He was a superstar! The book doesn't deal with that superstar issue. It is about how success destroys a person. So it can be about anyone. The name could be Sakshi Raina, his name could be Yasser Usman also. He is just a character for me and the story was very important.

You belong to the generation where you don't know much about Rajesh Khanna but even I do not belong to his generation. Like I said, the story found me. I was in Bombay shooting some other documentary when he passed away. So, I got a call from my editor and he asked me to make a documentary on him as he just passed away and he was the biggest superstar, India had ever seen. I started my journey on this documentary and met a lot of people who were close to him during his superstar days and after he was living in a relative obscurity.

What impressed me were the crazy fans of Rajesh Khanna. Almost everyone that I met asked me "What will you write about him? You don't know anything about him. You're so young. You haven't seen his era. He was a god to us." This made me even more curious. What was so special about him? and what was all this devotion all about? I have seen superstars. We have Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bacchan.

Sakshi Raina: You just cannot compare these with Rajesh Khanna.

Yasser Usman: Exactly. You cannot compare. Everyone told me. I did my research, read from newspapers and magazines. He was much, much bigger. He is the only genuine rock star India has ever produced. You can compare his popularity with the rock stars of the west. I also met people who were very close to him and they told me about his personal life. That's why I call my book as the untold story. What I knew about Rajesh Khanna was very different than what came out finally. It is a story of how success destroys a person and how you can never get away with your past. It is a very emotional story.

The next part would be out tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Also read: Ella Berthoud on Bibliotherapy: Interview

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Ella Berthoud on Bibliotherapy: Interview

Image Source: JLF 

Ella Berthoud is a bibliotherapist and is working at The School of Life. Together with Susan Elderkin, she has written a book named The Novel Cure: An A-Z of literary remedies which uses written works as a therapy. That is quite interesting for book lovers! She is also a painter and lives in Sussex.

I had the pleasure of talking to her during the Jaipur Literature Festival 2015. During the entire interview session, she was so warm and welcoming that it made me feel such at ease to be frankly chatting with her while her persona inspired me at the sub-conscious level.

Sakshi Raina: Bibliotherapy is basically therapy with words. Could you shed some light how it actually works?

Ella BerthoudYes, therapy with words and therapy with novels. So the way it works is when we have a client, we get to know the client through a questionnaire. We ask them all about their reading loves and dislikes, what they read as children, what they read as teenagers, what they read now, where they read, when they read, how they read and with whom they read? If they read with a friend or a partner and then we ask all about their life as well. What is going on in their life? Are they single, married or divorced? Are they going through any big problems?  Is everything happy or there are issues like a career change or whatever and then we tailor the perfect books to that person. So if that person loves reading Jane Austen, then we would give them a book which we know they will like because it is has the same kind of prose, the same kind of style and that will go with their present life. Or if they laugh at chicklets or sci-fi, we would give them a similar kind of book and etc. but of course we would like to challenge people with reading so if they have read only crime, we say come on, you know try reading something else. So it is partly about the love of reading and giving people something new to discover but it is more about when people are having issues with their life and we feel that we could really help them with a novel and by reading the novel, they take on the psyche of the characters in the novel and that can really effect in our chemical change through reading the novel and perhaps become a different person and perhaps find a new way to look at the world and change their way of thinking and it will help them get over those kind of problems. Of course, we are not medical doctors. So if someone has a generic problem like severe depression, suicidal thoughts, then we send them to a medical practitioner as well. They can still see us and we can help them but obviously we are not qualified for real serious issues. 

Sakshi Raina: Can this work for someone who doesn't like reading? If not, how do you work with such clients?

Ella Berthoud: Not really. If we meet people who are not keen on reading, we find ways to help them discover the love of reading. So we would start with things that are shorter, like short poetry, short stories, podcast and we would encourage them to read with a friend or have a friend read to them. Bibliotherapy is not  really for people who are not willing to read because the whole key is in the book. It is like saying does massage works without putting your hands on a person.

Sakshi Raina: How was the idea of the School of life initiated?

Ella Berthoud: Me and my friend Susan who I read books with, we were in Cambridge University together and we studied English literature, we were in adjacent rooms and we used to give each other books in order to cure each other life problems when we were students. There were issues then like broken heart, career, stress, worries about whether we would be able to do the work that we were supposed to do, insomnia and we tried to cure each other with novels without really thinking about it. We were just having fun and over the years when I became an artist and she became a novelist, we carried out doing this for several years until we began to think that this is something that we could bring to the public and people will really appreciate it. So we spoke to Alain de Botton who started the school of life. We knew him from Cambridge so we suggested to him that we did bibliotherapy at school of life and it was a yes and that is how it all began.

Sakshi Raina: You must have received a lot of positive feedback. How do you handle criticism or people with whom you were not successful?

Ella Berthoud: Yeah, sometimes there are people who we accidentally give them a book that they don't like and then when they tell us that they did not like the book then we suggest an another book. Almost, we get a positive feedback because the whole process that we follow makes sure that we really get to know the person. We have the questionnaire, then we have an hour to get to know them. Normally we get about 90% of the books right but then there are some one or two books that they might not like and then we give them different suggestions and also normally, most people that comes to us that predisposed to like the books. They have come as they love reading and are very open to our suggestions but yes sometimes we misread them ourselves. We go like "Oh! They are going to love this new book" and then we find out that they can't stand the book. So, sometimes we get wrong but not often.

Sakshi Raina: Most of your posts in the School Of Life and Book Of Life are motivational and categorized in the self-help genre. Do you call yourself as a self-help writer and a speaker?

Ella Berthoud: Noo! We have never seen ourselves as that although when we were writing The Novel Cure, I did suddenly have a revelation that we were writing a self help book. I will accept that The Novel Cure is a self help book because if you're in a problem and you're finding a cure and also the way we write the cure is in a motivational style.

Sakshi Raina: What kind of books do you like to read?

Ella Berthoud: I always read fiction. The Novel Cure is all fiction. It is called The Novel Cure because every book in it is a novel that we write about and so we also sometimes deal with short stories and poems. I do enjoy some motivational books an philosophical books but my real love is fiction to be honest..and we are about to do our next book which is a follow up to The Novel Cure. It is based on the same idea but for kids. So it is The Novel Cure for kids.

Sakshi Raina: Ah! That seems interesting. When would it be launched?

Ella Berthoud: Not until 2016. We are still writing it now, trying to end it in December and then try to get it publish the year later. So, the book is a very similar idea but for kids ailment like bullying, acne, parents divorcing, teenage issues. It is meant to be for ages 3-18.

Sakshi Raina: Being a painter yourself, how would you interpret your paintings? 

Ella Berthoud: That is an interesting question. It is abstract painting based on landscape and to be honest, I have never thought about whether they are positive or negative to the viewer. I'm normally a very positive person and I think they are very joyful paintings with a lot of color and they express a love of nature, love of emotions.

Sakshi Raina: I feel that emotional and physical pain are generally connected. In regard of your book The Novel Cure, to what extend would you agree?

Ella Berthoud: Yes very much so. We sometimes take this turn in the book The Novel Cure that if you're in physical pain, you can cure it with what you read and therefore we're implying that it is a mental state that can be cured. So if for instance, our cure for stubbed toe is the beginning of the book by James Joyce: A portrait of the artist as a young man. The idea is to learn that by heart and when you stubbed your toe, shout the first part for the book because it is very loud and funny and poetic and it is better than swearing. The idea is to release the pain by the speech. It is very common that your physical pain generally begins in the mind.


I hope you enjoyed reading this interview with Ella Berthoud as much I had while working on this project. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

More interviews would be up soon! Stay tuned!

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