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Yasseer Usman : A love affair with hindi cinema and writing biograhies

Pic credit : Hindustan Times

“Happy, motivated, just human! I get up, I try to be good. I go back to bed. And repeat. What else!” 

That’s Yasseer Usman for you. A full time TV journalist and author of two back to back – very popular biographies – on superstar Rajesh Khanna and bollywood diva Rekha. His world is full of words & movies. We have his complete story here, everything that drives him, his books, his passion and well, a bit of advice for the new writers too !

A Love affair with hindi cinema, 

As an author I try to tell intricate stories in a simple manner. My subjects are related to cinema because I am passionate about films and people associated with cinema. Hindi films have been a crucial part of my growing up process. I find it intriguing to explore the life and times of superstars who were immensely popular and followed by millions, while personally they lead a very lonely life.
I wanted to explore the dichotomy in these real stories.
Also, my subjects are popular stars. People know them. Yet when I tell their stories I feel I should be able to identify with my subjects in a new perspective. And then expect that readers would too.
Interestingly, biographies were never the first choice. I wanted to explore fiction. But then I was asked to do a biography (Rajesh Khanna). I thought who would be interested in reading about a faded film star. I was proven wrong. My first book Rajesh Khanna:The Untold Story Of India’s First Superstar (Penguin India) released to huge critical acclaim and went on to become a bestseller. It was shortlisted for the prestigious Crossword Award too.

[ttshare]It made me realize there are readers who want to know these stories and appreciate if it is told in a simple, visual style.[/ttshare]

I try to write cinema books like a cinematic journey – pacey, entertaining, visual and simple. I have not created a ‘new’ story’ in my books. I’ve just spelt it out so that the story is understood in a new, larger perspective…by adding more dimensions to it.
Just look around and you’ll see that this genre has become so popular in the last few years. Even the film stars have started writing their books. I feel more than ever, stories like this need to find their voice now.  I think that what humanizes the story also helps one pin hopes on it. That is why such stories are connecting with readers.

Writing with a day job, 

Yes, I am a full time TV journalist. As a journalist my job involves research, production and of course writing. It’s immensely difficult to balance writing books with the day job. It eats up all your time. All weekends go into research and writing.  It’s hard work. There’re no short cuts. You’ve to sit down and write. And rewrite. Infact, people close to me complain that I don’t want to socialise even on weekends.
But then nothing is as important as passion.

Rajesh Khanna : The untold story of India’s first superstar

The day Rajesh Khanna passed away, I was in Mumbai and decided to be a part of his funeral procession. I was making a documentary on him. I met people close to him and fans who came from different cities to pay their last respect. It was surprising for a person like me who had never witnessed the Rajesh Khanna phenomenon in the 1970s. I grew up in the mid 1980s. I decided I want to tell the story of the superstar women were madly in love with, his shy smile, his trademark head tilt and those fluttering eyelids. Women married his photographs. The rivalries, relationship, deep-seated insecurities and the loneliness. What a life! What a human story!

Rekha: The Untold Story

This is an underdog story about a woman who started off her career at the age of 14. She came from Chennai. Hindi was not her language. I wanted to trace her transformation from that girl who was exploited and abused, her choice of films were mocked about, yet she went on to become one of the most enigmatic stars of Hindi cinema. Gossip and sensationalism remained a part of her life but the story is of a simple woman who refused to accept defeat. The book went on the become one of the biggest bestsellers of 2016.
 My audience is the generation which carries the Rekha nostalgia, the people with silver hair and silver memories; and also the present generation who’ve seen Rekha as a diva, who wonder who this woman of regal manners is, not knowing her humble and somewhat crude beginnings. And the sales prove it ! If I put it simply, the format of the book particularly is for cinema lovers. I was writing the ‘mainstream’ narrative.

Books and Authors he loves to read.

All of us have our favourite authors and the classics we’ve read while growing up. War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy), Manto’s work, O.Henry’s stories, currently I am reading books by Rahi Masoom Raza. Prolific! They just inspire so much and make me restless that how do one write such great stuff. Truly remarkable!
I read a lot of non-fiction too. Poetry is something I would love to include more in my reading list.

And finally some words of wisdom,

[ttshare]Not writing is what I call the writer’s block. So, just sit down and write. Then rewrite. Rewrite again. It works.[/ttshare]

I try to read/write for at least an hour daily. Just concentrate on the research and writing. Be sure about your subject/proposal and why do you want to tell the story. It’s crucial to write when you’ve enthusiasm for your idea. If you don’t, sooner than later you might start doubting the idea. So just get up and write.
Other factors come later and I think the publisher can take care of a lot of things when it comes to marketing/promotion. Social media could be of great help. I use it to promote my work. It’s a great tool.
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