1477 A book was the least I could do
From Nazneen to Naina: 20 years of Kareena Kapoor Khan in Bollywood
by Gurpreet Singh
Ludhiana, India: Chetna Parkashan, 2021
$14.99 (US) / 9789391530433
Reviewed by Harpreet Singh Sekha
A unique book on Bollywood Diva that showcases what India is going through under a right wing regime
BC-based author and journalist Gurpreet Singh has exposed how the growing polarization in the world’s largest democracy has debased the Indian cinema that was once known for upholding secularism and diversity.
In his recent book From Nazneen to Naina: 20 years of Kareena Kapoor Khan in Bollywood and what that means for India and the rest of the world, Singh has put in a lot of effort in researching her life and performances as an actor.
As the title suggests, the book looks into the roles she played between 2000 and 2020. Khan started her career as Nazneen, a stateless Bihari Muslim woman in Refugee and played as Naina, a tough British Punjabi police officer running after undocumented migrants in her last film Angrezi Medium.
Not only has Gurpreet Singh made the time to watch all her movies to appreciate her versatility, he has also followed her closely on social media to reach an understanding of her relationship with the real world and its issues and politics. The book therefore does not talk about Khan as an actor alone, but critically looks into her activist side as well.
Singh has done an incredible job by uncovering the ugly reality of contemporary India under a right wing Hindu nationalist government and the spillover effect of its ideology and policies on Bollywood.
The author warns how the current religious divide is not only harming the society, but has debased the cultural space of Indian cinema. It takes some courage to write about such inconvenient issues.
From Nazneen to Naina reveals how Khan has taken a stand for social justice and condemned fascism both mildly and in some instances very brazenly. This remains the most fascinating aspect of Khan’s personality for Singh and proves her multiple qualities beyond being a Bollywood star.
Singh tries to redefine Khan as a flag bearer of secularism. He underlines that:
The spirit of secularism that Kareena has inherited from her mother and also Kapoor family is more enthusiastically cherished by her in-laws. Sharmila being a Hindu woman not only married a Muslim man, but retained her Hindu identity. Similarly, Kareena without giving up her Hindu surname adopted Khan as her last name.
“This was the idea of the real India that Gandhi, Tagore, Prithviraj or Tera Singh fought for and not an illiberal Hindu India where minorities would be treated as second class citizens.”
The book goes into the details of challenges Khan faced from religious bigots for marrying a Muslim man and adopting his family name and for naming her sons as Taimur and Jeh, which have been interpreted as an affront by the self-styled defenders of Hinduism.
In 2018, when she stood up in support of an eight-year-old, Asifa Bano, a Muslim girl who was raped and murdered by the Hindu fundamentalists, she was widely trolled on social media.
Singh praises Khan for standing up for the poor and the marginalized especially during the pandemic as he points out:
Kareena Kapoor Khan was one of those rare Indian actors who used Instagram to support the Black Lives Matter campaign and condemn the brutal murder of George Floyd by White police officer Derek Chauvin. Not only that, she denounced the racism and bigotry within India against Muslims and the so-called Untouchables. She also made a statement against the brutal custodial murder of a father and son by police in Tamil Nadu, and made repeated appeals to help artisans and migratory workers suffering due to lockdown.
To her agreeing to become a part of One Love, a Unicef initiative to help children during the pandemic, Singh writes, “She clearly used her privilege for others, instead of just posting self-gratifying images of herself and her family.”
Nevertheless, Singh pulls no punches while criticizing her for where she has failed. A whole chapter in the book cross-examines her. For instance, he expresses his disappointment at her position on fairness products and the way she has endorsed them in the past. He challenges her to show her solidarity with dark skinned women actors who are more vocal against such products.
He also shows his displeasure over her participation in a run in Bhopal in December 2018 that coincided with the 34th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy that claimed more than 10,000 lives. He is deeply offended by Bollywood’s wrongdoings in ridiculing people of African descent:
Among the many examples, Kareena owes an apology for painting her face black in film Khushi  to appear like an African for a funny song. It’s not funny to pretend to be a black person by applying some silly make-up.
This is despite the fact that Singh does not hide his romantic feelings for Khan. “I want to declare with full honesty that I am really enamoured and dazzled by Kareena’s beauty, and won’t hide my infatuation for her. As a journalist, the least I could do was write a book.”
Harpreet Sekha is a fiction and non-fiction Punjabi author based in Surrey, BC. He migrated to Canada with his parents in 1988. Harpreet’s written work explores themes and experiences that resonate with South Asian Canadians, such as gender inequality, social justice, and the migrant experience. Harpreet’s body of work includes the non-fiction work, Taxinaama; the novel, Hanerey Raah; and short story anthologies, Bi Ji Muskra Paye, Baaran Boohey, and Prism. Of these works, Baaran Boohey has been translated into Hindi, Taxinaama and Prism into English. Prism garnered critical recognition and was named a finalist for the 2018 Dhahan Prize in Punjabi Literature. Also, Harpreet conducted an authorized translation of Hugh Johnston’s Jewels of the Qila (UBC Press, 2011) which was published in Punjabi as Qiley dey Moti. Harpreet’s work has received academic recognition, as his work has been the focus of many students’ M. Phil research. His work has also been adapted for the stage by many celebrated theatre artists and brought to film as well, in the form of a serial. For more information visit his website.
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Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
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