Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Leela - Leela Naidu and Jerry Pinto

Leela Naidu is a larger than life personality and this book that she co-authored with Jerry Pinto, does no injustice to her and what she must have been as a person. She does belong to a rare breed of personalities. If the book captures half of what she was, its still brought to life a personality so interesting and multi-hued, one with such diverse experiences, of great beauty and high intelligence, of courage and integrity, compassion and mischief. And more.

I am so glad that Raja bought this book and left it with us to read and even gladder that Miskil decided to leave it behind for us to read. In her own candid style Leela skims through a life - born to a famous scientist of Telugu origin and a French mother, growing up in Bombay, Delhi, Paris, chosen by Vogue as one of the five most beautiful women of the world, hobnobbing with the likes of Goddard, Renoir, Truffaut, Ingrid Bergman, refusing a four film deal with Raj Kapoor, meeting and interacting with the elite of the literati, actors, poets, was married to one, Dom Moraes, and a hotelier, Tikki Oberoi of the Oberoi chain, met the Mahatma, Mother Theresa, acted, wrote, composed, produced and did so many other things at a hectic pace. Related to Sarojini Naidu on her father's side, to an affluent family in Paris on her mother's side, Leela had access to all the celebrities in the world. And not to forget that she was poignantly influenced by a sympathetic Jiddu Krishnamurthi in her years of loneliness.

All this and never losing sight of humanity as she saw it - described so well in the incidents of the mafia grabbing land from her maid, the decapitated body on the railway tracks, the spot boy with a broken leg and on and on - Leela insisted on setting things right then and there, going on a strike until the spot boy issue was addressed, insisting that the head of the decapitated body be found, joined and the family informed and threatening gun toting mafia men with dire action in a desolate land all alone. It takes the kind of courage and conviction that one can only aspire to.

Leela lets us into the world where she sees Balraj Sahni and Raj Kapoor from a different lens, Arundhati Roy receives a bit of flak and would mostly regret casting Leela in 'Electric Moon', and the sheen comes off so many of these icons. The strike by the British on the sets of 'Electric Moon' was hilarious to read. The muse for a Salvador Dali sketch, the dinners with Ingrid Bergman, Truffaut, Goddard and Renoir and other friends in Paris, her 'Anuradha' with Hrishikesh Mukherjee and on and on and on. She speaks of the movie 'Trikaal' and her costumes and I can never forget her quoting Clare Booth Luce - no good deed ever goes unpunished. But Leela kept doing her good stuff regardless anyway. Wonderful stuff.

But she was a misfit as is clearly evident in her story. Going after her heart and not her mind, Leela remained true to who she was and thus earned that quote from Ranjit Hoskote that she has "...never been able to fulfil her potential..." and that she belongs to a "...rapidly disappearing class of people, of whom words like birth and upbringing can be used without irony. They recognised the role they were meant to play in a civilisation than a society..' But Leela I am sure, after reading her book, would not have had it any other way as she juggled her time between Dom Moraes and her ailing father and mother and her job, never backing off from doing what she thought was right even if it meant great danger and never hesitating to poke fun of herself. Truly Hoskote says that people like her do not happen to societies, they happen to civilizations. And is the world saw less of her in her many shades, the world has been the loser for it.

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