Karan Johar, Rishi Kapoor
Karan Johar, Rishi KapoorTwitter

The first few days of January 2017 have witnessed the launch of two autobiographies written by popular personalities from mainstream Hindi cinema – Rishi Kapoor and Karan Johar. In many ways this marks the high point of an interesting engagement beyond Bollywood and its ardent fan followers.

Also read: Why Karan Johar's 'coming out' makes perfect marketing sense | OPINION

In the last few years we have seen a steady barrage of biographies of Bollywood icons getting published at regular intervals, from Mohammad Rafi to RD Burman, from Shammi Kapoor to Shashi Kapoor, from Shatrughan Sinha to Rekha, from Yash Chopra to Salim-Javed. Come to think of it, in line with his iconic status, Hindi cinema's original superstar Rajesh "The Phenomenon" Khanna has not one, but two biographies written about him (The Dark Star - The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna by Gautam Chintamani and The Untold Story of India's First Superstar by Yasser Usman).

Most have the stamp of approval from the subject themselves or a preface written by their near and dear ones. Then there are other biographies that have nothing "official" about them — mostly a collage of interviews and stories gleaned from different sources and pieced together by a narrative that borders mostly on salacious tittle-tattle.

On the other hand, autobiographies written by Hindi film personalities are far and few.

Two of the early notables include Dev Anand's Romancing with Life and Dilip Kumar's The Substance and the Shadow. These two books are packed with many a delightful nugget. The respective tones are distinctive. While Dilip Kumar's voice in his book is measured, Dev's narration style is more flamboyant.

The point to note is that both the books were written at a time when both the thespians have retired from active film-making. Only after casting their gigantic shadows over seven decades of triumphs and achievements. Retirement comes with the benefits of owning a memory enriched with experiences. When you hang your boots and relax with your two feet up on the table, is when you are overcome with a feeling of nostalgia. Egged by years of assiduous persuasions by friends and families, both Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand finally took the plunge to faithfully document their glorious journeys — from start to finish.

So what separates the autobiographies of Rishi Kapoor and Karan Johar from the likes of Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand?

Looking at where exactly they stand in their career graphs, we can perhaps derive more insights behind their literary forays.

In the first half of their creative lives both these individuals have tasted super-success by adhering to conventions and traditions. One was destined to achieve the cult-status of the "Lover Boy Hero" of the '70s and '80s Bollywood. The other created box office waves by directing large-scale family dramas that won a million hearts like nobody's business!

We see them now in the second half of their creative lives. They are very much at the peak of their creative prowess. Yet they treading diverse and uncharted paths. They are trying to break free from the clichés that are associated with them from the first half of their creative life.

Karan Johar perfectly juggles his time in between running his hugely successful production company to engaging his TV show guests in wickedly friendly banters to directing Ae Dil Hai Mushkil — almost a 180 degree shift from his directorial debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

Meanwhile, Rishi Kapoor has acquired a new-found patience to don the make-up of a 90-year-old ageing patriarch over five hours for Kapoor and Sons and has the energy to incessantly tweet about anything and everything that catches his attention.

Curiously both have a huge fan following on Twitter. In spite of a huge age difference, both their careers have lately intersected with each other. Some of Rishi's later-day films known for his award-winning performances are produced by Karan's company!

But if there's so much at stake for these two super-achievers, why risk everything and bare one's soul? As Dev Anand found himself on the horns of a dilemma when he once said: "Writing about your own life for the world to read, can be easy as well as difficult".

Indeed, writing an honest autobiography is a tough act and many get daunted by the prospect of stripping themselves in front of a million prying eyes. The question remains: Why risk it now?

To me, the answer lies in a trend which is symptomatic of a new India, powered by social media that calls for a different line of engagement. An India that is open to a different kind of story-telling. An India that celebrates candidness when told truthfully directly by the person concerned — in his own words and pictures — instead of being adulterated by third-party gossip magazines or filtered through bouts of acute self-censorships.

The autobiographies are written in a manner which has an easy, chatty feel to them. As a generation obsessed with "selfie-culture", the readers are easily able to navigate through the narrative like a roving camera does, often getting behind a scene or unearthing a motivation or an emotion.

Flipping through the pages, the chronological way of documentation soon gives way to a more free-wheeling discussions about friends, families, relationships and points of views. The authors don't shy from showing their vulnerable side. So whether it's how Rishi bribed his way to win an important award early in his life or how Karan handles accusations of making fun of and stereotyping homosexuals, the narration is unflattering, short of platitudes and calls spade just not a spade but a bloody shovel.

At the end of the day it takes guts to stick one's neck out in the chopping block of public opinion. More so when both Rishi and Karan belong to a tribe that has a fragile ego at its core.

The gamble has paid off. Early news indicates these books are getting into reprints.

Along with acceptance comes inspiration. Forget the "Bollywoodish" content for a moment. Let's hope that people from all walks of life fall for a similar motivation — they become courageous enough to open up and express unconventional views, to take a stance without subterfuge, champion candour and set the records straight, disclosures be damned.

For it will mark the advent of the new-age confidence that will allow one to construct and stand by one's own narrative amid the conflicting opinions that besiege a post-truth world.