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Soha Ali Khan is not afraid to mock herself

By Manavi Kapur
March 05, 2018 20:59 IST
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Soha Ali Khan's first book The Perils Of Being Moderately Famous may seem indulgent but is not, says Manavi Kapur.

Soha Ali Khan with her daughter, Inaaya
IMAGE: Soha Ali Khan and her daughter Inaaya bond in The Perils Of Being Moderately Famous. Photograph: Kind courtesy Soha Ali Khan/Twitter

At a Women in the World event hosted by Tina Brown in 2015, Soha Ali Khan was on the panel organised by beauty brand Dove.

She was their brand ambassador and was on the panel to talk about unrealistic standards of beauty that women in general and Bollywood actors in particular subscribe to.

"It took me three hours to look like this," Khan proclaimed, in a rare moment of sobering honesty from someone belonging to the film industry.


Petite, slim and everything that fits the 'perfect' woman bill, Khan was asked a question, rather cheekily, from someone in the audience, "So what do you think about Size Zero?"

This was, of course, a sly reference to her sister-in-law, Kareena Kapoor Khan, who lost a dramatic amount of weight to follow the ghastly global trend of women starving themselves for slender waistlines.

While she responded with a politically correct answer about how every woman must be free to choose the way she looks, it was her reaction -- a simple eyeroll -- that made her memorable.

Most of Khan's book, The Perils Of Being Moderately Famous, is peppered with these literary eyerolls.

While Khan, much like most of her family, has been a Bollywood actor, she isn't as 'famous' as her parents -- cricketer Mansur Ali Khan 'Tiger' Pataudi or actress Sharmila Tagore -- or her brother, actor Saif Ali Khan.

This is the impetus behind the title of her book, in which while she is the voice and the protagonist, she experiences a large part of her life as someone's daughter, sister, sister-in-law or even wife.

This thought, in fact, played itself out during her book launch event, too.

Kareena Kapoor-Khan, dressed in an eye-catching, glittering red dress, outshone Khan's comfy pair of jeans and a top.

Not surprisingly, it led to a minor uproar on Instagram and other social media, propelling tabloids to speculate about at the possibility of a rivalry between the two women.

WATCH! Saif Ali Khan reads from the chapter, All roads lead to Saifeena. Photograph: Afsar Dayatar/

In the chapter titled, All Roads Lead To Saifeena, Khan dwells on the subject of her ultra-famous brother and sister-in-law, whose son, Taimur Ali Khan, became a celebrity before he could even open his eyes.

This chapter is crisp and short, where the author writes about how her life is affected by being related to Indian paparazzi's favourite couple.

Khan's interviews with journalists about her films or a brand she endorsed, for instance, invariably, albeit circuitously, led to questions about 'Saifeena'.

The star of this book, though, is Khan's father, the talented cricketer and dashing titular nawab of Pataudi.

Soha dedicates a good part of the first half of the book to her parents and the warm and happy household she grew up in.

Anecdotes about how her father was a disciplinarian and would usually respond in monosyllabic sentences add immense value to the book.

The part where Khan describes her father's fascination with the landline and how it became a symbol of reliability -- he would always be by the telephone, despite the global nature of his children's lives -- is a deeply personal detail that does more for her as an author than some of the funnier stories in the book.

It is also fascinating to know about Sharmila Tagore's family, her distant-yet-close relation with Rabindranath Tagore, and her foray into Bollywood.

Khan, calling Tagore 'Amman', makes these chapters entirely relatable, which keep coming back to the reader throughout the length of the book.

In these chapters, the unseen old photographs of Khan and her illustrious family are also priceless.

But what appears to be a promising start peters out into an inconsistent narrative.

Khan veers into a somewhat dull and preachy tone at times, where she shares seemingly random historic facts about Balliol College and other events in her life that make these chapters read like Wikipedia pages in parts.

While she tries to make a point with important historical facts, the connections she draws are sometimes rather tenuous. It slows down the pace of her otherwise enjoyable narrative.

Her wit, which is natural in most places, takes a hit and becomes forced in these parts.

There are other details about her famous family that are conspicuous in their absence.

For instance, the book finds absolutely no mention of Amrita Singh, her brother's first wife and a successful actor herself.

While writing about baby Taimur's celebrity, she omits writing about her brother's two children from his first marriage, Sara and Ibrahim, one of whom is on her way to making her debut in Bollywood.

The other aspect on which she fails is to write more about her sister, Saba Ali Khan, perhaps one of the least known members of the Pataudi family.

Though one might be tempted to dismiss Khan's book as frivolous and indulgent without reading it, her book is, in fact, an intelligent and sensitive look at the lives of famous families.

She resists falling into the 'poor little rich kid' trap and is unusually aware of her privilege.

The Perils Of Being Moderately Famous is an easy read, despite its inconsistencies and shortcomings.

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Manavi Kapur
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