Will Monalisa Smile Again?

The first month of 2023 has been one of the most exciting! Our first book, Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World, is now in multiple bookstores in India (including Midlands and Om Bookstores). It has also had multiple launches in Delhi and been part of a festival.

We, Meenakshi Malhotra and I, were privileged to be together at the physical book events. We met the editor in chief of Om Books International, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, the editor of our anthology, Jyotsna Mehta, along with two translators and writers I most admire, Aruna Chakravarti and Radha Chakravarty, who also graced a panel discussion on the anthology during our physical book launch. The earlier e-book launch had been in November 2022. My heartfelt thanks to the two eminent translators and Chaudhuri for being part of the discussions at both these launches. Chaudhuri was also in the panel along with Debraj Mookerjee at a launch organised by Malhotra and the English Literary Society steered by Nabaneeta Choudhury at Hans Raj College, Delhi University. An energising, interactive session with students and faculty where we discussed traditional and online publishing, we are immensely grateful to Malhotra for actively organising the event and to the Pandies’ founder, Sanjay Kumar, for joining us for the discussion. It was wonderful to interact with young minds. On the same day, an online discussion on the poetry in Monalisa No Longer Smiles was released by the Pragati Vichar Literary Festival (PVLF) in Delhi.

At the PVLF session, I met an interesting contemporary diplomat cum poet, Abhay K. He has translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and the Ritusamhara from Sanskrit and then written a long poem based on these, called Monsoon. We are hosting a conversation with him and are carrying book excerpts from Monsoon, a poem that is part of the curriculum in Harvard. The other book excerpt is from Sanjay Kumar’s Performing, Teaching and Writing Theatre: Exploring Play, a book that has just been published by the Cambridge University Press.

Perhaps because it is nearing the Republic Day of India, we seem to have a flurry of book reviews that reflect the Sub-continental struggle for Independence from the colonials. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Priya Hajela’s Ladies Tailor: A novel, a book that takes us back to the trauma of the Partition that killed nearly 200,000 to 2 million people – the counts are uncertain. Bhaskar Parichha has discussed MA Sreenivasan’s Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me, a biography of a long serving official in the Raj era — two different perspectives of the same period. Rakhi Dalal has shared her views on Shrinivas Vaidya’s A Handful of Sesame, translated from Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor, a book that dwells on an immigrant to the Southern part of India in the same time period. The legendary film writer K.A. Abbas’s Sone Chandi Ke Buth: Writings on Cinema, translated and edited by Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon, has been praised by Gracy Samjetsabam.

We have a piece on mental health in cinema by Chaudhuri, an excellent essay written after interviewing specialists in the field. Ratnottama Sengupta has given us a vibrant piece on Suhas Roy, an artist who overrides the bounds of East and West to create art that touches the heart. Candice Louisa Daquin has written on border controls and migrants in America. High profile immigrants have also been the subject of Farouk Gulsara’s ‘What do Freddy Mercury, Rishi Sunak & Mississipi Masala have in Common?’ Sengupta also writes of her immigrant family, including her father, eminent writer, Nabendu Ghosh, who moved from Bengal during the Partition. There are a number of travel pieces across the world by Ravi Shankar, Meredith Stephens and Mike Smith — each written in distinctively different styles and exploring different areas on our beautiful Earth. Sarpreet Kaur has revisited the devastation of the 2004 tsunami and wonders if it is a backlash from nature. Could it be really that?

Suzanne Kamata gives us a glimpse of the education system in Japan in her column with a humorous overtone. Devraj Singh Kalsi dwells on the need for nostalgia with a tongue-in-cheek approach. Rhys Hughes makes us rollick with laughter when he talks of his trip to Kerala and yet there is no derision, perhaps, even a sense of admiration in the tone. Hughes poetry also revels in humour. We have wonderful poetry from Jared Carter, Ranu Uniyal, Asad Latif, Anaya Sarkar, Michael R Burch, Scott Thomas Outlar, Priyanka Panwar, George Freek and many more.

The flavours of cultures is enhanced by the translation of Nazrul’s inspirational poetry by Professor Fakrul Alam, Korean poetry written and translated by Ihlwha Choi and a transcreation of Tagore’s poem Banshi (or flute) which explores the theme of inspiration and the muse. We have a story by S Ramakrishnan translated from Tamil by R Sathish. The short stories featured at the start of this year startle with their content. Salini Vineeth writes a story set in the future and Paul Mirabile tells the gripping poignant tale of a strange child.

With these and more, we welcome you to savour the January 2023 edition of Borderless, which has been delayed a bit as we were busy with the book events for our first anthology. I am truly grateful to all those who arranged the discussions and hosted us, especially Ruchika Khanna, Om Books International, the English Literary Society of Hans Raj College and to the attendees of the event. My heartfelt thanks to the indefatigable team and our wonderful writers, artists and readers, without who this journey would have remained incomplete. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her artwork. Many thanks to the readers of Borderless Journal and Monalisa No Longer Smiles. I hope you will find the book to your liking. We have made a special page for all comments and reviews.

I wish you a wonderful 2023. Let us make a New Year’s wish —

May all wars and conflicts end so that our iconic Monalisa can start smiling again!

Mitali Chakravarty,


Photographs of events around Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World. Click here to access the Book.


Insta Link to an excerpt of the launch at Om Bookstore. Click here to view.

E-Launch of the first anthology of Borderless Journal, November 14th 2022. Click here to view.


Writings on Cinema by KA Abbas

Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam

Title: Sone Chandi Ke Buth: Writings on Cinema

Author: K. A. Abbas

Editors and Translators: Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon

Publisher: Penguin Vintage

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas’s[1] Sone Chandi Ke Buth:[2]Writings on Cinema (2022), edited and translated by Syed Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon is truly, “an insider’s view of the ‘Sitaron Ki Duniya’[3]”.

The book is a constellation of Bollywood stories about moviemaking, film personalities, incidents, and fateful moments straight from the horse’s mouth. The book is divided into four sections – Funn Aur Funkaar[4], Kahaaniyaan[5], Articles, and Bombay Chronicle Articles. Abbas was often addressed as the “Human Dynamo” by his closest friends for his spontaneity and dexterity in churning out forms of expression such as short stories, novels, dramas, and films, which manifested whenever he pronounced, “Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai[6]. He embodies a different time and sensibility, making the man and his work a treasure from the bygone days. Professor and scholar Ira Bhaskar aptly describes, “K. A. Abbas represents a crucial figure of the Indian modern who believed that critics and artists had a responsibility towards society.”      

K.A. Abbas, who was adept in Urdu, Hindi and English made the most of his multilingual skills to contribute thousands of articles on popular media including the longest-running weekly column, 46 years as a contributor in Blitz, writing for the Bombay Chronicle, 40 movies, short stories, and 74 books in 73 years. Sone Chandi ke Buth (2022) is Abbas’s last book on filmi duniya, the world of movies. The book throws a glimpse into Abbas’s journey from the young and aspiring journalist who wrote paltry salaried publicity blurbs to a scriptwriter, filmmaker and film critic of great repute  who made a tradition of his own offering “love” for the art and to everyone who lovingly called him “KAA”. Bollywood’s Big B, the Mahanayak[7], the megastar fondly admires Abbas’s “unrelenting spirit” and recalls, “K. A. Abbas gave me my first film, Saat Hindustani. I call him Mamujan.”

Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon labelled Sone Chandi ke Buth (2022) as “adhbudh[8]”, for the book is a testimony of the contribution of the man and his craftmanship. Coming from a family of poets and writers, Abbas walked along with the stars of the industries in its golden and the silver eras and yet was a man who could make jokes of himself, give sincere criticism on the quality of an artist’s work or the movie, speak of Bollywood as a unifying factor of pluralism in India, and suggest the importance of understanding truth for a greater cause. Intelligently and humorously, the book opens a window to fascinating instances and anecdotes of his life experiences and his encounters with the people who made history in the world of movies in India via Bollywood that were crucial to the industry or the personalities. With each turn of the pages, the narrative unravels interesting stories and junctures like how in writing about V Shantaram, whom he calls “Sadabahar” or evergreen, he goes on to describe his “crashing” into the world of film and becoming a film critic through film publicity, how his editor’s advice at the Bombay Chronicle opened his wings of  liberty to be critical but to do it prudently.

Drawing a fine veil between the reel life and the real life of the people with whom he manoeuvred in the film industry, the book “revealed more than concealed” the human aspects of greatness and flaws of each amidst their roles as heroes, villains or side characters in the movies. The book is filled with incredible stories of towering Bollywood personalities through Abbas’s eyes. Revelations in the section “Funn and Funkaar” captivatingly describe why he referred to V Shantaram as “The Evergreen Filmmaker”, Prithviraj Kapoor as “The Shahenshah[9]”, Raj Kapoor as “An extraordinary Karmayogi[10]”, Dilip Kumar as “Loss of a national treasure”, Meena Kumari as “The Muse of Ghazals”, Balraj Shani as “The People’s Artist”, Amitabh Bachchan as “Himmatwala[11]”, Sahir Ludhianvi as “The Lover and the Beloved”, Rajinder Singh Bedi as “The Guru”, and Satyajit Ray as “Mahapurush[12]”. The section “Kahaaniyan” sheds light on the ironies of the glamour and glitz in the film industry and on special days on the movie sets.

The section on “Articles” presents his thoughts on the relationship of filmmaking with business and its impact on society. Each article is a critical discussion of aspects of a good film, and he strongly opposes scripts that succumb to commercial sensibilities and powerfully voices the need for for “a good story” that “lies at the heart of a good film”. The section “Bombay Chronicles articles” compiles some of the finest articles of his passionate and flourishing days at the Bombay Chronicle in the 1930s as a film journalist. The articles in the concluding section continue to bring forth memorable facets of the world of films in India of the man and his times, and at the same time keep the spirit of enquiry burning in all movie enthusiasts and scholars to reflect on how much has changed over the years. Sone Chandi ke Buth brings into play Abbas, the man, the artiste and his style to showcase what a perfect blend of the head and the heart can do in film making.

If you are looking for a must-have book on Bollywood, filmmaking and movie criticism, then Sone Chandi ke Buth offers you an ample amount of it and more. Timeless memories of photos of the movies: Awara[13] (1951), written by him; Anhonee[14] (1952), a film he made on Nargis’s request; Rahi[15] (1953), a movie based on Mulk Raj Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud starring Dev Anand and Nalini and Jaywant; Munna (1954), the first songless film of Indian cinema under the Naya Sansar banner; Pardesi [16](1957), the first Indo-Soviet production in a collaborative work of the Naya Sansar banner and Mosfilm Studio; Char Dil Char Rahein [17](1959), Abbas’s first multi-starrer movie; Chaar Shehar Ek Kahani[18] (1968), Abbas’s best-known political documentary; Saat Hindustani [19](1969), a movie on comradeship; and also, personal photos of Abbas’s self,  with his family and on film sets, enhances the aesthetic of the book.

The book has a phenomenally exciting set of stories about the famous and the lesser known faces of the movie industry in India, as people with ordinary life and circumstances amid their successes and failures. The translators and editors — his niece, Padmashri Syeda Hameed, an activist, educationist, writer and a former member of the Planning Commission of India, and Sukhpreet Kahlon, a researcher on cinema studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University — need to be thanked for collating these wonderful writings that touch our hearts while forging new bonds and links through the medium of films.

[1] Indian Film Director, 1914-1987

[2] Translates to: Statues of Gold and Silver

[3] World of stars

[4] Fun and Fun makers

[5] Stories

[6] I have to say something

[7] The great actor, refers to Amitabh Bachchan

[8] Amazing

[9] The Emperor

[10] A person who believes the ultimate panacea lies in devotion to work

[11] Courageous

[12] Superman

[13] The Vagabond

[14] The Untoward

[15] Traveler

[16] Foreigner

[17] Four Hearts, Four Paths

[18] Four towns, One story

[19] Seven Hindustanis


Gracy Samjetsabam  is a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature. 



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles