An Unlikely Chemistry by Dr S. Krishnaswamy

517IeLL8pvLI received An Unlikely Chemistry by Dr S. Krishnaswamy as a review copy from the publisher, Rupa Publications and am thankful to them for the book. The book has a foreword by Dr M.S Swaminathan wherein it is mentioned that the book is the autobiography of the author and the biography of his wife.

The Blurb: 

How can two people survive in a marriage when one of them sees it as an impediment to personal growth?

Well, you keep trying and eventually figure ways of making it work. An Unlikely Chemistry is the story of a couple—a scientist and a filmmaker—who battle personal issues and external challenges, and go on to build a life on their own terms.

The scientist, Mohana, stands up to a crippled system, determined to discover an Ayurvedic drug for cancer. On the threshold of global recognition, she is compelled to abandon her research due to the biases of a system plagued by caste-based reservations.

The filmmaker, Krishnaswamy, provoked by a distorted American documentary on India, vows to make an authentic film on Indian history, heritage and culture. A vow he fulfils with the release of his four-hour film, Indus Valley to Indira Gandhi, distributed by Warner Bros.

Krishnaswamy and Mohana then join hands to weave an illustrious tapestry of over two hundred non-fiction films and a dozen television serials. However, their path is littered with politics, controversies, legal battles and societal prejudices, but their belief in righteousness and spirituality helps them overcome these hurdles.

An Unlikely Chemistry is the remarkable autobiography of a couple—their love and their journey of nearly five decades. Within these pages, there’s also the veritable magic and nostalgia of a bygone era.

My take:

The book has been written in first person from Dr Krisnaswamy’s point of view.  The book has nine chapters followed by nine annexures and bibliography.

In the first chapter, Curtain Raiser, the author mentions that he is writing the biography of the person dearest to him, his wife. He mentions that apart from being husband and wife for forty eight years, they have also been working together for thirty years- she as the producer and he, as the writer- director of a few hundred documentaries and a dozen serials. He also says that his theme in this book is how a woman who was very near her goal of becoming a committed scientist changed track and became a media person not out of her own volition but due to the sociopolitical ethos of India in the 20th century. He says that it is a story of deprivation and disillusionment to start with and the story of struggle leading to success not only in professional terms but often in emotional term.

The second chapter, Before We Met, is about his and Mohana’s background till they met. For both of them, he has mentioned starting from their respective grandparents, their parents and their siblings. He has described both their childhoods, his more detailed than hers. The chapter is ninety pages long with 70 pages dedicated to the author and 20 to his wife.

He talks about the time when Bertrand Russel was his favourite author and his habit of gifting a copy of A Conquest of Happiness to everyone he met. He talks about his relationship with his stepmother, his adventurous visit to Delhi in a car with his brothers and friends to submit papers to RBI as all the trains to Delhi from Chennai were booked. He talks about his trip to New York, his meeting with Prof Erik Barnow that changed several things for him, his status as ‘Special Student’, how magic became his hobby, the ‘oil’ bath and his homecoming. He has written in detail about the process of writing his first book; his using his famous father’s name to get to places where his own name was not working; his writing the column ‘Madras Film Column’ for The Illustrated Weekly; his getting the post of Director, Films Division, which he left; his contract to produce advertising film; his founding Krishnaswamy Associates; the wedding of his siblings; his mother; and how he agreed to marry the girl of his mother’s choice.

About his wife, he mentions that he has to cover only twenty years of her life as against his thirty, hence, the lesser number of pages. He mentions that she was the youngest of ten siblings and how her elder brothers and sisters pampered her; her life in Ranchi, where she was home taught; the family shifting to Hyderabad; her getting enrolled in a Marwari school in there; her linguistic skills; her dance classes; her religious inclination; her dream of becoming a physician; her studies; and then her telling her mother that she wanted to get married for her own security.

The third chapter, Mother’s Choice, is about their wedding; her changing her college and stream; the birth of their children; their moving to their own house; his father’s passing away; his family; his company; Mohana’s registering as a PhD candidate; and his rewriting the script for his dream film.

The fourth chapter, The Myth on my film on Indira Gandhi talks about, his making of the film; the loans and the no-loans; challenges he faced; Warner Brothers agreeing to distribute it; the after effects and the side effects of the film; their first trip to US and how his film was blamed for the emergency in India.

The next chapter, A Non-Political Woman’s Political Biography is about the problems Mohana faced while getting a job; their marital problems; how he managed the quarrels they had; and how Mohana refused a Rajya Sabha seat.

An Ambivalent transition talks about Operation Blue Star 1984; author’s coverage of the crisis at the government’s behest; Mohana’s full time involvement in the creative work; his children and their interests; the court cases- both that he filed and those filed against his company.

Then Y2K talks about the life of the author, Mohana and their children from 1995 to 2005 – the period of joyful celebrations, creative satisfactions and smiles of triumph on one hand and stressful challenges, emotional trauma and tears of agony on the other.

The penultimate chapter, Sojourns in Research is about his study of the impact of ancient India on Southeast Asia. He talks about his visit to five countries- Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; interviewing famous personalities there; his getting the Padma Shri award in 2009 and his independent TV channel.

The final chapter is If the Angel Returned. This is followed by Appendices and Bibliography.

The language is used is simple and flows. The narration is such that I could feel that the author was reading out to me. He has explained terms very specific to India in details for non-Indian readers. Familiar names made it easy to relate to the famous people in the book. A very well written book with beautiful pictures making it more lively.


Dr S. Krishnaswamy is a well-known documentary and television filmmaker. He is a recipient of many coveted awards, including the Padma Shri by the Government of India; Life Time Achievement Award from the US International Film & Video Festival, Los Angeles; Honor Summus Award from the Watumull Foundation, Hawaii, among many other awards. He co-authored the book Indian Film with Erik Barnouw.

DISCLAIMER: I received the book as a review copy from the publisher, Rupa Publications, in exchange for an honest review. I have not received any monetary compensation for the same.

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