Although we are from the same alma mater, I met Jalal Agha very late in my professional life. For the first time we worked together was in a Mithun-Ranjeeta starrer film called ‘Kismet’. It was a 3 days playback shoot for him as a guest artiste. The movie was completed and released in 1980, did fairly well at the box office and then like always – all was forgotten.
Many years later we met yet again. This time it was during a seven-day outdoor shooting schedule of a Marathi TV series called ‘Pravasi’. Outdoor shootings are great adhesive agents for the unit members. Many of such friendships have got sealed for life. Pravasi was a 4 part MTDC promotional program, being made by Baba Majgaokar with whom I had just finished his earlier Marathi series called ‘Najuka’. Marathi was not Jalal’s mother tongue, but he worked hard on his lines and did pretty well. At that time Jalal and I, just about knew each other’s existence; but as I mentioned it was the outdoor shooting that really brought us closer and turned our acquaintance into a close friendship. My family too happened to visit that location for a day and that worked even more in my favor in bringing Jalal to our home; fairly often later on. Jalal was very fond of children. When you love your children a lot but can’t get enough time with them, you look for other sources to satiate your channels of missing affection. This is what happened with Jalal. After estrangement, his wife got married again and moved to Germany along with their children. I am told that saving money for traveling to Germany had become his permanent agenda. He wanted to be with his kids as often as possible. Thankfully perhaps his relationship with his wife had not soured too badly; otherwise that too might have become a major road block against him. Let me put down here some of the incidences with him that I and my family always cherish.
My daughter used to be a boarder at the St. Mary’s School, Pune. As soon as Jalal came to know of this, he offered, ‘I go to Poona often, if you need to send anything, I can gladly deliver it for you.’ For us there was always something to be sent, mainly food stuff. So sometime he would drop in at my home and pick up things or I would go to his Juhu apartment and drop them there. During her vacations my daughter would tell us that Jalal uncle visited her a few times that we didn’t even know about. He would entertain her and her friends in the school compound that made them all very happy. After all when a star comes to meet you in your school, it certainly becomes a big deal for all the young children. In fact she must have felt important among others, because ‘Jalal’ had come to meet her. My daughter told me one day that he gave her an idea to make some pocket money. He said ‘I will sign many autographs in your rough book and you could sell them for 2 rupees each.’ We still enjoy his crazy but lovely gestures like this.
One day he called me and said that he was leaving for Poona and I should get the packet to sent to his place. Around 4 pm, I reached his house with my small packet. At that time he was busy packing his own bag. I gave him the parcel. He asked ‘will you have drink?’ I said ‘no thanks, I don’t drink in the afternoon.’ He added ‘no? Actually if you don’t have a drink, I will not take your packet to Poona.’ I said ‘come on Jalal, it is 4 O’clock in the afternoon and the day is so hot’. ‘Ok, then take it back’, he handed the parcel back to me. Let me open a little window to show my inner self here.
With all the due to respect and love for all my actor friends, I often feel a bit insecure in their company. It is because I cannot fathom from their faces as to what is right and what is not and to what extent. And if the person happens to be a friend it gets all the more tedious to judge what he means. They make the scene so damn convincing. They are equipped to play the fool at will and a poor non-actor ends up playing in their hands.
Back to reality; to my shock Jalal offered me not beer or wine; but black rum with water! He kept packing his bag and kept refilling my glass as well. I think he also gave me something to munch too to counter that bitter medicine. An had hour passed. By now he had affectionately force fed me three large drinks. He was also done with his packing. I had seen my parcel placed safely inside his bag. Now he was ready to leave. He was going to drive to Poona alone. He picked his bag and we both came down in the lift. He must have enjoyed my wobbly walk.
Once we invited him once on my birthday. Generally in my house the parties used to last well beyond 1.00 am; but that day by midnight most of our friends had left and Jalal had not even made his entry. I thought either he has forgotten the day or the directions to my house. There were no cell phones then. Around 12.30 am, we gave up and started closing, when I felt someone whispered my name from the street. I rushed to the balcony; there was no one. I let it pass. In a few minutes the voice was heard again. This time we all came to the balcony; and found Jalal driving his Gypsy very slowly and calling me softly. He had been doing it for sometime; calling my name softly and driving up and down, in the hope that someone will hear and respond. He was so civilized in not screaming my name or honking in the middle of the night. In his next trip down my road, he saw us all in the balcony, parked his Jeep and came in. He was such lively person that after due ‘sorry sorry’ he made his drink, asked for Bob Marley music and let his hair down. I asked him ‘why were you whispering my name from your vehicle? You could have honked or called a little louder. Thank god it was quiet enough for us to hear you.’ He said ‘no it is too late to create a nuisance’. He had taken 3 rounds outside my gate whispering my name, because he was not sure of the building. But I am sure it is also not easy to find someone who would be that conscientious, especially an actor! [Sorry to put them in this bracket again] He made us laugh by imitating my daughter’s gestures while playing ‘Uno’. In spare time during that the outdoor shoot he used to play Uno, a card game with my daughter and my son. In fact he had introduced that game to our family and we were addicted to it for very long.
Well, Jalal sang along every Bob Marley song. He knew the entire album in sequence. One visual part that I remember is when he was about to enter the toilet to refresh, the opening music of ‘I shot the sheriff’ started. On beat, he retraced his two steps backwards from the toilet door, did a jig on the beat, sang the first line and then went in. He was totally a cool, down to earth guy and not to forget, a good friend.
He expired suddenly in Delhi due to a massive heart attack. It seems he had been warned by his close friends to get his health condition checked. But this was also true that he did not wish to spend his limited funds on himself. He wanted to save it for traveling to see his children. His body was brought to his apartment and I went to see him. Some of his family members were wondering about my identity. So I made it short and sweet. I patted his cheeks and bid good bye. His family and friends did not know that one hot afternoon sometimes in the past, this guy had blackmailed me and forced 3 stiff drinks down my throat. And now he was being forced to turn into an inaccessible star, who is not allowed to meet an unknown guy like me.