On morning of 25 Aug, 2012, I read about A K Hangal’s hospitalization in newspaper, I called up his son Vijay. He said some details about the fracture were reported wrongly – the fall had resulted in a hip bone fracture and not femur. I reached Asha Parekh hospital at 10.30am.
Mr. Hangal was in the ICU. They let me in after the doctor attending him finished the checkup. First I saw him from a distance and couldn’t believe my eyes, how frail he looked. He was covered up with a sheet but was without a shirt. I went close to him and stood right in front of him. His face was propped up by titled bed. There was oxygen mask and he was breathing very heavily. I said ‘hello’ to him and touched his forehead. He reacted with a little movement of his eyes. I said, “so when are you coming home? I hope it will be next week. Then I will drop in and we will have a long chat session.” His did some eye movements to acknowledge me. I spoke some more generally about the fracture, Vijay, home… then attendant approached to inform me that my time was over. I said,”Hangal saab I will see you soon at home. You should let your fracture heal at home.”
A drop of tear trickled out and settled in the inner corner of his right eye. He knew this time going home will be very difficult… at 9 am (26 Aug 2012), approximately 22 hours after I left his side; he had slipped into the next level of life…
Earlier to all this; Mr Hangal had been keeping ill health for many years. At that time Mr. Amitabh Bachchan had appealed to friends, saying Mr. Hangal does not need financial help or sympathy, he needs company. He needs friends to visit him, talk to him and spend time with him.
So, I decided to meet him. In fact I decided to take it up as a project. Anyways I knew him very well. I had worked with him in not less than 6 to 7 films plus a TV show. So, in Feb 2010, I started the project ‘Entertaining A K Hangal’. One afternoon after fixing time with his son Vijay, I reached his ground floor house in Santacruz East. But I was in big shock to realize that he had lost his memory to quite an extent. He vaguely found me familiar and did not remember anything, I was talking about. I knew it then, I will need to work systematically and diligently to revive his memory. He did have some fixed strong memories of certain projects, like Sholay. He also liked to share and show his collection of paper clips to guests. To my utter good luck he showed me one clip of a film we did together! From there I got an entry into his mental space; people, locations, other actors. Over many visits to his house, I managed to open many of his foggy mental chapters to a large extent. After that it got much easier and next two years I had a lot of fun entertaining him. He remembered a TV show we did together, called ‘Bawa ji ka Baiscope’. It was one the earliest shows on DD, that had him and Satyan Kappu in lead roles. Luckily I had a DVD of that. He was so excited watching a much younger himself from beginning 80s. Watching his look and energy, he commented ‘bravo’ for himself!
I could not go for his cremation as I was working. But that is fine. Death does not move me, life does. I had started a FB page ‘Say Hello to A K Hangal’. It was quite popular. I asked members to keep this group ‘alive’ with snippets of their own memories and experiences that they may have shared with our friend, A K Hangal.
Gautam was strolling alone in a garden. It had just stopped raining. So the ground was quite soggy. As a wave of that pleasant breeze passed, it unsettled the rain droplets hanging on tree leafs. Most fell on the ground but many were lucky to find their abode on Gautam’s face, shoulders and hair. He too enjoyed it. He said a quiet inner thanks to the creation for providing such an unbelievable magic. Water, coming down from the heaven! It made everything on the earth look fresh and revitalized. Trees, grass, plants looked greener and flowers brighter.
The air seemed clearer; to look through and to breathe in. It contained no dust or any other impurities. But yes it had the unmistakable smell of water meeting the warm earth. Birds chirped and bees buzzed around. Another strong wave of breeze passed and some leaf fell on him like a shower. He smiled and thanked the creation once again. He felt as though he was being honored by showering of leafs by an unknown entity. He felt that it was planned that the shower will occur just when he is just under the tree… just as it happened earlier.
A wave of a thought entered his mind. It was about a person, who had been very fond of him and of course the feeling were reciprocated by him. The thought played around in his mind. Gautam also played with it. Hundreds of related memories covered his mental space with another quick shower. He looked up at the sky. A cloud was passing by. He smiled and allowed the memory to pass by too. His mind was clean once again.
Another cloud came to hover inside his mind. It was the cloud of all the work he had done. He remembered the last time he got an untimely call from the office, he was worried. What now? He had wondered. What might have happened? So many worrying thoughts had darkened his mental horizon. Same phenomenon had been happening in current monsoon. A thick cloud cover darkens the horizon; but it hardly rains. He found a simile in it. He had allowed that call to make a darkening thought inside him. When you know the source of a problem, it vanishes. And it did.
His mental sheet was spotlessly clear once again. He felt fresh and energetic; not really to break into a run; but into a smile with abandon.
Second phase in my professional life, I would imagine would be the start of my inning as a chief recordist, leaving behind the days of assistantship; the days of, “yes sir, I will do it sir”. First feeling I got after turning the big leap in my career was that it was not easy to inform people that I have got elevated to next level of responsibility. Frankly speaking taking independent work for which you can be held responsible is huge. The movies cost millions and everyone’s sensibility or dumbness can make or break a film. It is true that no recordist gets kudos if a film does well at the box office, but if it doesn’t then there may be a chance that some idiot producer might come out with, ‘people said audience was getting irritated of the sound track’. Bullshit!
But my elevation from the assistant to recordist by none other than Dev Anand’s Navketan made a huge splash. Many of my colleagues were clearly and openly jealous, especially some seniors. Those days it was a very big deal to work for Navkatan in any capacity. And if they happen to give you the first ‘break’ then you would be the luckiest bum. Informing my boss, that I will not be assisting him anymore, was one of the most tedious jobs that I had to go through. Luckily he had already come to know of it from many other sources. So thankfully I had to only look down and smile sheepishly, adding, ‘of course I will finish the work on the films I still have with you.’ This has been a kind of negative part of my life. In various stages of my life few people have always been jealous of me and that doesn’t work too well. Sometime or the other negative vibes get you. Some people tried to dissuade me from thinking that Navketan will give me next film also, ‘don’t think you have become Navketan’s recordist, unless they keep you for the next movie too. It is better to join Mehboob studio’s music recording.’ At least you will get a salary every month. But I was too happy enjoying my time being a part of shooting units. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting on the same chair placed between the same four walls every day. I had made very good friends in Navketan. There was no way that they would throw me out, I thought. It turned out to be a dream run. They gave me all their forth coming movies. I got the rare chance to work with all the ‘Anand’ brothers – Dev, Chetan and Vijay. I also worked with all three nephews of Mr Dev Anand – Bhisham, Hersh and Yash Kohli. I did some unique projects too, like ‘Anand aur Anand’, which starred Mr. Dev Anand’s son Suniel’s first film as an actor. I also did ‘Hum Naujawan’, only film produced by Devina, Mr Dev Anand’s daughter. I believe ‘Hum Naujawan’ did quite well. I happened to work for many films which were Navketan’s sister concerns, like Abhinav Productions who made ‘Bhalamaanus’ with Randhir Kapoor and Neetu Singh and later ‘Mere Baad’ with Rakhee and Anupam Kher.
This is the phase I enjoyed a lot. I had learnt that doing sound effects seriously and economically makes a lot of difference. Because of that I became quite a favorite of the re-recording ace, Mangesh Desai. But real technical enjoyment of ‘sound track’ was not happening. It comes only when you do what you think is right and then hear it on the screen. Most of the SFx, I did working at nights was not heard in mixing due to undue importance given to background music. Producers would think, he has spent good money on recording new BG music, while the effects are done in house. They just thought that music was superior and effective as a cinematic tool than ‘sound effects’ :-( Well, at that time I didn’t think and I didn’t care, though I did feel bad, that many of my sounds were not heard due to over-powering music. I never came across a producer who would do justice to the effects. But then I hadn’t met, Late Dr. Jagmohan Mundhra, who also became a very good friend after ‘Surag’. He was a film maker in the US, so it was only right that he would produce with those ideas. Of course the first person to give importance to the effects was Awtar Kaul, who made 27Dn. Incidently, he too studied and worked in the US. I recorded so many sound effects throughout his shooting in trains. It will be difficult to point out to a film in which I might have loved my sound work. Exceptions would be two of the three films I did with Jagmohan, ‘Surag’ and ‘Kamla’.