My Bumpy Beginning

On May 3, 1972, when I reached Bombay from Poona for good, I had no place to stay. First night in Bombay was a usual scene picked up from old Hindi movies. The hero lands in the city of dreams. He has no where to go, no place to stay and no one knows him. You are destined to keep your bag under your head and try to get a little sleep on a pavement. In my case it was a cement bench of a garden. Well, not exactly but almost; at 11.30pm I was quietly smuggled into a lodge by a friend, after the watchful manager had retired. I had been thrown out once with a curt, ‘no guests are allowed after 10pm.’ I had no idea how do I find a place to stay. After making quite a few calls next day, I managed to grab an iron cot in a room with three others at Khetwadi, in south Bombay. I got it on the recommendation of another Ftiian. So, instead of feeling that I was going from frying pan to the fire, I bounced back to a mini hostel. All four of us were from the same alma mater. Thank god so much for that. I was saved from getting lost in this mammoth city with unknown people. I may have lost my confidence entirely and perhaps even thought of going back to my parents for a while. And that would have changed my destiny completely. But finding old friends in the same room was a big stroke of luck.
After this I had no idea how to go about finding work. So, I started going to a restaurant called Sanman at Churchgate to sit with a few seniors and ask them casually if there was any clash work for me. Obviously everyone placated me with a ‘sure will let you know’. But I don’t remember doing more than 2 days of clash, that too without any money. What we call ‘clash’ in Bollywood-terms is a replacement for someone who can not attend his work due to two professional engagements at the same time. So he calls another available assistant who can attend the shoot who will get paid only the travel allowance of Rs.5! Those were the days.
Soon I realized that this was not right. It was no good a way to find work. No body was going to call me. So I decided that it was better to stay at home and save money rather than go to Churchgate too often. As if on cue, in a few days my finances fell dangerously low. I sent an SOS to my parents and in a few days I received a money order of Rs 500 from them. I promised myself that I will try to make this, as the last money order from home. After this I slept. I just slept day in and day out. People sometimes got worried as I was not waking up even to eat. One day, I dreamt, I was dying. The nightmare was so convincing that I woke up with a massive fright; thankfully only to realize that it was the hunger of a Kumbhkaran that had caused the nightmare. I knew going out costs money and eating costs money. So I did not stop sleeping. Remember ‘Forest Gump’? Tom Hanks starts running one day and he keeps running and running… for years. I too did not stop sleeping until after 15 days I heard a voice repeatedly overlapping on my dreams, ‘get up you got a phone call’. It was about a film shooting next day, which would fetch me Rs 25 per day. After this for the next 3 years I did not get time to rest or to sleep. I did even get time to come back to my room to change my clothes for days.
In the next 18 months I assisted in 6 films. I was given the break as chief recordist by Navketan, the most popular film company of that time, owned by star actor Dev Anand. This break broke the hearts of few who had been nourishing an ambition of being a Navketan person for ages.

Movie Marketing Trends

On 5th of March 2007, I was invited to attend a media event called Media Mantra at the S.N.D.T. Women’s University, Mumbai. It was organized by students of Post Graduate Diploma in Communication and Media. The theme of the discussion was ticklishly titled, “Minting moolahs…telling stories’. In the light of International Women’s Day, screening of film “Dor” was a part of the program too. I was keen to watch the film a second time within two weeks. May be it says something about quality of the film.
But what I learnt from all the “Minting moolahs…’ discussions was that a good film maker is going to be a looser in all this jungle of moolah making hyenas. At one point I felt so discouraged that I thought that Bollywood may not be a place for original, creative and clean film makers, any more. If stars are considered to be the only saviors of a movie and not the script and cinematic qualities of that film, then this may be the right time for me to quit this business. Here salaries of the top stars dictate terms. Bulk of production cost is spent on them and that has to be recovered, somehow. Examples of Don (I call it the first remix-movie) by producer/director Farhan Akhtar and Dhoom 2 by director Sanjay Gadhvi and producer, Aditya Chopra were taken up as case study. A very young Mr. Tarun Tripathi, marketing head YRF, enlightened us with kind of schemes he planned through the SMS campaigns and other ‘meet the stars’ lures to get the youth to spend their money. And thus a lot of money was recovered not from the box office of film, but indirectly from the cell phone wielding Indian youth. Another speaker (a PR person) told us that they were given the promotional campaign for Dhoom 2. She said they used the lure of Yamaha bikes as prize and other ‘products’ connected with film to excite and bring people in. As usual the winning prize was for a ‘randomly selected person by computer’. Right now it is difficult to fathom that when will the unsuspecting nouveau riche learn? They will; may be a bit slowly. Sadly the reactions of my friends, who watched Don and Dhoom2 were, not better than ‘OK, can be seen once, not good, fights are good, FX are good, earlier one was better, Hritik is good, I liked a song etc.’ Most of such films are recommended in fragments and not in totality.
Thankfully to take up the other side the panel took up cases of films like Iqbal, Maqbool and My Brother Nikhil. Mr. Tarun Tripathi agreed that these films constituted; what we call as good cinema. But in spite of that they did not make money. In fact the only film out of these three that ‘just about recovered its cost was Iqbal’, pointed out Mr. Tripathi. The audience reactions to all the three movies were totally positive. Everyone recommended all the three films in totality highlighting various points like acting, cinematography, dialogues, authenticity of scenes etc.
This gives a tragic turn to the Bollywood film production scene. Good films are not being backed by marketing agencies due to absence of big stars. Also these producers can not afford to hire a PR agency. The cost of the hiring a PR agency is not built-in, in the budget of such films. If it were, then the film becomes wholly unviable to start with. Cost of the film and the cost of marketing get too disproportionate. They don’t make sense. But they do make sense for high budget films like Dhoom2 or Don (remixed).
Too many complications and contradictions crop up in trying to untangle out of the haze of this maze. Some films are expensive due to the cost of just one or may be 3 stars in such a film. But this film is being produced, because everyone hopes that it will make money. They think it will make money because it has very popular stars, who are capable of attracting the audiences into the theatres. It is believed that because of stars the film is going to get a good ‘initial’ or the ‘opening’. In other words first week of its release will definitely go houseful. Now another grueling act that the production team gets into is to make nearly 600 or more prints for such a film’s release. Producers release that many prints with a belief that star’s gravitational attraction will pull the audiences into the theatre, making the film recover its cost faster. And why do you think that cost must be recovered fast? It is so because they are not sure of it really. In fact they are all white faced with fear. Suppose if someone says something about the film which does not go in its favor…?
Take a look at this reality: As the end credit roll starts, people turn away from the screen and start walking out from the packed cinema hall. As they step out into the brighter side, they are faced with a camera and a petite young girl holding out a microphone with a news channel insignia. PYT is finding it hard to balance herself due to pushes from the surge of crowd. But she is smiling because she is excited with her job. She extends the microphone towards your friendly face and asks ‘what do you think?’ and you blurt out something. A bunch of ‘blurts’ or ‘sound bites’ like this can be packed together and morphed into a very dangerous bomb on a editing table. Reputation and plans of entire production and distribution team of a 50 crore film can be wiped out clean by dropping this bomb through the loud mouth idiot sitting respectfully in every living room. Hmmm doesn’t the game look very scary now?
The film makers and friends of Iqbal, Maqbool and My Brother Nikhil were very positive about their product. These movies were made with good scripts and cinematic commitment, while in the other (bigger) case everyone was shivering in their pants right from take off. They were falling on branding– like bikes and other products in film scenes. Is that film making? Films are now products. They have to be viable. Not necessary that they have to be cinematic too. Now there are no more good old reliable film distributors left, who developed a lasting relationship with production houses. At some stage of completion the film would be shown to distributor to get any convincing feed backs from him. After sorting that, the film would be delivered to distributor, who would transfer the money to the producer and would start working on prints and publicity designs. But now to release a film the producer only has to shell out money for the prints as well as the publicity. So each film has to have the cost of prints and publicity included in its original budget.
Who is backing whom and why? Who is earning moolah and how? Why so much risk is being taken to back the horses whose perform is doubted (600 prints!) from the start? And why are people backing out from backing sturdy, strongly scripted and dependable horses?
Is it not lesser of a challenge and risk to back a good film costing 5 whatever; than to back a remix version costing 50 whatever? Does not take long to discover, does it?

IshkIshkIshk Prod Story 6

Next day we shot the part of climax near Shyangboche airport. After the 6 day shooting schedule at this hell of a location got over, we had to vacate as soon as possible.
A journalist from ‘Time’ visited us here. She stayed for 2 days interviewing and clicking a lot of pictures. In fact there had been a steady traffic of journalists from Mumbai on all our locations. Dev Saab has got a way with them. Other visitors were music director R D Burman, singer Bhupinder Singh and Gogi Anand.
It was nearly mid-December and the weather was getting worse. Soon flights would be prohibited here for a long period. Shyangboche airport was very unique too. A 250 meter air strip was like a steep incline, to help airplanes gain speed while flying away and to arrest their motion while landing. Higher end of the air strip touched the mountain side. But the other end was sharply and scarily clipped off at the edge of mountain and opened straight into void of the familiar deep valley. The airplane was a 6 seater Pilatus Porter. Our transportation from here took about 5 round trips between Shyangboche and Kathmandu. Hersh asked me to travel in the last flight with him. So, I waited. Slowly each and everyone boarded the small airplane that kept coming back after a gap of nearly 2 hours. Watching the airplane take off and land gave me necessary confidence of going through the experience of this flight. Frankly I did not mind waiting, because it gave me a longer chance to enjoy that place.
On our turn the pilot announced that this was going to be on the last flight of the season. That was a little scary, because any slip could have left us stranded here for months without any rescue. I with Hersh and some Nepali helpers took our seats, buckled the belts and the plane zoomed down to the edge of the short strip. This was the first time I was flying from here. As it left the edge of the mountain, it fell down about 50 ft like a rock. It felt as if there was not enough momentum for it to take off. But in about 5 seconds, it stabilized and turned right. It took its route in the middle of the valley. The engine kept groaning hard to keep above the white fog that had covered the entire panorama from down below. The pilot could not see anything, so to be safe he had to stay above those clouds. It seemed that airplane did not have enough power. The joy-stick was pressed to the last point. There was a horrifying tension. Sometimes the plane would be tossed from side to side and sometime lost height suddenly. When it fell like a rock, our heads would hit the ceiling. A Nepali boy got so scared that he left his seat and sat in my lap holding my legs in terror. The horror lasted for more than 30 min. Only after we had cleared the mountains, the plane steadied and we could see the ground below. The pilot too relaxed, looked back and tossed some oranges towards us. His smiling face was totally sweaty. Many years later in 1981, Shekhar Kapoor would tell me that the Italian pilot who flew us died in a crash in the same area.
Like many others Hersh too had become very friendly with me during this near 3 month shoot. This relationship would later culminate into me working for his own production company ‘Indu Pictures’ and ‘Aap Ki Khatir’ would be his first film with Vinod Khanna and Rekha. He also introduced me to his wife’s younger sister, who eventually became my wife and still is…
We returned to Mumbai totally exhausted and badly sun-burnt. But in a few days only Dev Saab started shooting on the sets in Mehboob studios. As a part of climax, a set of rocks was constructed, to do close work. Then we had two days schedule on real mountain-rocks of Mumbra, near Mumbai. We had real rock climbers duplicating for Zeenat, Dev Saab and others.
We also went to Narkanda near Simla, to shoot sequences of heavy snow and blizzard. It was so awfully cold. We were standing on snow, snow was all around and storm fan was throwing snow and thermocol balls at the actors. We shot in this, colder than Nepal location, for 6 days and returned to Mumbai.
Another part of the story which moved with Dev Saab’s childhood was shot in Dr Graham’s Homes School, Kalimpong. We were here for nearly ten days.
Soon after the film was edited we started dubbing in music recording facility of Mehboob studios. Robin Chatterji the recordist had not yet started recording songs here. The theatre had just been completed. So, Mehboob management gave it to Dev Saab willingly for dubbing. Mehboob Khan had tremendous respect for Dev Saab. He used to say ‘Yeh Studio Dev Ka Hai Aur Dev Ke Paise Se Bana Hai.’ The largest stage (#3) of Mehboob studios was believed to be financed by Dev Saab.
Song recording and processing of the film had been done at ‘Film Center’, at Tardeo. Being a musical, ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ had many songs, written by Anand Bakshi and composed by R D Burman. I met Navketan editor Babu Sheikh at their Khira Nagar office at S V Road, Santacruz. Babu has retired since long and the office too has shifted to Pali Hill, Bandra at the Anand recording studios. The mixing (Re-recording) of the film was done by unbeatable Mangesh Desai at V Shataram’s Raj Kamal studios at Parel. Mangesh Desai gave some suggestions as he watched the film over and over during mixing. So, a little patch work was done on the terrace of Raj Kamal. We also did some patch work on the hills of Lonavala.
The film finally completed and got the censor certificate in Nov, 1974. Its premier at the Metro cinema was a very glitzy affair. It was followed by a huge party at the top floor restaurant of the Oberoi hotel at the Marine Drive. My eyes were popping with the glare of publicity that actors were receiving. I felt good in knowing that I too had been a part of all this, may be on the outer periphery.
In the end, nothing succeeds like success. Being such an expensive film, ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ didn’t even run for two weeks in Metro. Nor did it get any good reviews. It was my first painful experience of seeing so much hard work and money going down the drain, so effortlessly.

IshkIshkIshk Prod Story 5

Next morning we flew by helicopter to Thyangboche, which has the world’s highest Buddhist Monastery at 14000ft. It was a 10 min journey, but very dangerous one. We had to be moved from one peak to another with a valley in the middle. But the pilot was having lot of problems in landing safely due to awkward wind currents. Dev Saab spent money very lavishly on this leg of the shoot. Other than actor and technicians, things like reflectors and wooden stools too had to be carted by helicopter at an exorbitant cost. We reached here after the sunlight had faded. So the shooting was to start next morning. In the night all of us had some basic dinner with a little rum. There were no beds, only sleeping bags for us on the floor of an enclosure made of wooden planks. The room resembled more like a large box of wood. On my right was Premnath and left was chief assistant director Vishwa. All of us were protected against biting cold and whistling winds by our usual woolens, sleeping bags and the strong Nepali Khukri rum. I can never forget Premji’s thunderous snoring. He had hit the sleeping bag earlier than me so he had no chance to experience my snoring. When everyone snores in a room, it is better to be the first to hit the pillow and doze off; late sleepers have to face the terrible music. The glass of water next to Premji was vibrating due to his snoring and strong winds.
In the morning my eyes opened due to spreading brightness warmth of sun. Premji picked up his glass of water to drink, but could not. The water had frozen. He peeped into the glass, held the glass up side down and then shook it. He then felt so amused and excited that he went on screaming and showed the glass to everyone. He ran to Dev Saab screaming, ‘Devi Devi look what happened to the water.’ He called Dev Saab ‘Devi’ affectionately. Even I was stunned to think how cold it must have been at night. I am sure it must have been the layer of rum that saved us all from freezing.
But due to excessive cold I had a technical set back. My recording machine Nagra did not work. It would go ‘forward’ and ‘rewind’ but not record or play. Dev Saab gave me dirty looks all through the day. He hates people sitting around jobless. Any ways all I could do was to ask the direction assistants to note down exact dialogues that actors spoke, for being of help during dubbing of these scenes. We shot here for two days. On the second day after the shoot we had to start moving back to Everest hotel at Shyangboche. And this time all of us were not going back by helicopter. Mainly junior technical staff was going to trek back and some basic equipment would be carted on Yak backs. Shekhar and I too decided to go with them. For this return journey we had to go down about 1km into the valley and come up again near the hotel.
This walk would also become a part of my unforgettable experiences. Due to our (mine and Shekhar’s) much faster speed we were gradually going too far ahead from the main unit, which incidentally had local guides along with them. We took it for granted that when the right path will come we will easily know it. On the way we met Hersh and some others trudging along on Yak backs. Waving at them, we left them far behind. Shekhar is very fit and he was a good 10 min ahead of me too. I could see him only on the straight part of a mountain, but he would vanish from sight if there were curves. So we both too became lonely in that wilderness. Supposedly there were no wild animals; but as I went around a tight curve suddenly I noticed a Yak in the middle of the narrow path. He was looking at me directly. I had not met any Yaks, so I didn’t know if they are friendly or not. Since I was all alone, I could not take any risk. I climbed up a good 100 feet above the Yak and came down ahead of him. Those were some anxious moments. It was getting dark now. We had to negotiate the distance fast to get back safely. We were not equipped to be in the open at night in such a cold place. Luckily we found a couple on traveling on the same route. Somehow we managed to convey him that we want to go to Shyangboche. To our horror he said it is been left behind. The man pointed a near vertical mountain on our side and said climb up and go back. We were on a very narrow path with a near vertical mountain on right and that 3000ft deep valley on the left. We looked at each other with shock, but managed to conceal our fears. We started immediately. There was no time. The climb was so steep that it could give you vertigo. There was no path. We had to place our feet on raw mud and rocks very gingerly. I had to very small plants or even grass to keep our balance. Everything behind us looked like a deep valley. Any slip and we would not be able to stop on the path too. With the last drop of light our fingers grabbed the edge of narrow flat path to our hotel and then stood on it safely. As if on cue we hugged each other, pumped our hands and were overwhelmed with evaporation of fear, anxiety and exhaustion. We felt as if we had scaled Lhotse.

IshkIshkIshk Prod Story 4

After we returned to Fish Tail Lodge from Dhumpus, Dev Saab was informed that film raw stock running low. He summoned Production Controller Hersh Kohli. Hersh called Mumbai and discovered that the shortage was quite serious even in Mumbai and we may have to stop work for a few days. Due to stringent permit rules, things could not be moved easily. Dev Saab thought for a moment and said ‘get it from Hong Kong’. Hersh started preparing to leave for Hong Kong. No production can take 100 people on outdoor location and not shoot. In the mean while Amit Khanna borrowed some film negative from other producers in Mumbai and managed to send it. But soon the situation eased and all was well. Amit Khanna was the production executive operating from Mumbai. Hersh had an assistant Kumar Butani, who became very friendly with me, as we stayed on the same floor of the hotel. Hersh had to do a lot of flying between Pokhra and Mumbai. CAD to Dev Saab was Vishwa. He had been associated with him since ‘Teen Devian’, which was unofficially directed by Dev Saab. He went on to become producer and director later and made ‘Bhalamanus’ with Randhir Kapoor and Neetu Singh and ‘Mere Baad’ with Anupam Kher and Rakhee. Other two direction assistants Ravi Berry and Vimal Chopra are not in films since long.
We had come with two cameras (both Arri-IIC) and two Nagra (4.2 and III) on location. On Fali Saab’s camera we had an attendant called Jahangir Chowdhary. He was also Fali Saab’s nephew. Jahangir would later become a hot shot cinematographer himself, after completing his ‘photography’ course from FTII. Nasikar was a Nagra attendant. Perhaps he felt a little odd about the job he was doing here. He used to be our electronic-lab assistant at the Film Institute. He died later in Mumbai due to problems of excessive drinking. I also remember some friendly light-boys and spot-boys like, Mohan (who became lights supplier and did very well), Dilip, Natthu, Anand and Allauddin.
Next important location shift was to Shyangboche, which falls on the way to Mount Everest. Fali Saab did not come here with us. A much younger D K Prabhakar did this schedule, who was the second unit cameraman with us. Later on he would take over from Fali Mistry as Navketan’s cameraman and would do very competent job in ‘Des Pardes’.
We flew in a small Cessna airplane to ‘Lukla’ and landed on its Barbie Doll airport. From here we had to trek to Namchi Bazar, a well known village on higher Nepal. It was 24 hour trek. We stayed the night in tents. Sherpas carried our stuff, pitched up the tents and cooked dinner. It was very sexy night. There was dinner around the bon-fire, songs and naughty jokes were contributed by Shekhar, Kabir Bedi and some girls. Shekhar sang a parody, ‘Aao Bachcho Tumhein Dikhayen Ladki Solah Saal Ki…’ Early morning we all started walking. I realized I was very good mountaineer. Shekhar, Kabir and me reached together at the home of our host at Namchi Bazar. We stayed the night again here but under a roof. In the night Shiela Jones asked Kabir if she could use his hair brush. He said ‘sure’, then hesitating he asked ‘do you have dandruff?’ She felt offended and said ‘certainly not’. Offering the brush to her he said ‘well I have’ and we all had a hearty laugh.
Next morning we trekked to reach hotel Everest View at Shyangboche (Altitude 13000ft). Hotel Everest View is owned and run by a Japanese family and is the last chance for the trekkers to be under a roof before the climb to peak Everest starts. My room was on the side of the hotel. The wall near my bed was all glass. They did it on purpose. You could see the Lohtse Himalayan range from here. And to my left was the peak that is the dream of every mountaineer to conquer – Everest, clear, beautiful and right in front. On the other side of the glass had cold howling wind and snow piled up on the ground touching the glass. I got a practical crazy idea; I pulled down my bedding from the cot onto the carpet touching the glass wall. It was such a lovely experience to be safe in a comfortable room and look at the snow two inches away from my face. I have a capacity to look at things in a different way. The dining hall of this hotel too had the most amazing picture postcard view of the Everest. I remember it was a moon lit night and the entire wall facing the peak was made of glass. Almost full moon graced the clear sky, snow on Everest looked a shade yellow due to moon-light; a few clouds were hanging on its right side. This is one of the few sights that have not faded away in spite of 33 years that have gone by. If it was today all I would do, would be to sit quietly and absorb the visual in my being. Here during a busy day, Dev Saab received a telegram from his PR agency called J S Designs, informing him that his previous film ‘Heera Panna’ had released to full houses. But on our return to Mumbai we would all realize that there was not much truth in that message. The film had amazing music, but fared average on the box-office.

IshkIshkIshk Prod Story 3

After a marathon schedule of 42 days & nights, we were given a welcome change. There was no night shooting on November 19. We all were blessed due to Zeenat’s birthday on this day. So, in place of Nagra, amplifiers, lights and camera, there were drinks, dinner, conversations and most importantly relaxation. I am sure for this break the unit must have genuinely wished and blessed Zeenat. I sat in the company of Fali Mistry. He was beginning to get very fond of me. Although I was in awe of him, I was enjoying listening to his stories from the nostalgic past. Fali Saab had been around for a long time. His first film was Dilip Kumar’s ‘Udan Khatola’. He had also worked on my all time favorite ‘Guide’. After dinner Fali Saab was rotating his large goblet of brandy and talking to me about finer points of drinking. Similar relationship was developing between me and senior actor Nadira. She would affectionately insist on me that I call her ’mom or mamma’. She proved it beyond doubt when she took care of me for seven days, when I fell very ill due to some stomach ailment. She made my bed in her room and did not allow me to step outside. My assistants had to manage the show in my absence.
It is a fact that whenever there is an outdoor shooting, the unit members have returned home as friends, for life.
After a while we were moved to a village called ‘Dhampus’. But there was no village in sight. Dhampus was all mountains and valleys providing a great back-drop all around. Reaching here was very tedious. Fali Saab was on a pony because the climb was rocky and very steep. When he reached up, he was panting very heavily and looked mortally scared. I was quizzical. He kept his hand on my shoulder for support and said leaning heavily, ‘Aaj Main Bach Gaya’. He told me that his pony had stumbled and slipped on some loose rocks. So he got off the pony and had to walk up a part of the climb. Fali Saab was nearly 6ft tall and was a very heavy man too. He had health problems associated with being over weight, like diabetes. He used to be careful about his diet. Although Dev Saab trusted and needed him totally, I would still think, it was very bold of him to come and shoot in a place like this.
Next to a heavy set frame of Fali Saab, Arri-IIC camera looked insignificant. One night during the lighting of a shot Fali Saab saw a pretty foreigner chatting with Dev Saab. With a smile he called me by his side and started looking here and there. He took out a small comb from his hip pocket and combing his hair he casually mumbled to me ‘Dev Ke Saath Woh Chhokri Kaun Hai (who is that chick with Dev)?’ I said, ‘Koi Jouranalist Hai Fali Saab (she is a journalist)’. He said, ‘Achchhi Hai (she is pretty). Dev Ko Kahan Se Milti Hain Itni?’ I was enjoying the trust that was building between me and a very celebrated senior technician.
Later everyday after shooting in Mehboob studios, he would give me a lift in his Mercedes or Nadira in her Triumph. On some occasions they even waited and looked for me too, if I was late. Fali Saab had also started sharing some semi dirty jokes with me. He would laugh heartily after telling one. He also shared some of his private past with me. He once took me to a Parsi lady’s home in Bandra for a cup of tea. After we left he told me in his car that she was his ex-girl friend. He bragged to me once about a big heroine coming to his hotel room.
Fali Saab had an assistant called S R Dabholkar (no more now). In Dhampus I had a massive fight with him. He tried to act smart with me when I was in my tent and 4 drinks high. That was a big mistake he made. I screamed and hurled abuses at him. After the fight he went away and I ended up drinking almost an entire bottle of rum – neat. That still stands as is my record binge. Next day during the shooting of the song ‘Chal Saathi Chal’, Fali Saab told me that I had gone way out of control and Dev too was listening to your screaming. I must have felt bad for it, but nothing could be done then. In Dhampus the sun would go behind mountains very early. And because of slower film speed, it was difficult to get right exposure. But the light would be enough to play ‘Gulli Danda’. Our carpenters had made Gulli Danda from a little branch of a tree. So I along with few light boys and Vijay-Oscar would play our hearts out to an audience of Dev Saab, Zeenat and Fali Saab with other staff.
All of us had to wake up very early for a ticklish reason; to make potty in outdoors. I remember one dark morning I was headed towards a bush in the dark when I noticed a figure resembling Zeenat. I of course promptly changed my direction to find another bush. One evening on this location would go down in my life as extra special. We all sat around a small fire and everyone managed to convince Dev Saab to sing something for us. Without much fuss he sang ‘Jahan Mein Aisa Kaun Hai’ by Asha Bhonsle from ‘Hum Dono’. He sang very well. It has been my favorite song since then.

IshkIshkIshk.Prod Story 2

The film had a large star cast. Shekhar Kapoor and Zarina Wahab were introduced in this film. Shekhar and child actor Padmini Kolhapure were newcomers who would go on to become very prominent personalities in future. Until then Shekhar had been a practicing CA in London. Padmini was a child of about 8-9 years. Other major actors were Premnath, Nadira, Iftekhar, Jankidas, Sudhir, Birbal, Trilok Kapoor, Madhup Sharma, Maruti, Ranjan and Nana Palsikar. Shabana Azmi and Komal (who later married Shatrughan Sinha) too were fairly new in the business. Shabana we all know has reached pinnacles of fame in various fields. Dev Saab had also selected a group of 12 pretty young girls to play as a group of trekkers in the film. Most prominent among them was the established model Shiela Jones.
In the morning of ‘day one’ as our raft was half way, we noticed Dev Saab pacing up and down ready with make-up, dressed in green leather pants and yellow shirt. He was shouting at us telling that we were late. Shooting started with scenes of Premnath, child actor Satyajit and comedian Maruti. It is late morning in the scene. Premnath is mad at sleeping hotel workers (child actor Satyajit and Maruti). Satyajit was supposed to have overslept, so he was to be woken up roughly by Premnath. Premji (Premnath) said he will do a direct take without rehearsal. He came screaming from far, shook up Satyajit roughly and perhaps even slapped him. Satyajit was not expecting so much energy in the scene. He got very scared and after the shot he developed fever and was sick for 3 days. He also brandished a knife at Maruti and he too seemed mortally scared.
Later during night shift we started playback sequences of songs, ‘Mujhko Agar Ijazat Ho To’ and ‘Kisi Na Kisi Se’, inside the large circular dining hall. This restaurant had glass windows all around it and a fire place in the middle. During the song shoots all twelve model girls, Zeenat Aman, Zarina Wahab, Padmini, Shekhar, Kuljit, Gautam Sarin, Nadira and Premnath participated. We shot that night and every night till about 2-3am. After pack up all of us would rush to wrap up the equipment, in order be the first to take the raft. The second round would delay you surely by about 15 min. Initially a hotel boy was assigned to pull it for us; but soon it was clear that he was not going to get any sleep doing that job. Thus soon enough unit members themselves took it over. For the young technicians of the unit, it was quite enjoyable too. In fact my selection to be a part of this film was done with my age in mind, then 23 years. Navketan’s earlier recordist Mr. J M Barot was quite senior by then and could not have kept up to the rigorous physical demands of this film. Mr. Barot was associated with Navketan until their previous film ‘Heera Panna’ and has had a long association with them. I was told that Dev Saab had a meeting with his close associates on this point and Gogi Anand had suggested my name to him. I will thank him forever for trusting me and linking me to such a famous personality and his esteemed banner.
Dev Saab loves to have energetic people around him. He likes to see his people on their toes, full of energy, rather than sitting around and looking dull. And I fitted the bill. I would say that hiring me for ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ was as beneficial for Navketan, as it was for me. The shooting schedules and locations were so strenuous that older technicians would not have survived it. We shot, two shifts a day, i.e. day and night for 42 days without break. That is ample proof of the tough shooting, we had. We slept only between 3am and 7am. For me it was a little worse, because I had got hooked on to drinking. Me, Vijay and Oscar (choreographers) would drink like devils and eat our cold dinner from the restaurant at 4am, everyday! I survived this physical abuse since I was a tough 23 then.
For a few days we shot at another pretty location called ‘Tibetan Camp’. I did my first shopping of Nepali trinkets, copper medallions, beads etc out of my daily allowance of 35 Nepali Rupiyah. We shot scenes of flashback with Premnath and Zeenat Aman. Zeenat had to insert pieces of cotton pads behind her cheeks in her mouth to look different. She played Premnath’s wife (she dies later) and her own mother with this look. Other actors in this sequence were Iftekhar, Ranjan and A K Hangal. Mr. Hangal played a Hindu priest. He did similar roles of a priest in three more films with me later. ‘Kalabaaz’ was another one, yet again with Dev Anand and Zeenat. All the locations that we shot on were totally unexplored by any other camera. As an assistant recordist I hadn’t traveled much. I had just been to Goa once (for ‘The Witness’). Nepal looked so pretty to me. I also had this excitement in my chest that technically I was in a foreign country for the first time in my life, never mind without passport. Navketan had made I-cards for all of us and that was enough.

IshkIshkIshk.Prod Story 1

On Oct 21, 1973 an Indian Airlines flight bound for New Delhi was preparing to take off from Mumbai. Nearly half of the Caravelle aircraft was occupied by the unit members of to be launched film, ‘Ishk Ishk Ishk’ being produced under the banner of Navketan International Films (P) Ltd. The ambience was vibrant with loud excited voices, handshakes, high5s and hugs. Most of the people knew each other. Dev Saab (Mr. Dev Anand) the actor, writer, producer and director of the film was in his usual high spirits. He was walking briskly down the isle to ask his unit members individually if they were comfortable.
My anxiety and nervousness had peaked as my life’s first airplane flight was about to take off. Airplane’s various changing sounds had been making me nervous. I was trying to occupy my mind by finding faces of known actors. I found Jeevan, Premnath and Nadira. But mainly my eyes and mind were on this phenomenon called Dev Anand. I wanted him to recognize me, since earlier I had been an assistant in ‘Darling Darling’, staring Dev Saab and Zeenat Aman. The film was directed by his nephew Gogi Anand (now no more). But Dev Saab’s energy level in the airplane was at its legendary level; the level which has been recognized by the entire film fraternity. They say when Dev Saab is on the sets of his own movie no one can walk along with him; Dev Saab does not sit; Dev Saab never goes back to makeup room unless it is lunch time… In Oct 1973 he had just turned 50 and was oozing with youth.
The plane landed at Delhi and the unit was accommodated for an overnight stay in Oberoi and Lodhi Hotel. Next morning a Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC), Boeing-737 took us to Kathmandu and then took a connecting RNAC Avro to Pokhra – our final destination. This 48 seat Avro, was full of the film unit entirely. When the flight was about to land at Pokhra, I looked at the landscape below and got very nervous. It seemed to me that there might be some kind of emergency since the aircraft was descending directly into a field. The plane went straight ahead and landed smoothly on a seemingly unprepared surface. Pokhra had such a basic airport. I was told that before a flight landed here, they blow a siren to alert the shepherds to drive their cattle away from the air strip. While the helpers were collecting our luggage and we just walked off, crossed a narrow road and entered our hotel. As easy as that!
In the meanwhile another caravan consisting of two trucks and a bus load of technicians had left Mumbai a week in advance. It carried all the hardware stuff like lights, camera trolleys, cranes, electric sockets, stands, cutters and other related stuff. Dev Saab’s nephew Hersh Kohli, the production controller of Navketan was traveling with this unit. They too reached in time to meet the other unit. This road journey must have been real fun, though surely a bit long.
A third unit consisting of the Art Director, T K Desai, his assistants and carpenters had been at hotel ‘Fish Tail Lodge’ since the end of September, at least to construct a set in the premises of the hotel. The set was a large two story wooden house. Production had agreed that after the film shoot was over, the house would be handed over to the owner of the hotel, Fred Barker. So the house-set was made really very sturdy and good looking inside out. It had many fully functional and decorated bedrooms for Nadira & Premnath and their daughters in the film, Zeenat Aman, Zarina Wahab, Komal, Komila Wirk, Guddi, and Padmini Kolhapure.
Entire unit was accommodated in four different hotels. Technicians like me, twelve model girls and equipments were in Annapurna; Shekhar Kapoor, Gautam Sarin and Kabir Bedi were in Hotel Crystal, light-boys etc were in another place and senior actors and cinematographer Fali Mistry were in Fish Tail Lodge. Here again I noticed Dev Saab was going to each room in Hotel Crystal to check if all his actors were fine. Dev Saab is very pro-actor director. I was introduced formally to him as the recordist for the film in the passage of the hotel. He knew me but it was the first time that we were going to be dealing with each other directly. He said ‘hi Arun, very good’ with a firm hand shake, patted my shoulder and carried on to check other rooms.
Fish Tail Lodge was one of the main locations for the film shoot. In the film this hotel was christened as ‘Seven Sisters Inn’, as its owner husband and wife team of Premnath and Nadira supposedly had seven daughters. Hotel’s entire landscape was the set for the film; the rooms, restaurant, lawns, even the kitchen. It was such a pretty locale. The hotel had various structures scattered on a large area, with Fewa Lake along its length, snow-clad mountains in the background and clear deep blue sky. It was about 20 minutes drive from our hotel. Vehicles had to be parked at the edge of Fewa Lake, as the road ended there. So to reach the hotel, a narrow part of a lake had to be crossed by a flat bamboo raft. This raft was tied to both ends of the lake with ropes. You had to pull the rope to drag the raft to other end. The raft was about 10×10 ft, square, so not more than 10 people could stand on it. It was a beautiful way to cross the lake and kept pollution away from the hotel premise.