Guide With Waheeda Ji

‘Enlighten film society’, who regularly show films on Sundays at 10am, arranged a screening of landmark Hindi film ‘Guide’ on Aug 5, 2008 at 12.30pm. But today’s program was to not a regular one. Guide was being shown in Waheedaji’s presence and she was to be honored with an award from Taj (remember Wah Taj?), after the show. So other than the film itself, seeing grand old lady in person was a tremendous attraction for me. I have seen this film quite recently on DVD. But this is a film that should not be missed, if you have time. I was a little late. As I got inside the theatre the scene between Kishore Sahu and Waheeda Rehman in the ruins was on.

There is always something new to learn or discover whenever you see such a movie again. I was so thoroughly bowled over by the dialogues of that scene and then every scene. I found the lines are so realistic, sharp, pat on, entertaining and yet within the boundary of the scenes and the characters. I noticed that even comedy scenes were written very well, sometimes romantic ones move you; but this film is no ordinary celluloid. It is perfect in all areas, be it different views between Rosie and her husband, Raju and his uncle (mamaji), crowd jeering at Rosie walking with Ghungharoos, Raju pleading with Nalini in the bedroom or a long soliloquy by Raju guide to Rosie. All are T perfect; not a word more or not one less.

In my life Guide enjoys the status of my maximum viewings, five. No other film has been given that kind of respect by me. And yet it was difficult holding tears back on many occasions. To put it on record my eyes don’t well up always because of emotional scenes; but many times a great shot or perfect strike of a chord on a visual or even a perfect cut can do it.

After ‘The End’ in red color filled the screen, Waheedaji was made to sit facing Bhavna (Somaiyya, I think). She was barely 6 ft away from me. Bhavna asked her a question which was three times the length of the answer. I have seen it with journalists that they start showing off their own knowledge through their questions. Poor things! I have experienced many such people. Quality of questions was something like this, ‘what did you feel when you signed this film?’, ‘tell us an anecdote while shooting with Vijay Anand’, ‘how was working those days?’… in fact some commoners poked much better questions than those professionals.

In a few minutes the setting was moved in the lobby of Cinemax, as next film show was to start. I stood on the side as all the chairs had been taken by the youth brigade reporters. At the back were some 15 DV Cams aimed at the stage. As Waheedaji entered, I heard 15-20 dogs growling and fighting loudly at as if for a single piece of bone. There was chaos. I couldn’t hear anything. Then another young guy took the mike. Young man was representing Cinemax and kept addressing Waheedaji as Waheeda Rehman, without any respectful Indian suffixes, like ‘Ji’. He called the lady Waheeda Rehman more than once in his own American culture or Indian uncultured ways. I asked girl sitting next to me if she knew his name. I just wanted to give ‘a- hole’ a little respect here in my space. Suddenly some people stood up in front and entire gang of dogs took their cameras and moved towards the bone. There was no order left. There was more growling, pushing and shoving. At one point I stood up to ask something, but dogs growled at me too. I gave up. Actually I wanted to ask Waheedaji, ‘if English and Hindi versions were shot together, some of it together or entirely separately.’ Never mind I will find out from some where else, may be internet. But it would have been nice if she heard me when I addressed her and she addressed me in return, in the bargain I would have got my answer straight from the person involved. At a point she also told the dogs that in India we have to show respect for elders and what she saw was not right.

Later the ‘Taj’ tea seller or ‘chai wala’ came up and said that they wanted to give away their first award to a person who would match up to the stature of ‘Taj tea’. That filled up my cup of patience. It was my cue to get up and try to find my way through dangerous pack of hungry dogs. It was dangerous. I looked around and found a safe passage. Chai wala was saying, ‘now I request Waheedaji to come here and accept this award. He couldn’t go to her? The ‘Chai wala’ was handing over a silver kettle to Waheedaji. I felt suffocated. I wouldn’t be surprised if last scene of Pyasa was playing in Waheedaji’s mind. It was in mine.

Last thing I remember was, a reporter extending his microphone towards Waheedaji and begging, ‘ek byte ka sawal hai’.

Poetics of Film

On 5 and 6 April 2006, I shot for a documentary on late Mr. Chetan Anand, a well known senior Bollywood director. This documentary, titled ‘Poetics of Film’ is mainly supposed to consist of interviews of personalities who had a chance to work with Chetan Anand. Though many of his contemporaries are now no more, a few names that are short listed to be part of this 50 min long film are Hema Malini, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra… among others. We already shot with Shekhar Kapoor, Johny Bakhshi (film producer), Bhupinder Singh (singer/music director) and classical singer Shafqat Ali from Pakistan. Tom Alter is the anchor person for the film.

DVD of this documentary is supposed to be a part of the Mr. Chetan Anand’s biography being penned by Ms. Uma Anand, Mr. Chetan Anand’s ex-wife and mother of both his sons Ketan and Vivek.
It was so nice to meet Bhupinder especially after a very long time. We know each other since my first Navketan film, Ishq Ishq Ishq (1974). Today he had to sing a little for the camera and he did sing very well. He told me that he too has a web site now; but funnily he had to call his wife Mitali to tell me its domain name, which was surprisingly as predictable as bhupindermitali.com.

PS: As we all know many of the people mentioned above, who are/or were or supposed to be part of this documentary are no more – late Rajesh Khanna, late Johny Bakhshi, late Tom Alter, late Bhupinder Singh.

(From my archive 2006)

Clean Slate

Gautam was strolling alone in garden. It had just finished raining. So the ground was wet and breeze was pleasant. As a wave of that pleasant breeze passed, it unsettled the rain droplets settled on leafs. Most fell on the ground but many found their abode on Gautam’s face, shoulders and hair. He enjoyed it. He also said a quiet inner thanks to the creation for providing such an unbelievable lovely magic. Water, coming down from the sky! It made everything on the earth look bright, 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. But yes it had the unmistakable smell of water meeting the earth. What do we call it? Yes, petrichor! Birds chirped and bees buzzed around. Another strong wave of breeze passed and a few leaves took off for the last part of their journey. They fell on him like showering of flower petals. He smiled and thanked the creation once again. He felt as though he was being honored by showering of leaves on him by an unknown entity. He felt that someone pre-planned it, that the shower will occur just when he is just under the tree… it had happened earlier too.

Wave of a thought entered in his mind. It was about a person, who had been very fond of him and of course the feelings 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 a 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.

Yet another cloud appeared over him. It was the cloud of the work he did. 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.

Sick Minds

This horrid story had happened around 2005-06.

It has been quite some time since plastic bags containing tender skeletons were discovered in Nithari, a village near Noida, UP. The bags were thrown around in Nallahs and garbage heaps. The news numbed me so badly that I thought I will never be able to write about this horrifying incidence. In my entire long life I have never come across a more hideous act of crime, in my own country. I was completely shocked and disgusted!

I may be getting cynical, but basically I believe that majority of people in our society fall into the category of, ‘not nice’. Although nobody seems so on the surface, but given a chance of doing something on the quiet; we will lose our moral strength. We are insecure and scheming. We have no respect for women. We are always beating them, burning them or killing them; sometime even in their fetal position. Ironically this has been reported especially from the land of the bravery and heroism. We enjoy easy victory over weaker sex, because they are weaker and give-in in silence since they have to take care of home, children and us, men. We are the discoverers of how to rape vulnerable young girls in running cars.

But I had no idea that we had degenerated to this horrible extent.

There are many countries where the life has practically no value and no guarantee, like Iraq, Palestine, Sierra Leone, Somalia and perhaps many more. But there is a difference. These places are going through basic survival and political struggles. For people there, there is no guarantee when they will get a chance to sit down and eat a square meal and from where will it come? There is also lack of education. Idi Amin did a lot of plunder and rape in Uganda; but that is how dictators in such places are supposed to be. Innovators of ‘how to kill efficiently and cheaply’ did away millions of poor and week. It was the ego of a short, complexed and power hungry man against the week and meek. It was also the occasion of WW-2, so eliminating 6 million as cleanup operation was considered fair. But why does a well-educated millionaire who owns land, villas and businesses needs to do such atrocities on helpless poor children? It does not even make business sense, since it is so full of risk and may not be as well paying too. Plus how much sexual gratification the criminals may have got from those poor souls (that is what they are now)? I am at a loss.

This episode reminds me of some scary part of Ramayan when Ram, Seeta and Lakshman are sent to live in forest. This chapter is about the Asuras who are out to disturb the meditation and sacred life style of hermits and saints. Asuras do it by throwing human and animal parts into their holy fire of Havan and killing the sages. The two people who are arrested for this ghastly act, remind me of those Asuras.

I know lower and middle class everywhere is very defensive and wishes to lead a safe, hassle-free life. Many parents of these children either did not file the FIRs or did not pursued it. They did not want to pressurize the cops too much fearing a backlash. Many must have thought that it would be impossible to make the system work (be of help), because if anyone pursued hard, an enquiry against the complainant himself may start.

Some law keepers think, kidnapping young children, their unlawful confinement, violating their modesty (rape), murder, selling their organs and destroying the evidence in an organized way (+ more), is small matter.

Pt. Nehru is supposed to have sighed sadly once, ‘I know there is an India, but where are the Indians’? Well, it has been half a century since this observation was made in self-pity. Do not worry Panditji we are still doing it. Sigh!

Tidbits

I have been involved with nearly 30 feature films and about the same number of documentaries, in various capacities. I have worked mainly as sound recordist, production manager, script writer and director. I feel like sharing 35 years of my first hand professional experiences and information with as many like-minded people as, I possibly can. For this I will choose a few features and a few documentaries. I have already started writing and ultimately I would love it, if I am able to find a publisher to present it in the form of a book for masses to read. Film making is a very thrilling process to go through. It is a bit slow in parts but can move at break-neck speed at times. It may look a bit boring and mechanical at times, but is artistically very gratifying otherwise. There are loud explosions and tender words are whispered in ears. There is violence of ‘Loot Maar’ and deep emotional conflicts of ‘Kamla’.

I feel an honest and interesting form of writing down real stories of few productions will make good reading. After all this field has the most popular and sought after ingredients of the world – actors, writers, directors, location shootings, dances, tantrums, ego clashes, bloopers and of course goof-ups. I feel today there are not many people who have seen Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, V. Shantaram or Kidar Sharma working on the sets, or during song recordings, during dubbings, sound effects, mixing… How did these legends gave instructions, how did they speak, were they soft or had foul language? Were they funny or dead serious? How did they dress while directing? All this personal information may be getting lost slowly and surely, because we can not find such people. And if there may be some one, he/she may not find worth the trouble, putting those memory gems on paper.

I agree I am not that ancient to be talking about nostalgic experiences. But I have been around since 1972 and have seen real film life quarrels (real not filmy), developing and cracking relationships, drinking binges and flaring tempers. I do understand that it would be my version and some may think of it as my colored opinion. But if some one is getting to read and know about what was it like in Nepal during one of Dev Anand’s film shooting 30 years back or how the documentary on ‘Knit-India-March’ of Baba Amte was shot 20 years back; I recon it can provide some value to a reader. But as the time passes (it always does- take it from me), I am certain the value of this text will only grow, due to its historic values. I am certainly not claiming that film makers may get some production ideas from such compilations. In any case the movies are not made the same way as two or more decades back.

In today’s world there is so much to read, hear and see. Market leaders use expert writers, columnists, painters and film makers. Experts are of less value today than popular writers. You need to be good to be an expert; but you need to have a personality or charisma to be popular. I guess it is like the difference between a ‘performer’ and a ‘star’, like the difference between Dilip Kumar and Shahrukh Khan, Ashok Kumar and Govinda, Nutan and just anyone else. If you act well or write well you are in the same league as other experts. But to be popular, you need to have an aura, a personality or someone’s name behind you, for people to identify you. Om Puri may be working extra hard on his role in a film with Tom Hanks. He would be working to match his abilities with the best in the world. While other stars may be strategizing to improve box office collections; some may hire a team to help them propel upwards and outwards.

We are in the business of putting a smile across people’s faces. Some movies or books make X smile, while others make Y happy. Whose smile is more gratifying for us, is our target audience.

(From archive April 24, 2008)

Ever Pink Mumbai Flamingos

Recently one of my very old wish, got fulfilled. I don’t remember when, I had read in a news paper that Mumbai gets migratory birds every year. Since I have also been a keen amateur photographer, I was very excited. But I was a little puzzled too. I thought this city seems far from a sanctuary for delicate migratory birds. I could not imagine where would they perch, what would they feed on and where would they lay their eggs? If it happens by the seaside, then where? Or is it in the forest area of Mumbai like the National Park? Of course Mumbai was not like this always, but presently entire sea coast of the city is polluted and the forest has so much encroachment and other disturbances. Much later I came to know that birds are Flamingos and they land near Sewri. Sewri? I thought! It is so industrialized and there must be so much oil spilled around due to the refineries…

Well just a few days back a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to Sewri to watch the Flamingos with him. I immediately said yes, of course! He suggested that it was better if I stayed the previous night at his house, in Bandra since we were to leave home at 5.30am. I agreed, no hassle. If a dream was coming true after so many years, anything was ok. It was important to be there before the sun rise. All was done as required and as planned. Our car rolled out of the gate at 5.30am and we were at Sewri area by 6.00am. It was our first visit to the area, so we had to ask for directions and proceed slowly. Gradually we rrealised that the mud on the edges of the road was getting blacker. The smell too changed. And the air felt a little heavier. Driving slowly and looking around we finally reached near the landmark that was told to us, the blue ‘Colgate’ building. We parked right at the edge of the slushy sea and got off. There were four security guards sleeping on a platform under a tree. I am a little wary of security guys. I had no idea whether it was allowed to be so close to sea or if we can click pictures with oil refinery in the background.

It was still dark. We were carrying a pair of binoculars. Looking through them my friend suddenly said excitedly, ‘there they are! My god, there are thousands of them!’ With my old bare eyes I too concentrated but could notice only thousands of out of focus pink dots scattered over the sea bed. As the light was still very low, I could not see them very well. So I put my specks on and then, saw them very clearly. All of them were walking about by themselves, looking down and constantly picking up something from their beaks. Obviously they were picking up food. I can only think it might be either small shells, baby crabs or fish stuck in the shallow due to low tide. I took the binoculars and realized the view was absolutely fabulous! As now I could see them very clearly and in group of 4-5. Most of them were entirely pink in color. Some were white and some had geometrical designs on white feathers. Their beaks were large with the tip turned in.

The clouds hanging over the silhouetted refinery structure in the distance were beginning to get hit by patches of flaming red color. In a while a part of the sun peeped out from behind a hill. I kept clicking away with my digital camera. Sometimes I was using full zoom to get a small patch of shimmering pink on the sea bed. We soon realized that there was no way of us walking closer to these great birds as entire sea bed was very soft to walk on. What a pity, we thought and started thinking of finding another place to get a little closer. I hid my camera as we reversed the car and drove off leaving the soundly sleeping watchmen without even a stir. Now I noticed a fleet of oil tanker trucks parked all along the road side. We moved slowly and found a tea stall from where we could watch the end of the road into the sea. I asked the Chaiwala if we could go to the end of the road to see the birds. Of course, he said.

It was a good cup of Mumbai’s famous ‘cutting Chai’. We parked the car well before the end of the road. Ships were berthed on both sides of the road that was actually a jetty. It was a strange site. So many people were exercising and doing Yoga right on the edge of the jetty, overlooking the distant sea and the Flamingos! I thought what a difference in life.
Here I am who has struggled so hard and waited for many years to watch these birds and here are some people who are engrossed in themselves right in front of these amazing birds.

By this time the light had come up and I could see their activity more clearly. I took a lot of pictures until I was happy. I am very fond of the ambiance of ships and shipyards and also trains and their associated atmosphere. I shot pictures of those ships tied to the huge pillars with giant sized ropes. Due to low tide ships had no life in them. They were totally still. I sometimes wonder, why visuals and sounds of trains and ships excite me so much. Last but not the least, there is (actually was) this little known ‘Sewri Fort’, right there. It is not a very large fort, and it is certainly breathing its last. Nothing is right about it. Its walls have crumbled down. Trees have grown on walls that have not yet broken. There is a lot of garbage dumped all around. The fort has been encroached upon from all sides. Slums have come up everywhere. Worst of all, all those slum dwellers use the fort as a toilet. From top of the roofless fort I could watch the sea, the Flamingos and the drab blue structure of Colgate factory.

Flashback

As I kept my eyes glued on the birds I got lost in thoughts. Slowly, I noticed that distant structure of Hindustan Petroleum refinery, started fading away. The ships and the jetty were gone. As I turned my eyes away from sea, I realized blue Colgate building too had vanished and entire area looked bare but green. I had no idea where I was. Suddenly I heard stern male voices in typical British accent.

As I looked in their direction, I saw many British soldiers adjusting canons through the peepholes of the fort. Some of them were watching the sea through large binoculars. I am very scared of security guards, so I was worried in case someone noticed me. And one guy in red uniform did! I froze. He started moving towards me. I nearly wetted my pants. I shut my eyes. Crisp sounds of his metallic soles passed me and went away behind. I tried to wipe the sweat off my brow. I could not feel it. I looked at my hand, there was nothing. There was no me any where. For miles there was only green earth and blue sea with thousands of shimmering pink dots.