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’.

Not Knowing

Once out of the Grant Road station I went to my usual, route 155 bus stop. I have been using it for more than 2 years. It takes me to Films Division at Peddar road for my work. Sun was strong today, making it a rather warm day. I pulled out my cap from the bag. Felt better. I was feeling as calm as uncomfortable and warm the weather was. I saw a bus turn into the station road; but stopped at a distance. The queue was getting longer. Ladies were grumbling. Old men were frowning. They should also carry a cap or an umbrella in such hot and even sometimes wet weather. Most people had discarded face mask. I could see. They think Covid 19 has gone away. But they should know that numbers have stated rising again. I had my mask, cap and glares too. Bus moved again towards us. Stopped at the pit stop for the conductors. Here they take paper instructions. I guess records of number of rounds they made.

Once at the stop, door opened and people started climbing in. I was lucky to get a seat. Seat ahead of me was for Ladies, a woman in red sari was sitting and a guy joined in, in the empty space. That was not going to be allowed in such crowd. Another woman immediately pushed him off. AC wasn’t effective at all, more so with so many people. Sun was towards my seat. But something was keeping me calm, didn’t I did tell you? I did. We moved. People were buying tickets. Conductor was moving easily through the aisle. They are used to it. In about 10 minutes bus stopped at the Tardeo bus depot. The place famous for ‘Sardar Pav-Bhaji’. BEST staff changes here. Both driver and conductor. It gets done in less than 2 minutes. I am used to it. Somehow today the clock went beyond two minutes… then 5, then 10! Women in seat ahead of mine started, “where is the driver? How much time?” Many passengers in the aisle had started making a lot of noise. They were getting louder and rowdier. Someone went on ringing the bell. My eyes were fixed at the depot gate to find two men in khaki walking towards us. I gave up. They were nowhere to be seen. Sun was on my side and the AC seemed to be on ventilator.

I took photo of the bus identification number. The woman in front also did the same. I was thinking where should I post it? I said, “Hello, are you going to post it on Instagram? She said, yes. A good 25 minutes later staff entered the bus. I heard a woman saying we have to reach in time, otherwise they mark us absent. Other said we can’t afford to be late in our jobs. Next stop was Jaslok Hospital. I knew they both will get off there. I was sure they were medical staff. That is why so much insistence on punctuality.

But after being convinced in my mind that they were medical staff, none got off at the hospital! Why! My stop was next. I stood up and got off. Outside I noticed the woman also had come out, perhaps from back door. You need to be fully alert while crossing Peddar road. Traffic is very quick and dense. Once across the road I noticed the same woman had crossed the road too and was walking in the same direction. Now I felt that something quite unusual was happening. I entered ‘films division’ gate. She was already signing the entry register. I saw her entering the building. I saw her waiting for the lift among two more people. Some guys got off on 5th floor. 9th floor light was on. She did not chose her floor.

On 9th floor I went to the person who guides me which cabin is assigned to me for watching the film. Person told me to go to 8th floor. I walked down one floor and took a comfortable seat. Documents about the film were placed in front of me. The lady entered the room and took a seat behind. Grabbed her papers and started filling details.

Lights dimmed. The movie started.

Positive-finally

On 10th Jan, 2022 I had attended a censor film screening at Peddar road office. I think it was at 11am. I reached back home around 3pm. Somehow I was feeling tired, so I slept in hall. It became a rather lengthy sleep session. Tiredness was still there. I did not think much about it. I should have actually. I don’t sleep like this every time I return from a film. I was called again two days later, on 12th. After returning home I was again just too tired, so slept again. People told me that I should go in my room and sleep. They got thermometer. It seems I had 101 fever. It was confirmed now I was sick. My throat in the meanwhile had started misbehaving. I would cough too much and for rather long time. I spoke to my doctor on phone. He immediately prescribed medicines and sent the prescription by text message. I in turn sent it to medical store and they sent me 5 days medicines. 10 tablets, 2 a day, morning evening. Since I fell sick when Omicron is a very popular infection, ‘Covid-19 test’ was booked for next day that is on 14th. Lab guy came at 8am. Took swabs and went off. I knew I have got it. Rightly enough ‘Covid-19 positive’ email was received next morning. Now I had to be quarantined in my tiny room. My door was to remain shut properly. My food will be placed on a chair when required. After I go to washroom no one will go there for 30 min. My appetite went down drastically as there was no walk due to body-ache and no place to walk. Sleep, sleep and more sleep. I would return half my meals uneaten. These must have been some of my most troublesome days that I can remember. I felt suffocated.

Three days later I realized that we did not have to be quarantined. So out I came and started taking short walks in hall. In the meanwhile medicines had started showing results. My fever went away after 2 days. On day 3 it was completely normal. Slowly appetite returned, throat became fine and body ache also evaporated. All the tablets were consumed between 13th and 18th. I was told medically I could go out on 22nd Jan. So promptly I did get out for a 20 min walk on that day.

Although by then most of the world’s population had been Covid affected, I woke up to really late to get positive.

Yes, maybe, no

After a very long time we are renovating our home. It must be a good 7-8 year back when we went through the motions of spending money on painting and other usual wear and tear jobs. I had enough spare money then, for using it on such necessary luxuries…

Somehow the winds changed direction, as they always do; the flow of money got restricted and an unusually dense fog of lull enveloped my professional life. A string of projects that were lined up to roll any day- did not roll at all. In India we like blame the poor distant planets. So, for a true Indian the planets seemed to have turned their favorable face away. All this had started after my main employers downed their shutters under the demonic burden of their bad financial situation. For the next 18 months I was very busy doing some of my most high profile and better paying jobs. I did some serious ‘audio’ work for television in the United States and India. Then I was picked up and appointed as ‘general manager’ in the office of a high profile film maker.

Soon I had another offer from a ‘distance learning’ company. Here I was working in a very high technology area. This job gave me experiences of using VSAT and software used for online education. I enjoyed this job the most, since I have been looking to get away from the glaring lights of media related environment. Perhaps enjoying the work here seemed to have made the company run aground. I said ‘seemed to have’. I am a die-hard optimist. If I have to take cues from twists and turns of my life, then a massive surprise is waiting for me in the wings, about which I have no idea.

Well today I am in a mood of counting the chickens that did not hatch. It’s rather amusing to count that in last five years of my professional life how many high profile and exciting projects surfaced, but never swam ashore. So many films were conceived but never delivered; they remained on the idea and project levels only. The most important one was ‘Singularity’. It was a Hollywood film, being directed Oscar nominated Roland Joffé with Brandon Fraser and our own Aishvarya Rai. I had done documentaries with foreign teams, cinematographers and directors. But I was excited that this time I was going to experience the making of a pure Hollywood cinema, for the first time. I was on cloud nine; but treading cautiously. A very close old friend of mine was involved in the film as an executive. I visited him often, gave him my CV, kept in touch on phone, went to his office and read the script of the film twice over. I had asked to be a part of the direction team at any capacity. If there were going to be 12 assistants I was ready to be the twelfth. Desperately yours, but I was dying to be exposed to the experience of ‘Singularity’. I wanted to see how is it done in Hollywood, how does everyone gets ready, actors are given lines, makeup tested, lighting and sound levels checked, each shot being taken… After all Roland Joffé was going to be in Mumbai next week and he was to meet and interview the direction team. That next week hasn’t arrived for the past 2 years. As per the last update this project has been re-announced for Jan 2007.

Next in line was a friend of mine actor/director Dolly Jena, who was to shoot a film in Goa. It was a period film depicting Portuguese times. I was to be her associate on this project. I read her script too many times over and got involved in production process. Film was to roll in six months, so we were busy getting hotels rates and identifying old houses for shooting. The period of six months has over shot by three years.

Among all these dream productions, three films managed to break through and reach a stage of getting themselves (a) married print. And that’s where they too stopped. I was involved in them in various capacities like script, direction, production design and sound. Presently they all are far from getting a commercial release. Coincidently, my dues from all these films are also awaiting release.

Most interesting part of this long ‘touch and go’ sequence was when an unknown person phoned me to ask, if I would make a children’s film for him. ‘Of course’ was the best answer I could think of. He said he had seen my name on the IDPA festival brochure. That’s it! Soon a contract was signed on his official letterhead and a cheque equivalent to $20, was handed over to me. It thought things have got serious this time. I called up a scriptwriter, organized our meetings and started the work briskly. Producer was in a hurry. I struggled and finally handed over a fairly good version of hand written script to him in two weeks. The Gentleman went back to his hometown to organize adequate funds. After that he never made a call to me or sent any note. No not even to ask for the refund of his money. None of his telephones worked. I wonder why was he in hurry to lose his money on us if he had to do a Harry Houdini.

I was never approached by cheats. There was no fake person among all these. All of them had been well meaning people and serious filmmakers. They just did not have it in them, to finally swing it. Whenever someone has asked, ‘so what are you doing these days?’ I have formatted a humorous answer for this situation, ‘only serious job that I have been doing for years; is looking for it!’

Under these unavoidable circumstances, I decided to take a relaxing stance, instead of usual stance of struggling and worrying. I thought of changing gear as I step into the next stage of age in my life. I started reading and I started writing. I would never have read and written, so much satisfying and meaningful stuff, if I had been busy making small money from the mundane motions of making movies. Of course many do not agree. But I really feel very satisfied with my growth as a writer. I am not bothered if it has not been financially rewarding. This was the right time for me to start using my time doing un-ordinary things, things that gave me a chance of making my immortality a little longer. This would be the best thing to come out from all this nothingness.

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)

Living Dead

What is life?

Is my life or your life, is life?

Or what throbs between us, is life?

Are the people around us living?

Are they living because we see them moving,

Eating, drinking, walking, talking

Fighting, loving or… even thinking

Is that considered life?

For a businessman producing a good product is life

For a worker, working sincerely is life

For doctors saving patient’s life is life

For patients following doctor’s advice is life

For teachers educating young is life

For students learning from teacher is life

For soldiers fighting with enemy is life

For citizens being alert is life

For a baby-sitter caring is life

For rich and powerful being kind to weaker is life

For farmers producing for the nation is life

But are all these living doing,

What they are supposed to be doing

Or they are merely walking and talking

Six men rape a 25 year old student

Three men rape a 15 year old in a car

A politician and his forty cronies rape a young girl for months

Girls in a home for handicapped raped

Fifteen year old raped

Twelve year old raped

Ten years old raped

Seven years old raped

Five years old…

Crowd protests against unceasing rapes

Police officer slaps a protesting girl

Minister says watch TV at night for population control

A minister tells farmers to urinate

And irrigate their fields

One group burns down another in a train

Starting a long retaliatory killing chain

No one is there to do anything

Stop anything

I think no one here is living

I guess the buck stops with me

All this ends with me

It ends with my end

I am also dying

Dying, because I am thinking

We all are dead

Dead nations

Dead priests

Dead faiths

In a dead world

Dead people in a dead world