Nadira Mama

Feb 9, 2006 a scroll at the bottom of a news channel frame announced – “Nadira died early in the morning. She was suffering from meningitis. She was 74”… it took a few moments for the news to sink in; “Nadira ji has expired!” Instantly a large net of memories from the past fell over me. In so many years in this field I developed relationships of various levels with many actors, technicians and workers. As I think today, Nadira would be a very special for me. The reason for is not so much that I found many great qualities in her; but in the fact that she made me feel special. When we worked together, our relationship was only becoming better. I did not work for this relationship to grow. She did. She just decided that this is the way she will be towards me and she stuck to it.

She has been around since ‘Aan’ and I was too junior to her. In the start of my career, I worked with her only in three films, ‘Darling Darling’, ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ and ‘Aap Ki Khatir’. In the first film I was only an assistant and second film (Ishq Ishq Ishq) was my first film as an independent recordist. So I was completely raw then. I also did an interview with her for Plus Channel much later. But I guess I met her last time many years back in a party. She had been very affectionate and kind to me right from ‘Darling Darling’. I used to live as a paying guest in Girgaon, then. And she was in a building called Vasundhara at the Peddar road. So every day after shoot’s pack up at the Mehboob studios, she would approach me to ask if I was going home. If I was free then I would immediately say yes, but as a technician some time I would take time wrap up things and put them back neatly. In that case she would wait for me for a few minutes without any problem. I would get a lift in her red ‘Triumph’ to Haji Ali, from where I would take a taxi home. At this point I must mention two other gentlemen too who so willingly gave me lifts in their Benz and Premier cars, numerous times. They were cinematographers Late Fali Mistry and Late Jal Mistry. Nadira was a very kind hearted and helpful person. It is my honor to put on record some notable incidences in my life of which Nadira was a part.

Once after ‘Darling Darling’ shoot at Mehboob studios her car stopped at the Bandra station crossing. The signal turned red and as always beggars of all kind surround the cars to beg. They start knocking the car windows and pester people. Nadira ji was wiping her sweaty face with a napkin, when a beggar in white shirt and pant extended his palm towards her. There it goes, I thought. She looked at his face through her large glares and in a moment her body was shaking. Just before the signal turned green she managed to dish out a fiver, gave him and sped on. Five rupees was big money that time. My ‘conveyance allowance’ used to be that much. But I realized at the next red signal she was completely worked up and was crying bitterly. I was zapped. Patting her shoulder to comfort her, I asked, ‘who was he Nadira ji?’ She told me, ‘that man was ‘Purushottam’. He has acted in 5-6 films a long time ago in lead roles. But as you can see, he has turned into a total wreck and a drunkard.’ She had seen him after ages, she told. She stopped the car at Haji Ali and I got off…
Much later I came to know that she called up right people and spoke about Purushottam that got him some work on television. She also got him an interview on local Bombay TV station and somehow organized a small regular income that would be sent directly to his family. She did not want Purushottam to have access to that money as it would be lost on liquor.

Second incidence is from ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’. In October 1973 I was in Pokhara, Nepal for a three month long shooting schedule. In a few days only I fell sick very badly due to some stomach ailment. Only thing I remember today is that my stomach pained horribly. Somehow Nadira saw me looking sick and immediately took me to her hotel room and organized a doctor. She was staying close to the shooting area. After she came to know of the cause of sickness, she ordered an extra bed for me in her own room. It was placed on the floor in the middle of her and her maid’s bed. She ordered prescribed diet food for me from the hotel kitchen. She gave me prescribed dozes on time herself or her maid if she was not there. I was sick for 6 whole days. She totally took care of me for all those days. Very gradually I got better and went for shoot from her room itself. My friends had got my clothes from my room. She did not allow me to go to my hotel for many days. Only after ensuring from doctor that I was completely well, she let me to go my own hotel.
Sadly this news traveled to Bombay totally distorted and spiced. People asked me strange questions about her. They spoke to her also similarly. She was mad at all this, but could not avoid this hearsay.

Last important incidence happened sometime in mid 90s. This was the first time I went her house. We were shooting her interview for Plus. During long Q&A session she spoke eloquently about her past. Among many details of shooting of ‘Aan’, she narrated incidence multiple retakes of a ‘slap shot’ with Dilip Kumar and how she endured all the pain. She was ecstatic when Raj Kapoor approached her for a song ‘Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh’in Shri 420. She had high regards for the great film maker.

After a while during the interview she was not required, as we were taking random shots of her house, trophies, photographs etc. I saw her standing near her bedroom door and realized that she looked very different. I was sure she had a drink or two, as she looked clearly intoxicated. Her personality changed and suddenly she seemed very frail. Her maids saw this and helped her to her bed. She lied down and called me to sit near her. I was a little scared because she was not in her senses and was looking unwell. Any ways I sat down next to her. Then she found a comb, gave it to me and asked me to comb her hair. It was crazy. I have been very close to her. But I felt totally awkward in the presence of my unit members. More over I was a senior person in ‘Plus’ and ‘Arunji (me) combing Nadira’s hair’ did not make a pretty picture. Next thing she did was to ask me to call her Mama. After being forced a few times, I said ‘Ok mama. She said ‘no ok mama, just mama’. I said, ‘Nadira mama’. She said ‘NO, not Nadira mama, just Mama.’ Well I had to call her mama many times over, to handle her swinging mood.

This factual stuff may sound comic and odd; but it’s not difficult for any sensible person to realize what ‘Nadira mama’ had gone through in her personal life; how much she got, what she lost and what she could never get…

TV news said ‘Nadira was admitted to a hospital at Tardeo’. She was suffering from meningitis and other ailments’. As I heard this I wore my shoes and started on my journey to Tardeo some 30 km from my home. I reached the hospital and asked the staff to guide me to her room. But I was not allowed to go up there as she was in ICU and was in coma. A kind lady told me that I could come back and see her when she is out of ICU. I turned back disappointed. I knew it in my bones that I was not going to see her again, ever.

I felt it ironic that with her life, were gone my chances of returning the huge favor I owed her.

On the location set of ‘Aap Ki Khatir’. She was a very profession person, totally punctual and would give the director many options of a ‘take’.

T. K. Desai

My friend and colleague T K Desai expired in the morning of Jan 6, 2007 at his Bandra home, leaving behind his wife, 3 daughters and 2 sons.

T K Desai was a film ‘art director’ in Bombay’s film industry, now known as bollywood. He was a very sought after and popular person, easy to work and deal with. For a very long period he was mainly known to be a Navketan-man; just as I was, for a few years. He was much senior to me, though. He studied in the premier. J J School of Arts, Mumbai. After finishing his education he joined M R Acharekar’s art school as a faculty for a brief period. Mr. Acharekar was art director with India’s leading film production RK Films and Studios. So naturally TKD joined him in this field too and did many films of RK camp, as an assistant, set painter, property assistant etc. He worked in movies like, Jagte Raho, Shree 420, Dil Hi To Hai, Anari, Ab Dilli Dur Nahin. He was also associated with films like Amrapali, Kohra and Chaudhvin Ka Chand. In 1963 still an assistant, he entered Navketan camp, in Vijay Anand’s ‘Tere Ghar Ke Samne’. In 1965 he got his break as an independent ‘art director’ in Amarjeet’s ‘Teen Devian’. In Jewel Thief his work was hailed. He won Filmfare awards for Kohra (B&W) and Des Pardes.

My association with him started in 1972, when I was a recording-assistant in Gogi Anand’s film ‘Darling Darling’. On the sets T K Desai’s energy bowled me over. He seemed to have solutions to every requirement on the set. TKD was a very short man with a pronounced belly. His nose was very large and disfigured. He could be considered fairly ugly in this field of predominantly pretty and handsome. But no one including himself had any time to give it a vaguest of thoughts. TKD must have been one of the busiest and popular art directors of his time in Bombay.

Well TKD would be the person with whom I worked on maximum number of films. We both were parts of Navketan; including most of its sister concerns. I would imagine that out of my measly 30 odd films, TKD and my credits must have shared the screen time in 15 of them.

During ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ we spent a whole lot of time together in Nepal. After coming back from Nepal, I too was considered to be a part of Navketan camp. Dev Saab and Navketan were heady with the success of Hare Ram Hare Krishna. His last release Heera Panna’s soft landing on the box office did not affect spirits of the camp. So, many movies were lined up in which we both worked together. Overlapping production of films like Des Pardes, Jaaneman, Loot Maar, Bullet, Kalabaaz etc made us meet every day for many years. That is a lot of interaction. There were more films to follow. We went for an outdoor shooting to Nainital for Kalabaaz and to Coorg for Anand Aur Anand. I remember at Coorg after a few drinks he got a little aggressive with me. He was showing off with his strength on me by hugging me very tight. In defense I managed to lift him; but could not put him down straight. Due to this he fell down. Later in the morning there were a lot of ‘sorry sorry’ and it was all wiped off the slate with ‘good morning’.

My last film with TKD was ‘Kaun Ho Sakta Hai’, which was shot entirely in Lonavala. I worked as a Production Designer in this film. This gave me a chance to work with him, in his own department. Due to this, instead of meeting only during free times we met during work too. I did get some valuable production insights by watching his way of working. At 78, he was energetic, able to think fast and provide alternates to create the required effect on screen. We went for walks during our free times. He was advised some form of exercise to keep fit. He would walk very slowly, but walk for an entire hour. I noticed walking slower made my muscles ache more than walking at my regular speed. He was very fond of flora. It was rainy season. So every corner of this hill station looked fresh and green. He would stop and look at wild flowers and plants and talk about them, sometimes even pick them up to take them back home. He also told me stories about his career, family and life in general. We were meeting in this film after nearly 20 years. There were a lot of gaps in my information regarding him and his career, which I was happy I was able to fill up…

On the morning of Jan 23, I along with Hersh Kohli went to meet TKD’s grieving family nearly two weeks after he had expired. I had come to know about his death very late. But as soon as knew it, I wanted to visit his place. His daughter opened the door for us and offered us seats. In a short while TKD’s very pretty wife appeared, sat near her husband’s enlarged photograph and sobbed softly. While his daughter filled us with details, “he was chatting with the family till 2.30am, he went to the toilet early morning, came out complaining of discomfort, collapsing on the bed, someone running to call the doctor from opposite house and… doctor pronouncing him ‘no more’. She said it was a very severe heart attack and in a matter of 5 minutes he was no more. Lucky, he did not have to suffer.” I totally agree with the lady. I too am happy he did not suffer.

Before leaving TKD’s house, I put my specks on, went to the blow up of his photograph and took a long hard look at his face smiling from behind a garland of fresh flowers. He wore his familiar cap and expression. As a comforting gesture I touched his wife’s shoulders. In response she sobbed a little louder. We said Namaste to all and slowly stepped out…

With this, the formalities were over and then started a mental test for me. Am I going to visit them ever again? I started questioning myself. Was it the usual ‘show your face’ show or will it have more depth? Will I be breaking my friendship with TKD just because he is dead or I should make plans to keep it going? Only the time will tell.

I came home and phoned Mrs. Desai to speak to her, to start a dialogue; but she was not yet out of her depression. She gave me the phone number of TKD’s assistant Ramesh, to get any information that I may be looking for. Ramesh spoke at length, “after working for nearly 50 years in this line, no one from any production house came to see TKD when he died. He was totally bitter about the ways of this ruthless film industry. He was cremated and even after all the other ceremonies were over; no one called up.” He was very bitter about Dev Saab too. “TKD worked all his life in Navketan, at least someone could have come to pay condolences from there or Dev Saab’s behalf. He used bad-words for the association of art directors, who did not bother to send any representative when he passed away.”
TKD as I said earlier was very popular among film producers, very technical, artistic, and excellent team member. But when he died he was not in the big league. He was so humble a man that no one felt any compulsion to visit his dwelling to console the family – including me.

‘Kaun Ho Sakta Hai’, a film in which I was lucky to work along with TK Desai, who was the Art Director.