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’.

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.

Immortal Side of Life

He was in the far end of the room, sitting cross legged. Eyes were shut and face tilted up, just a little, as if concentrating on his forehead or somewhere high up. No movements could be seen outwardly, except for the faint expansion and contraction of his chest with his breath.

Train must be going somewhere but was passing through nothingness. They were sitting on the floor of the train door; with their legs hanging out. Young boy was very tired. Every now and then a village would pass where little children would wave at the train and get overly excited if someone waved back at them. At the end of every village would be a sleepy unshaven man holding a green flag at the railway crossing… Rhythmic ‘takaak takaak’ of tracks was relaxing and so was the hide and seek of setting sun from behind the trees. With lullaby rhythm of train along with sun going on-off, sleep overpowered boy. His eyes shut and his body bent over forward with a jerk. Ramu’s swift arm blocked his fall and held the door rod on other side.

Small beads of sweat appeared on his upper lip and forehead. Gradually his face began to shine as a layer of sweat spread around. He seemed to be fighting to resolve his eternal inner conflicts, calmly, as his face did not show any signs of disturbance. It was difficult to judge whether he was a ‘yogi’ or not.

Don’t talk to me like this. I am not going to take it lying down any more. How dare you throw my books like that! You have no respect for books, bloody illiterate! Or you have no respect for people of this house? How dare you raise your voice here?

He moved a little. His shoulders tightened. Then without opening his eyes he took his shirt off and dropped it on the floor. He must be feeling hot. His shoulders, neck and back were wet. Little drops were becoming bigger, then turning into a stream. What in the hell… is happening to him, and why?

She was rolling on the ground writhing with pain, while he watched her from the other room. Was he so helpless to get up and go near her; call a doctor or an ambulance for her? But he did call his relations to do something about it. How could he see this sight so passively? After all they had spent 67 years of their life together!

His face turned towards right with a jerk, as if he was trying to avoid looking on his left. He was now beginning to look worried, distraught and even scared. He seemed to be going over something that was forbidden for him; going over the ‘past’. No one is allowed to revisit past or indulge in fantasizing about the future. The ‘time’ whose time is yet to come, cannot be thought about. It imbalances the present and wastes the most important resource, ‘peace of mind’, which affects the capacity of fair judgment, which in turn is important for smooth functioning of universe.

No!!! He screamed suddenly, please don’t go. Wait, wait you cannot, please, just… I will sort it out with you and with everyone here. It will be fine. No… I will leave everything and everybody… This had to happen and weren’t we supposed to be ready for this? No? Didn’t we decide that?

His arms went forward. But there seemed to be something drastically wrong with his arms. They extended much further than they normally should. In fact soon his palms went out of the door and his fingers were making the desperate actions of ‘come back’ to someone. It was frightening to see human arms, so long. They were beginning to look a bit diffused or a bit translucent, perhaps due to reduced density. One could see through them. His left palm came in and wiped sweat from the forehead, while the other held on to the door. In spite of his body showing tremendous turmoil, his eyes remained shut. A guttural sound came from his mouth. It carried no intelligent meaning.

His hair flew in strong sea breeze and so did the flames. Black hair, red flames… Put his feet inside they are sticking out! Push them in, under the wood. Pour some oil on them. There is no fire this side. Add some wood this side too… Yes I know him. Two of us shared the room. Yes this is his diary. I have known him, for the past two years… Where are you people taking the ashes? He took a pinch of the ash and stealthily placed in his mouth!

Something out of the world was happening to him. He was sitting at the same place; but now his body seemed to be spreading all over. It was expanding in all directions. It was also getting porous. It looked huge in this condition. After a while small little particles of his body started rotating and buzzing in the air, but remaining in the form of his body. A gentle wave of breeze entered from the door and displaced his left shoulder, making him look rather strange; but soon the dislodged particles returned to their place. His right hand had come back in too. As he was expanding continuously, it was difficult for the body to retain its form inside the room. Particles were trying their best to retain the shape of the body. In a while the body morphed into a large, round spherical shape. This somehow made the particles excited and they started buzzing around in a large circle at an ever accelerating speed. Entire room was full of the little atom like particles humming around in the shape of a perfect globe. There was no sign of him, of his real shape…

In the space, outside the room similar clusters had started appearing. They would turn left and right as though looking at each other. They noticed a row of particles in the window. New clusters came closer to meet them. In a flash, trillions of particles from inside the room had come out and joined the visitors. There was an instant communication between them. In no time they all started rising up… They moved towards the setting sun with the speed of light and in a flash they had dived into it… Sun was becoming bigger, redder, heavier… and soon, it sank down into the darkness.

Known Unknown

Once upon a time

That time was a long time ago

I did not look the way I look now

I was small

Everyone is small that long back

They are young

Young ones are small, or smaller

That time I did not know that

What else I should have known?

Or could have known?

I did now know

What I was supposed to know

I did not know if I was supposed to know stuff

Was there some stuff important to know?

Perhaps I will get to know gradually

What was necessary to know?

What was not?

Were there important things at that time?

That were important to know

And was there stuff that would be required later on

If yes, then when? 

A few days later

Few weeks, months or…

I was not qualified to figure all that

In the mean while

Time was passing as it always does

I used to be possessive about some useless things

Couple of unimportant activities

Like removing laces from everyone’s shoes

Putting the laces back on them

I had no idea if my time was being used well

Or it was being spent badly

I had no idea if my mind wanted to do something

Something other than playing with shoe laces

If my heart wanted things

But which things were those?

I had no idea if I could identify those things

That I might have wanted or needed

It was first time I was in that situation

There was no one to guide me

But I had no anger, frustration or sadness

I wasn’t happy either

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.

Good Morning

In the morning when you open your eyes

Cover your face with your signature smile

Throw your blanket off without hesitation

Get charged with energy’s manifestation

You may hear the day’s first word

A friend’s hello or tweet of a bird

Get your belly happy with king’s breakfast

Your chest ready to face the day’s task

Step out into the open confidently

To resolve life’s endless possibilities

That my friend, is a ‘good morning’

Have one right this morning