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?

Imperial Cinema, Mumbai

In Mumbai many old single-screen cinema halls have been shutting down regularly due to economic reasons. Historically the most important of these was Majestic cinema in Girgaon. This is ‘the’ most important theater in India, because country’s very first feature film, Raja Harishchandra made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke released in Majestic Cinema on May 3, 1913!

Not being able to patronize Majestic even once is my biggest loss. I feel bad today about being in the Majestic neighborhood for five years and not being able to visit it. It is like missing out on a most important chunk of cinematic history. In fact I have not had opportunities to visit so many other cinemas too in Mumbai. Now I do not want to miss a chance of seeing a movie in the surviving old theatres. More over renovation and multiplexisation of iconic Metro cinema has put me on alert.

In this mission titled ‘visit old theatres’ the list is very long. I decided to start with Imperial, an old beauty situated on Lamington Road near Grant Road station, Mumbai. Naaz and Swastik cinemas are its immediate neighbors. Naaz is very old too, but I have seen many films here. I could not make it to Swastik in time, though. Well, let us talk about what is in our hands, rather than fretting for what we have lost and will never get it back.

On Aug 22, 2006, I reached Imperial cinema around 3.00pm. Like Metro I did not come here to see a movie; but to see the theatre. The show timings here still have the same old schedule of 12.30pm, 3.30pm, 6.30m and 9.30pm. At the booking window my eyes widened with surprise at the price of the tickets. They were Rs. 20 for balcony and Rs. 15 for stalls. I felt as if ‘forward to the past’ has occurred to me. I was transported to an era of 70s. I got myself a balcony ticket for the film titled, ‘Murder Ka Nasha’, which when loosely translated into English would be ‘intoxication of murdering’. Well a close look at the poster of the film revealed that I was going to watch Basic Instinct-2, dubbed in Hindi.

There was enough time for me snoop around various corners and crevices of the old structure. The white marble steps leading to the balcony had become so smooth with over use that they felt like silk carpet under my shoes. There were so many parts in the architecture that were purely for beauty and had no practical use. But then a cinema hall has to be pleasing to the eyes and that’s what it was. This theatre is also called as ‘Haathiwala’ theatre, because in its compound there is a pair of life size concrete elephants overlooking a lane. The elephants are still in perfect shape, though a lot of structural area is damaged. The grass and moss is growing in the cracks, giving it an eerie look of a palace whose owner has no will or resources to maintain it. Although it is still a cinema hall in 2006, the settings are of a period film.

I entered the balcony. It looked very friendly and spacious. The seats were not modern; but comfortable. There were fans humming from the ceiling. In stalls too there were ceiling fans, as well fans on the walls. Observing every bit of detail, I took a seat under a fan. There were no seat numbers. The walls had pleasing molding designs. They had survived the time. The ceiling looked fine. The space itself neither was not too large to overwhelm you nor too cramped to make you feel claustrophobic. It was just right. Then my eyes fell at the back of the seat in front. Horrors! There was this very Indian ubiquitous patch of red splash. My knees nearly touched it! Without thinking I got up to find another seat. But I could not. All the seats had that symmetrical spit trade mark. Suddenly I started feeling all this amusing in place of irritating. I went back to the first seat. Slowly the seats started to fill up. I observed that finally about 100 people were in the balcony. Everyone sat separately. Everyone was male.

Lamington road is a business area dealing mainly in electronics and pirated music. Other most popular business here is prostitution. Yes I had noticed two dressed up elderly business women in the compound. After the movie started one of them walked in and went straight to a man sitting in an extreme corner. She spoke for a few moments and then walked away. It seemed to me that sitting in the corner may be a hint which this guy was not aware of. Basic Instinct is a very red light area film. But there were no whistles, no cat calls. Everyone was resting, making use of spare time or perhaps taking a nap. After all in today’s time if 20 bucks can get you 3 hours in a quiet place to relax, it is worth it. I also felt as if I was in a spiritual place where everyone had gathered to let go of their worries.

The intermission slide splashed on the screen. Suddenly I remembered that film ‘Taxi Driver’ made by Navketan, was premiered in this theatre… As my eyes panned away from screen, the walls and the moldings morphed into the period nearly 50 years back. Everything turned new. All the polish on the wood turned fresh. There were streamers hanging from the fans in place of cob-webs. The chairs were smooth and glossy. The crowd in the balcony had Dev Anand, director Chetan Anand, Kalpana Kartik, S D Burman, Talat Mehmood, Lata Mangeshkar, Johnny Walker and many more. They were all shaking hands excitedly and mingling with each other. Some held Coca Cola bottles, while others were being offered cups of tea and snacks. Some eager faces were peeping in from the door to get a glimpse of the super star Dev Anand. The interior of the Imperial cinema looked like a dressed up bride. Softly a band played ‘Jayen to Jayen Kahan’… With the notes of western music and Sharon Stone’s voice, the ambience slowly morphed back into the present. Intermission was over. As I had already seen the original version of this film, I decided to leave this Imperial theatre after touching the trunks of the elephants.


Baiscope, a basic machine that has still photographs in a roll and some synchronised music to it. The man rotates and handle to move the pictures. He sings or narrates the story along with the movement. In rural India this was joyous viewing for village kids. After nearly a century now it has been added as an exhibit in few places. This is in New Delhi’s ‘Dilli Haat’

Leopard in my Dream

Sometime back a dog in his playfulness scratched my arm with his tooth. It made a slight crack in the skin, so I was advised to take full course of five anti-rabies injections. After the course was over, a friend told me that now I am safe for next five years of any dog bites. In a humor I asked him, will the injections work if a lion bit me? Laughing aloud he said of course it will.

In Mumbai’s National Park there is supposedly a good leopard population, who keep venturing into their ‘No Entry’ areas quite often, in search of food. Generally small children and dogs get killed by the beasts; but most grownups who are attacked generally escape with some bites or missing pieces of flesh from their body. But of course attack by a leopard does shake anybody badly.

So, armed with the anti-rabies shots, I thought that meeting a leopard would not be a bad idea. If the animal attacked me, my name will definitely appear in newspapers and personally for me it would be a rare honor too… doesn’t matter if I survive to tell the story or not.

I can see, not many people are in agreement with me. Well, traveling thousands of miles at a great expense to climb the Everest is such an honor that is fraught with worse dangers. Quite a few climbers have not come back home to show the pictures of the summit and tell the story. I think it will be proportionately honorable and dangerous to meet a leopard nearer home and click his pictures leaping towards me. If I stay in my senses, ward off the leopard somehow and run away like a gazelle; I will be able to tell my story punctuated with related real pictures. Just like everybody whoever has climbed or even tried to climb that peak has gone into the record books. But then even leopard attacks are well covered by news channels that send each such encounter into record books and the person also gets frozen into the ocean of internet data for ever…

One day (night actually) with all this unrealistic rubbish in my mind, I went to sleep and dreamt of an ‘encounter of the real kind’ – with a leopard. Location is Mumbai’s ‘film city’ studios, night shift. I am shooting for a television program. It is raining. The scenes are being shot inside a running taxi. I am in the back seat recording sound. I have my headphones with a Beta-recorder by my side. The girl actor sitting on the other side of the seat is enacting her part. In a while due to change in camera position, there is a short break. I get out of the cramped space to stretch my legs and move a bit away to pee by the side of the road. As I am about to unzip for the act, a light-boy shouted from the back, ‘sir be careful, don’t go far. It is not safe at this time.’ It was past 2.00 am. I took the advice seriously and wanted to get back in a hurry. A light drizzle started. Rain drops were creating very soothing soft sounds hitting the soggy leafs. Instead of sharp clicks of ‘tup tup’, the drops fell with soft ‘dhub, dhub’. There is a thick cover of leafs in that dense forest. It is pitch dark ahead and I have no intention of straining my eyes. As I am about to zip up, I notice two small dots of faint light in the dark. In a moment they both vanished and then lit up again, together. Then they moved sideways, but together, retaining the distance between them. A shiver went through my spine. I kept my movements very slow and small and started retreating back keeping my eyes at those lights. The light dots simultaneously lowered towards the ground and moved forward. Now I was able to see the figure of a small leopard in the ‘service light’ provided for the shooting crew. In fright I turned back and ran towards the taxi. But I didn’t know that the taxi had been pushed back by a few meters. I took a swift turn and ran with long paces and grabbed the taxi handle. Silence of the night got shattered by an animal’s roar. Taxi door opened, I rushed in and as I was about to shut the door, the animal too managed to push its roaring face inside. I knew I had to hold the door tight and keep it pulled in with all my strength to keep the leopard out. It was a spotted leopard! His bare teeth and foul smell were inches away from my own face. I did not have enough time to slide further away on the seat as the girl and the recorder were there too. His roar in surround sound had scared the hell out of everyone. I could hear the girl’s squeak too in between. I was holding the door tight to keep the hungry leopard away from me. After a while for some reason, leopard started pulling away to release himself from this unfamiliar tangle. May be he was tired or his neck may have started hurting…

Gradually all the his sounds ceased and a faint regular breathing faded in. His face was not as ferocious now. Feeling easy and safer, I decided to do the most unthinkable. I touched leopard’s nose with my left hand. His ferocious face squirmed and rotated aggressively to bite my hand. But he was getting tired. So in a few moments again, very carefully, I touched him between his eyes as if it was a dog. He protested less this time. Encouraged, I started moving my hand on his face. His shut his mouth and looked at me with wonder in his eyes. Obviously he had never met a human so up close. I remembered there were some omelet sandwiches on the seat. I fumbled behind my back and found them. Slowly I took one near his mouth and released the pressure on his neck, just a little. He smelled it, looked away and then suddenly snapped and gobbled it up. It was the best thing that happened in my life. Seeing this scene, the girl passed some more which also were eaten up in no time. Everyone was quiet and stayed locked up in various vehicles. I gestured for more edible stuff, which was placed behind me by our adventurous spot boy named, Kutti from the half open window on the other side. Soon all the sandwiches were over, although I was sure my esteemed guest could have eaten a hundred more.
Now I was getting restless due to lack of distraction and entertainment for the leopard. I had made the grip on leopard’s neck quite loose so that he could eat comfortably. Now was the time to let him go. It was also the time that was full of risk, apprehension and perhaps loads of sadness. Just as final moments were approaching, I felt leopard’s face one last time. This time his head pushed my hand with affection to increase its pressure.

Meeting a leopard was the most valuable incidence of my entire life. I rolled my fingers on his head, between his eyes and on his ears. He was quiet. I released the pressure on the door. He pulled away a little and finally he was out. Now was the time to do the next right thing. There was enough space for the door to shut. And I did shut it. The animal was confused. I rolled my window down a bit and looked at him. He put his front legs on the door and stood on his hind legs. As I was about to put my hand out of the window, the girl screamed and pulled my hand away. The scream shocked the leopard and he sprinted off with a jerk. Somewhere an ignition key turned and a vehicle started with a rickety sound. I turned to see who this was. It was the camera van. I turned back swiftly, but the leopard had vanished. I could see no trace of him anywhere. There was darkness all around. I got off from the car and tried to search for those two dots of light, but could not…

I felt very sad that I could not go further in this relationship for so many reasons; but was extremely happy for whatever I achieved. We had to restart the shooting. Continuous sound of all the vehicles that scared the leopard was irritating me now…

A school bus was idling and revving outside my bedroom window. Kids were boarding the bus. I left my bed feeling fresh and happy and went out for a walk.

11.07.06

Time 6.24pm, date July 11, 2006, Western Railway trains and stations, Mumbai’s test in tolerance, patience, resilience and helpfulness, duration 11 min.

The first blast ripped the first class compartment of Churchgate-Borivli 6.00pm train at 6.24pm, near Khar station. About 15 people initially were reported to be admitted in hospitals. Soon the news of more blasts started pouring in and the death toll started moving up dramatically. In 11 minutes Mumbai’s life line endured 7 such massive explosions, on its trains and the stations. Other places where blasts occurred are Bandra, Jogeshwari, Mahim, Mira Road, Matunga and the last one Borivali at 6.35 pm. They say Borivali had two charges, out of which cops were able to defuse one. What it means is no mean thing. It means that in the sprawling platforms at the Borivali station the unsuspecting bag was noticed and identified by the cops, the bomb disposal squad called, explosives confirmed and then defused. In fact when I heard about this, I got a little hopeful of culprits getting caught soon. Because the cops could get some lead by finding the way the bomb was assembled, technology used and also if lucky they may be able to dust some finger prints off it. Sure enough the latest from the police is that they ‘may have some lead’. Mumbai Police is ‘one of the best in the world’, was observed by the famous Scotland Yard, many years back.

Any way the bad boys had done their home work well and chose the best time to do their black deeds. The time chosen was when the trains are so tightly packed that people like me would think of taking the next train. It has been understood that all the parcels fitted with explosive devices were placed in at the starting point, Churchgate itself.

It is not difficult to imagine how easy it is to leave a brief case or a gift with time-bombs on the top shelf and just wait outside casually, till the signal turns ‘go’. As the train starts to move, try to catch it but miss it, then walk out calmly and get dissolved into the streams of unsuspecting public.

My family’s brush with high voltage tension happened with my wife’s brother took the Churchgate-Borivli train from around the same ill fated time. His office confirmed that he left at 5.50pm. We were looking at the news channels all the time. He normally reaches home by 7.30pm; but he did not until 9.30pm. No telephone call from him made the situation very bad at home. As the time passed the tension multiplied many fold. To make it worse someone noticed a dead body resembling him. We were ready to go out to find him if he did not call, when he finally did a little after 9.30pm. He ultimately reached home safely around 10.30pm. He spent more than 4 hrs on his fateful return journey. And yes he was in the train that was just behind the blasted train at Matunga! All the passengers were asked to evacuate on the track, walk back to Dadar and head for the exit immediately. He had to walk from Dadar to Mahim (about 6KM) and from there finally someone gave him a lift in a traffic snarl, moving slower than a train of snails.

Next day he called us at 9.30am today to tell his powerful story. Can you believe he was calling from his office? That means he again got his usual 7.53 train from Andheri – just ‘the day after’! This is the spirit of a common Mumbaikar!

According to current reports, the death toll in the serial blasts has reached 190 plus with more than 700 injured.

Actually July 11, started with the blasts in Kashmir. Nearly 10 people lost their lives. The attack was aimed at the children and tourists. But when something happens far away from you, it does not affect you that strongly. It is like you don’t get the heat from a fire that may be blazing far away. Not for the reason of non-concern; but because there are no emotional strings with the location, environment or even people. Emotional concern and scare flares up as the people close to you, people of your city, your fellow travelers, trains or buses that you travel in are affected.

It is rather sad that most of us are not sensitive enough to get affected by the destructions else where; like in Gaza, Iraq, Serbia… but it can’t be helped, can it?

Gogi Anand

Someone said ‘you are as unique as everyone else is’. Like everyone else in my life too there have been many people who not only crossed my path; but also walked along with me for a while… some stayed long enough, some as little as 24 hours. At various stations some got off, some of them grew big, while some others made me grow. This cycle does not stop. People always keep flowing in and out of everyone life adding value and making a difference. People keep joining your track and leaving it as and when they find their own destined diversions. I have decided to identify some of these people, who made a difference to me. I am not talking about any great human or a saint who gave me a life changing advice or a Mantra! I am trying to identify ordinary people who happen to be my friends and whose one little gesture or an insignificant decision significantly changed the course of my life. One such person was late Arunmitra Anand, popularly and lovingly known as Gogi Anand.
Gogi came to Bombay to take up to movies. He was related to the illustrious Anand family. He was well educated and extremely well read person. Well, in that sense entire Anand family consists of educated people.

Soon he was recommended to go to the Film Institute of India at Poona to study film making. He chose screenplay writing. To be sure of admission, it is said that he took a letter of recommendation from his uncle Dev Anand. There was no problem in admission. After he completed the course he returned to Bombay in 1963. He must have been too eager to find his own place in the glittering movie world and also realized that real work experience would give him much than campus studies, especially since Anand family was right at the top in this business those days. Navketan group was constantly making movies, so getting involved in serious work was no problem. Gogi started assisting in direction in their films. He worked in Navketan films like Prem Pujari, Gambler, Teen Devian and Heera Panna.

Sometime in 1970-71 Gogi launched his first directorial venture, Double Cross, a thriller with his uncle, Vijay Anand, as the leading man and Rekha as its heroine. Vijay Anand did a double role in it. The film was produced by Gogi’s cousin Yash Kohli (popularly known as Baba), also Dev’s nephew. This was Baba’s first feature too as a producer. Baba’s time was ripe to become a producer since he was already a very experienced production hand. He was production controller of some big Navketan films like Heera Panna (1973), Tere Mere Sapne (1971), Prem Pujari (1970) and earlier to that Jewel Thief (1967). So Gogi and Baba worked together in two of those films. R D Burman was their close friend, so it was not too difficult to launch an interestingly put together film project. Double Cross released in 1972, but did not do too well at the box office. 

I too had reached Mumbai in May of the same year. It was an electrifying experience for me to get in contact with the people from Navketan camp. Whenever I met someone who knew Dev Anand or had worked with him, was enough for me to turn terribly dreamy. In such an emotional state I met Gogi sometime in early 1973, when I joined the unit of ‘Doosri Seeta’ as an assistant recordist. The film starred Jaya Bhaduri and Romesh Sharma, who were my friends from the FTII. In fact I was very close to Romesh. Even the cinematographer K K Mahajan, was an ex-FII. KK was also a close friend of Gogi. They had shared a large room with a great sea view at Mount Mary in Bandra for many years. So this film was produced with a great camaraderie between the entire unit.

In the meanwhile Gogi managed to start his third film ‘Darling Darling’. I was an assistant in this film too. During this period Gogi was very busy shooting and looking after editing for Doosri Seeta. In the meanwhile Doosri Seeta completed and its release date was announced. This would be the first film to release that was going to carry my title. I was very happy. One of the days during Darling Darling’s shooting at Sun u Sand hotel, I was told about premier of Doosri Seeta at Ganga-Jamuna theatres (they are not functioning now) at Tardeo. I was extremely excited in anticipation to be part of the starry premier crowd, which I had only envied by seeing pictures and reading the magazines during my college days.
On the premier day after an early pack up, caravan of Darling Darling’s entire unit headed towards Ganga-Jamuna. Dev Saab was in Zeenat’s car. I was in Dev Saab’s car with some others. Cinematographer Fali Mistry was also with us along with many other smaller actors. But alas! Tragedy struck hard, spoiling all my chances of attending the first premier show of my life! No one could reach the theatre. The city was experiencing exceptionally heavy cloud burst that day. Our caravan could reach only till Worli… With a heavy heart I watched all the cars being turned back by the traffic cops. I was hurt deeply when someone said that it was a bad omen for the film. Somehow all of us reached back Sun n Sand late at night. I slept in the room that was hired for the shooting. It had rained so hard that I could not go home for next three days, due to flooding. Tragically the film too got washed out at the box-office very badly.

Gogi was developing a soft corner for me as we met practically every day. He was becoming like an elder brother to me. I remember he took me to see the premier show of God Father at the Sterling. We had to come back late night in a taxi and I was dreading to think about the fat bill that I would have to pay at my home. But when Gogi got off at his home he gave me enough extra money to reach my house too. I guess he liked me due to my sincerity and enthusiasm at work.

I would always reach the studio much before the shooting shift started. Many times even stage would not be open. I remember once during Doosri Seeta shooting at Filmistan, I found Gogi was already there. He was comfortably lying on a bench and reading the script. I asked him what time did he reach? He said 7.30. Next day I was there before him for a 9.30am shift!
Gogi was an avid reader. I remember Gogi listening to and narrating Urdu couplets with another literary person Prabhuji (Prabhu Dayal). They had worked together in early Navketan films.

Once, during one of my rare free days, I was engrossed in playing carom with kids at my paying guest place. I was enjoying myself. The phone rang and the land lord, Jayant Patel told it was for me. I took the receiver and I heard someone saying that he was calling from Navketan office. My heart missed a beat. I asked him what was it about, he said ‘we want to hire you as a recordist for our next film to be shot in Nepal.’ I was flabbergasted. I pleaded, ‘I would not able to do it, as I am only an assistant right now.’ Hearing the names of Navketan and Dev Anand, a hush had descended in the room. Everyone was listening to my conversation. After a little hesitation I took down the address. After an hour long bus journey I was climbing a ‘rickety wooden staircase, Khira Nagar, Santacruz’. I met Hersh Kohli here. I was being pushed to decide fast though I was extremely scared to take up a Navketan film to be shot abroad. If it was a smaller banner or shooting was in Mumbai, I might have gone for it straight away. Hersh pushed me harder, ‘in four days unit is leaving and all the names have to be finalized’. Well, rest is history for me…

Much later I was informed that Gogi had personally recommended my name to Dev Saab. He had to also remove all doubts in Dev Saab’s mind about me. This one single point had changed the course of my life, then. It also fulfilled my childhood fantasy of experiencing the phenomenon that Dev Anand had been. Later for very long whatever I did in my professional life, I did it as a Navketan man. I had to leave work of ‘Darling Darling’ in between until I came back after three months. Well, ‘Darling Darling’ too bombed and after this Gogi took very long to put a project together. Many years later I remember he asked me to work with him for a film; I said ‘of course any time’, but the film never took off.

As long as I was with Navketan I met him often, either on sets or in office. I decided to enter field of documentaries in 1985 and asked to be relieved from Navketan. From then on Gogi went out of loop for very long. He would fall ill often due to his excessive drinking and tobacco habits. Once I went to see him at Nanavati Hospital, with our old colleague Amit Khanna. Gogi was being discharged that day. He looked very thin; but cheerful. But I was amused and shocked to notice that even in the hospital he had made arrangements to get his tobacco with the help of a ward boy!
No doubt at that stage nobody could imagine that Gogi would ever make a movie again. That was a fair judgment, but I did not like that nobody seemed to have a positive word for him. I don’t think people visited him. Gogi was lonely and out of work for a long period! That is how the film industry works. The more successful you are busier you will be. Only Gogi’s well wishers and close friends knew him as a bright guy, who could have made it – period.

Sometime in mid 90s, I heard that he was directing a daily TV soap for Balaji. I was so happy for him. That series was doing well too. He was beginning to make a name for himself in television! Soon after that he became a part of Plus Channel, where I was too working. He was hired to direct, ‘Swabhiman’, which too turned out to be a very successful daily soap. I was happy to see that finally he had found his eluding ground in television. It was nice to see his title in every episode during the audio mixing. Technicians from Swabhiman sets told me that Gogi was doing very well as a director and he had picked up the strings of multi-camera set up very well. He would finish a day job well within an allotted shift.
Gogi never got married. He never had a steady girl friend too, except for a short time during Doosri Seeta, when he had a live-in arrangement with someone.

There were some light moments in his life too. He once kept a pet monkey in his house. It was rumored that the monkey would jump down to a grocery store and steal potatoes and run back home. He would also christen the monkey with a name; whom he did not like those days. Another popular story was about a suitcase full of coins. Gogi had been dumping lose change in that suitcase for years. Finally it was full to the brim and couldn’t be carried due to its weight. I had the opportunity to see it once. He always boasted about it, until one fine day I found him sheepishly grieving about it. It seems his servant had vanished with the famous suitcase.

I was informed of Gogi’s last hospitalization by K K Mahajan and Praba. Some of us went to see him in Asha Parekh hospital. He was on life support system. There seemed no hope. His eyes were shut. His relations had been informed to be there. I felt very bad at his condition especially with a lingering thought that it might be the last time, I was seeing Gogi.

He died the next day. As soon as I got a call, I reached his house. But his body had not arrived till then. I entered his bedroom. Gogi’s garlanded photograph was placed on the ground. After spending few long moments staring at the photograph, I left; to promptly return next morning to be a part of his unit, one last time…

I decided to put this piece together because nowhere on the internet I could find any useful and definite information about Gogi, not even about his birth or the date of his death. Some posthumous comments bracketed Gogi with words like ‘anonymous’ and ‘unsung’. According to those Gogi may have been lost in the oblivion. But they don’t know that he had his days too. He may have gone without making an earth shattering film, but he did commendable work for television. He had been very busy for most of his life, except for a few years. Lean periods are common for any film professional. For me he was a very special person and ‘the’ reason that put my professional life on a faster and higher track. The least I could do for Gogi was to share some of the relevant information about him with people, especially with who might be interested.

I have known Gogi’s younger brother Kaka too, since long. He was very nice to give me Gogi’s birth details:

“Arunmitra Anand lived between Aug 22, 1942 and Oct 25, 2004. He was born at Gurdaspur to parents Shri Vishwamitra Anand and Shrimati Gargi Devi Anand.”

Finally through this reflection if I did manage to remove ‘unknown, unsung and anonymous’ labels stuck on my friend, I would consider myself fortunate.

Mere Mehboob Studios

From the end of 1972 till 1985, Mehboob studios was my second (sometimes first) home. I was very friendly with entire staff, be it Raghu the canteen boy, assistants in music studio, camera attendants, lightmen. Kamil, the sound room in-charge was very close to me as we worked together for so many years. The sound recording section was a royal 1000 sqft space!
One day I asked Zahoor bhai (manager cum telephone board operator), ‘who would currently be the oldest employee of the studio?’ He said, ‘there is a lightman called Ganapat Rao’… I knew him well obviously. Next time Ganapat was passing by I stopped him and asked him to give me his autograph on my stupid telephone diary. I can not explain how shocked and elated he was… I normally I don’t wish to turn my clock back even by a day… but for such rare feelings.
Sometimes it makes me teary emotional… Khair, I got the real inner feel of those times. Can’t say it was enough; but thank goodness, to have walked the floor where Mehboob Khan, Raj Khosla, Dilip Kumar, Dev saab, Madhubala, Fali and Jal Mistry, Dwarka Divecha… created magical cinema. The realization is certainly fulfilling… Plz understand that even if I add hundreds of names from my own memory, it can never ever even nearly complete the list.