IshkIshkIshk.Prod Story 1

On Oct 21, 1973 an Indian Airlines flight bound for New Delhi was preparing to take off from Mumbai. Nearly half of the Caravelle aircraft was occupied by the unit members of to be launched film, ‘Ishk Ishk Ishk’ being produced under the banner of Navketan International Films (P) Ltd. The ambience was vibrant with loud excited voices, handshakes, high5s and hugs. Most of the people knew each other. Dev Saab (Mr. Dev Anand) the actor, writer, producer and director of the film was in his usual high spirits. He was walking briskly down the isle to ask his unit members individually if they were comfortable.
My anxiety and nervousness had peaked as my life’s first airplane flight was about to take off. Airplane’s various changing sounds had been making me nervous. I was trying to occupy my mind by finding faces of known actors. I found Jeevan, Premnath and Nadira. But mainly my eyes and mind were on this phenomenon called Dev Anand. I wanted him to recognize me, since earlier I had been an assistant in ‘Darling Darling’, staring Dev Saab and Zeenat Aman. The film was directed by his nephew Gogi Anand (now no more). But Dev Saab’s energy level in the airplane was at its legendary level; the level which has been recognized by the entire film fraternity. They say when Dev Saab is on the sets of his own movie no one can walk along with him; Dev Saab does not sit; Dev Saab never goes back to makeup room unless it is lunch time… In Oct 1973 he had just turned 50 and was oozing with youth.
The plane landed at Delhi and the unit was accommodated for an overnight stay in Oberoi and Lodhi Hotel. Next morning a Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC), Boeing-737 took us to Kathmandu and then took a connecting RNAC Avro to Pokhra – our final destination. This 48 seat Avro, was full of the film unit entirely. When the flight was about to land at Pokhra, I looked at the landscape below and got very nervous. It seemed to me that there might be some kind of emergency since the aircraft was descending directly into a field. The plane went straight ahead and landed smoothly on a seemingly unprepared surface. Pokhra had such a basic airport. I was told that before a flight landed here, they blow a siren to alert the shepherds to drive their cattle away from the air strip. While the helpers were collecting our luggage and we just walked off, crossed a narrow road and entered our hotel. As easy as that!
In the meanwhile another caravan consisting of two trucks and a bus load of technicians had left Mumbai a week in advance. It carried all the hardware stuff like lights, camera trolleys, cranes, electric sockets, stands, cutters and other related stuff. Dev Saab’s nephew Hersh Kohli, the production controller of Navketan was traveling with this unit. They too reached in time to meet the other unit. This road journey must have been real fun, though surely a bit long.
A third unit consisting of the Art Director, T K Desai, his assistants and carpenters had been at hotel ‘Fish Tail Lodge’ since the end of September, at least to construct a set in the premises of the hotel. The set was a large two story wooden house. Production had agreed that after the film shoot was over, the house would be handed over to the owner of the hotel, Fred Barker. So the house-set was made really very sturdy and good looking inside out. It had many fully functional and decorated bedrooms for Nadira & Premnath and their daughters in the film, Zeenat Aman, Zarina Wahab, Komal, Komila Wirk, Guddi, and Padmini Kolhapure.
Entire unit was accommodated in four different hotels. Technicians like me, twelve model girls and equipments were in Annapurna; Shekhar Kapoor, Gautam Sarin and Kabir Bedi were in Hotel Crystal, light-boys etc were in another place and senior actors and cinematographer Fali Mistry were in Fish Tail Lodge. Here again I noticed Dev Saab was going to each room in Hotel Crystal to check if all his actors were fine. Dev Saab is very pro-actor director. I was introduced formally to him as the recordist for the film in the passage of the hotel. He knew me but it was the first time that we were going to be dealing with each other directly. He said ‘hi Arun, very good’ with a firm hand shake, patted my shoulder and carried on to check other rooms.
Fish Tail Lodge was one of the main locations for the film shoot. In the film this hotel was christened as ‘Seven Sisters Inn’, as its owner husband and wife team of Premnath and Nadira supposedly had seven daughters. Hotel’s entire landscape was the set for the film; the rooms, restaurant, lawns, even the kitchen. It was such a pretty locale. The hotel had various structures scattered on a large area, with Fewa Lake along its length, snow-clad mountains in the background and clear deep blue sky. It was about 20 minutes drive from our hotel. Vehicles had to be parked at the edge of Fewa Lake, as the road ended there. So to reach the hotel, a narrow part of a lake had to be crossed by a flat bamboo raft. This raft was tied to both ends of the lake with ropes. You had to pull the rope to drag the raft to other end. The raft was about 10×10 ft, square, so not more than 10 people could stand on it. It was a beautiful way to cross the lake and kept pollution away from the hotel premise.

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’.