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’.

Poetics of Film

On 5 and 6 April 2006, I shot for a documentary on late Mr. Chetan Anand, a well known senior Bollywood director. This documentary, titled ‘Poetics of Film’ is mainly supposed to consist of interviews of personalities who had a chance to work with Chetan Anand. Though many of his contemporaries are now no more, a few names that are short listed to be part of this 50 min long film are Hema Malini, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra… among others. We already shot with Shekhar Kapoor, Johny Bakhshi (film producer), Bhupinder Singh (singer/music director) and classical singer Shafqat Ali from Pakistan. Tom Alter is the anchor person for the film.

DVD of this documentary is supposed to be a part of the Mr. Chetan Anand’s biography being penned by Ms. Uma Anand, Mr. Chetan Anand’s ex-wife and mother of both his sons Ketan and Vivek.
It was so nice to meet Bhupinder especially after a very long time. We know each other since my first Navketan film, Ishq Ishq Ishq (1974). Today he had to sing a little for the camera and he did sing very well. He told me that he too has a web site now; but funnily he had to call his wife Mitali to tell me its domain name, which was surprisingly as predictable as bhupindermitali.com.

PS: As we all know many of the people mentioned above, who are/or were or supposed to be part of this documentary are no more – late Rajesh Khanna, late Johny Bakhshi, late Tom Alter, late Bhupinder Singh.

(From my archive 2006)

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.

Gandhi ji & Jallianwala Bagh

Excerpts fromThe story of my experiments with truth

– M K Gandhi / Chapter XXXV / IN THE PUNJAB (opening part)

Excerpt 1:

“Sir Michael O’Dwyer held me responsible for all that had happened in the Punjab, and some irate young Punjabis held me responsible for the martial law. They asserted that, if only I had not suspended civil disobedience, there would have been no Jallianwala Bagh massacre.”

My Reaction:

I am shocked at this revelation by ‘the man’ himself. Thank god I am quoting this ‘word by word’ from his book itself. I feel even if a minuscule number of Punjabis at that time believed that Jallianwala Bagh massacre had anything to do with a decision taken by Mr. Gandhi, regarding suspension of civil disobedience movement, it is really very scary. Even if this decision’s impact was just 5% in creation of that situation, it could lay a massive responsibility on the boney shoulders of an adamant M K Gandhi for the murder of thousands innocent people.

Excerpt 2:

Some of them even went to the length of threatening me with assassination if I went to the Punjab.

My Reaction:

Not surprising at all, because that is how the end actually came for him, though from a different quarter.

Excerpt 3:

But I felt my position was so correct and above question that no intelligent person could misunderstand it.

My Reaction:

Thoroughly conceited attitude

Excerpt 4:

I was impatient to go to the Punjab. I had never been there before, and that made me all the more anxious to see things for myself. Dr. Satyapal, Dr. Kitchlu and Pandit Rambhaj Dutt Chowdhari, who had invited me to the Punjab, were at this time in jail. But I felt sure that government could not dare to keep them and other prisoners in prison for long. A large number of Punjabis used to come and see me whenever I was in Bombay. I ministered them with a word of cheer on these occasions, and that would comfort them. My self confidence of that time was infectious.

My Reaction: I could never talk about my own self-confidence as ‘infectious’

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.

Imaginary us

I finished my arguments silently

She had heard me patiently

Then she looked hard at my face

Lowered her eyes and slowly… turned away

She walked a few steps towards the setting sun

The Sun turned her face red

Was it angry red?

Or hopeless red

She stopped after a few steps

Sun sank a little lower

Her lengthening shadow was crawling towards me

Then as if it waited

Soon sun lowered even more

Her shadow was at my feet now

Gradually it started climbing on me

That made me rather uneasy

I turned away from it

I saw my own shadow going away from me

Her shadow was missing here

It was on me, on myself

That froze me

Soon both shadows started getting weaker

Thankfully

I turned back and saw red rim of sun

I turned again towards my shadow

My shadow was merging in the darkness

Dissolving on the ground

Losing its definition, edges

I waited till it was all dark

My body also had no shadow

I looked to find the rim of the sun

But couldn’t…

Shockingly

The space between me and the sun

… Was blank