The Golden Temple - pulled in to Bombay Central Station
I have spent days at a time in this train. The trip to Surat feels like a brief reunion. I barely recognize the inside of the train, riding in a two-tier AC bogey, each of us with a seat to ourselves. Even the frequent interruptions of vendors selling CHAAIII MASALA CHAI CHAI, ICE CREAAAM BHAISAB ICE CREAM, GARAM NAASHTO LEYLO GARAM GARAM NAASHTOOO, COLD DRINK PANI BOTTLE, COFFEE NESCOFFEE
could not bring to the bogey the bustle and chaos of the three-tier sleeper bogeys I have taken from Amritsar to Mumbai. In a group of thirty students, two to a ticket, some of us would hide in the bathroom when a ticket collector came by. He knew. We knew he knew. It was merely an acknowledgment of his presence, a formality.
A few hours into the journey, in the calm after the insanity of getting everyone and their suitcase onto the train, people would start wandering around the bogey, find each other, start conversations or games. Ten at a time would gather around a single laptop to watch a movie - leaning off of all three tiers of seats.
Sleep was fitful in shared spaces. Amritsar was chill, the nights were harsh. Climbing down the ladder to use the bathroom could take half an hour, in finding one’s shoes, in picking one’s way through the crowded corridor, waiting in line.
But the physical discomfort of the journey was alway awash in a fierce spirit of community and adventure.
The train holds these memories, in the pattern of its old, dirt-covered frame. I will return again, one day, retrace my steps, and find them waiting in its bolts and seams.
Oh yeah, this is where I’m staying for now. YMCA International House, Bombay Central. They’re doing renovations, which is why the bamboo scaffolding? A pretty good setup, but I’m not too keen on the neighborhood, as it’s heavily Muslim (makes me feel more self conscious as a woman) and is basically just a glut of tenement housing, with some slums and some high rises.
Some memories remain in some permanence .. sometimes !
Work related memories tend to be like an open chapter that can be read at the turn of a page, in our life books. Many believe it is best to relate them or store it up in writing on it before it gets too late .. and one does not need to understand what ‘late’ means .. time speeds past rapidly and they know that soon the glands of our memories shall fall apart or not respond at all ..
So hurry up and write about what you need to write before getting struck by Alzheimer’s, or related defects with age namely dementia .. !!
That is the genius Manmohan Desai, on the sets with me for the film 'Naseeb’ and the picturisation of the song 'John Jaani Janaardhan’. He conceived this quite remarkably.
Since I was the waiter in a 5 star Hotel in the film, he wondered how interesting it would be for such a character when events such as Jubilee functions of films - a great celebration in those days - were held in the premises of the Hotel ! So he devised a celebration of a Jubilee function of a film, set in the Hotel where my character was singing and serving the guests, in the range of all the biggest stars of the Industry - Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore, Dabboo Kapoor, Rakesh Roshan and many more to name just a few.
How he managed to convince all of them to come over for just a day, and how he completed their work in that shift is a marvel in itself. He booked an adjoining floor at Filmistan Studios, where we shot this song, and would send me racing there to rehearse the next shot while the lighting was being done, so that no time was wasted in rehearsals on the floor of the shoot, and also to prevent the embarrassment of making the big stars wait while we got our act together.
His characters that he chose for me were always the common man, the worker, the guy next door, or the person on the street - Coolie, Naseeb the waiter, Amar Akbar Anthony the anglo indian from Bandra interiors, Mard the tangewala .. and so .. but always having the strength and the attitude of taking on the biggest adversary that came across. It was this identity that appealed to the front benchers, the ones that repeatedly patronised the films, in those good ol’ days .. far removed from what the youngistan of today does at the multiplexes ..
Man Mohan Desai had started very young and with the very best .. 'Chaliya’ was his first directorial film, with Raj Kapoor as his hero, the one that had that popular number .. 'chaliya mera naam, chalna mera kaam ..’ in Mukesh ji’s voice, a song that I used to hum often when home and still about to enter University, and one that used to upset my Father a lot, for he did not like the words … !!
Man ji thought out his plot and his stories on the slopes of the hill at Malabar Hill, below that famous outdoor restaurant, a landmark then and I believe still is. He would take his wife along to run his ideas through and they both would sit in that deserted forested region under a tree and create some of the weirdest ideas, but ideas that have become iconic and legendary now …
We would laugh at his madness when we performed his scenes, his dialogues, his ideas of performance … but we respected what he asked us to do, simply because we were firstly professionals and then we believed in the confidence of his faith and trust in the success of the idea. He was rigid unwavering and nothing but confident of his directions .. and they worked and worked magically, no matter what …
He saw the rushes of the drunk scene in AAA almost a month after it was performed - that is how long it took in those days to get a final print in some viewable state - since he was not present on the set when I did it. We were shooting two of his films at the same time in the same studio - RK Studios - AAA and 'Parvarish’ … he gave instructions for the drunk scene and left to the next floor to shoot some action scenes simultaneously with Amjad and by the time he came back we had already canned the scene .. he trusted his assistants in the compliance of the drunk scene and a month later when we were shooting the climax song and scene in this studio in Dadar, now defunct and raised to the ground with better real estate possibilities, he took me aside after the rushes were seen, and we sat on the steps of the portico of that dilapidated studio and he said to me .. 'Lalla ( an affcetionate way of addressing someone), so long as I make films you will always be in them. You may not work with me, but I shall always work with you.“
And he kept his word to the last day. He never directed a film without me after that day !!
He was a middle class man. Down to earth and with those that belonged to the earth. When he gained success with AAA, he bought an elite modern apartment in one of the most expensive regions of the city and shifted there, after having it designed by the most expensive and creative interior designer. But he was never happy there. Within a few months he shifted back to where he originally came from Khetwari, a middle class congested colony in the interiors of central Bombay, then. He would call me over to his abode often. The houses were cramped and almost stuck to each other. One could merely stretch their hand from their window and reach the window of the neighbour. On those tiny 'galis’ of the colony he would play cricket with a wet rubber ball, a most challenging feat for the most accomplished batsmen, and his kids that surrounded his home. We would sit on the first floor balcony, taking in the noise and conversations and the atmosphere of the air about us ..
It was Man ji that gave me the very first so called vanity van in the Industry. I would use it as a regular travel car for years .. until the 'vanity’ became a constant with all the shootings and the stars, a regular now .. no one uses make up rooms … except at the YRF studios !!
On a brief sojourn to New York, I was woken up early in the morning by a telephone call ..
Man Mohan Desai had jumped from the balcony of this Khetwari home of his and given up his life …