32. Behind the Silver Screen

Somehow or other we found ourselves spending a good part of our days in a few of the Indian film studios; R.K. Studios (as in Raj Kapoor) in the suburban district of Chembur and Filmistan Studios in Goregaon, just to name a couple.

We were present for many a scene shootings on these movie sets around Bombay.  Meeting Indian cinema stars for this young man was certainly a plus.  Neither myself nor my friend Jittu were necessarily star-struck.  

My pleasure in doing this came more from my lifelong fascination with the projections on the screen and the range of stories they told rather than anything else.  After that one cannot help but to like or dislike certain actors – it came with the territory of course.   

Perhaps one of the top most recognized and remembered, at the very least to Indian cinema fans I was privileged to meet, would be the aforementioned Raj Kapoor.  He was sometimes akin to Charlie Chaplin.

And I think back now how fortunate I was to have met these people, like Nargis who was undoubtedly R.K.’s favorite leading lady; she was immortalised in the RK Studios emblem in fact.   

And there was the amazing Vyjayanthimala.  She not only acted and sang haunting Carnatic pieces (recognised as the classical music of the South Indian region) but could also beautifully perform the Bharathanatyam.  This is  possibly the oldest Indian dance form.

And there was Madhubala, just as beautiful.  I remember reading somewhere she was considered an iconic Hindi film celebrity.  We have had for quite sometime our own filmfare magazines talking about the people and films (now Bollywood) of our country.  Not unlike the magazines at the market checkout here in the U.S.A. I suppose.  

I also had the pleasure of meeting Kamini Kushal who starred in Neecha Nagar, her debut, which won the Palme d’Or award at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.  There is a name here I know you all know and that belongs to another debut role in this movie but as music director; the legendary Ravi Shankar.  

I was privileged to have met actor Dev Anand who was acting in Funtoosh at the time.  He had made his screen debut 10 years earlier and dominated the silver screen for decades to come with his répertoire to include writing, producing and directing.

I also was very pleased to have met Bharat Bhushan, a talented scriptwriter, actor & producer along with the wonderful and often humorous Om Prakash of radio, then stage, and on and behind the screen fame.  

An unusual beauty I met was Nalini Jaywant who began acting at age 14 and the popular Johnny Walker, famed in grand wit and comedic roles, giving himself the stage name; after you guessed it! the world famous scotch.  

I found this all very fascinating.  I was intrigued by the way scenes were shot and noted that they were rarely in any type of sequence based on what I was seeing.  

It was like it made no sense when I thought how a story-line would unfold.  Guess I was just thinking of it as a film in its complete form and my brain wanted to think logic.

It was exciting I remember, to attend the completed film months or so later; I watched it with an entirely different perspective.  And the parts that I had witnessed being made now came together on the screen and the logic I was looking for was found!  

Anyhow it was a very good time for me even though it was still monsoon season and an umbrella can only do so much when they’re trying to shoot outdoors!

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Raj Kapoor     And I will tell you he was adored in Russia, Africa, China, the Middle East and many other parts of the world as well.    www.nytimes.com/1988/06/03/…/raj-kapoor-top-indian-film-star-is-dead-at-64.html

Bharathanatyam     evolved out of the South India state of Tamil Nadu.  By the way this is where the famous Dravidian-style Hindu temples are located.  Surely you have heard of or seen photos of these architectural marvels in National Geographic or such magazines.

If anyone reading this knows anything about the film industry of India then you’d also know how meaningful and special our cinema is to the majority of the Indian people.  It bears repeating; Indian cinema is world-renowned and can be a whole lot of fun!

On a separate yet related note:  I returned to India many years later with my wife and youngest son, and we found ourselves at the film studios.  We were privileged to meet Om Prakash again amongst a few of the current popular actors, and for the first time, I met the distinctive Amitabh Buchchan with his son Abhishek who was just a little boy at the time.  Now who in all the world does not recognize that man? 

 

Happy Independence Day!

C - Califonia-Beach-Days 4th of July.jpg

Summer reminds me of freedom.  Here we are once again, starting summer off with many colors and few great big bangs to go with, and why not?  The warm summer nights usher us to do so many fun things and my personal favorite was always night swims off the Santa Monica shores… and just hanging out with friends and/or family without any sort of real curfew.

My elder brother and I never gave much thought to sharks although he’d chase me down the beach with a giant wad of seaweed!  That was terrifying enough for me, ha ha.

Then there are the endless barbecues, ‘seems like I could ride forever’ bike rides, wave-catching, horse back rides and sleeping under the starry skies.  I can still hear the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’ and Starbuck’s ‘Moonlight Feels Right’ … ah yes, the young teenager of 1976.

Oh and let’s not forget the childhood joy of fireflies and how they never ceased to enchant us, all the while luring one another in hopes of a summer romance.

c - hoist her up in Waikiki

I can hear the laughter and various types of music melding into one radio sound (flashback to the transistor radios) on any given boardwalk and surf-side hangout across the county.  By far my favorite is the cool sand on my tired, hot feet in the evening as we all settle in on our blankets to watch outdoor movies by the sea, eating too many toasted marshmallows .

Victoria seaSwings

Here’s to a joyful, safe and bring on a new adventure kind of summer to all!

Santorini - Silence of the Breeze 2010

p.s.   I didn’t get a post in this past Sunday, sorry.  I had a tough round with a summer cold, of all things summer, sheesh!  Thankfully it’s near gone, yesterday having seen the worst of it.

LBM and I will meet this weekend and get everyone up back on track.  Thanks ever so much for visiting regularly and remember to leave us a comment; let LBM know what you think of his memoirs up till now.  We both really enjoy hearing from you!

31. I Need A Ship to England, Not A Buzzard’s Flight!

There was an international crisis* in the Middle East, now in full swing, which heavily involved the Suez Canal – 1956

While it certainly may seem like I’d been miles away from my quest for transportation to London well, you’d be half right.  To be sure I was distracted yet the thought process of ‘how to’ hadn’t left me for very long at any given point.  I often thought of Hemma and what she might be doing at that very moment.

Strolling past various shops and businesses on my everyday walks about the city, I took notice for the first time, a travel agency.  I must’ve missed it the times before when walking by; talking busily with Jittu no doubt.  At any rate I thought I could enquire in there about a ship to England.  I went inside.

I was greeted by a nice young man who introduced himself as Parwez.  I told him of my need.  ‘One ship to England please!’  Feeling as though I were about to enjoy a cup of tea, we got comfortable in our dialogue of information which began with basic questions about what I needed, my budget and possible travel dates.

This man was of a gentle disposition.  In a more casual tone of conversation I came to find out he was a Parsi fellow and before I knew it, I believed I’d made another friend.  

He told me he’d keep watch for something which would suit my needs and my wallet.  Parwez suggested I should return to his agency in a few days to see what’s transpired from his research.

The next time we met, Parwez informed me there weren’t any ships going to London at this time due to the current crisis.  What?  “Well, yes and no.”  The Suez Canal had become off limits for the ships in the wake of turmoil between England, America and Egypt over the control of the Canal, or something like that.  

I must’ve appeared to have fallen into a jar of pickles.  He continued, “Probably others as well but it’s no good my friend, not right now, I’m sorry.”   

In this fact he added, ships weren’t traveling to Europe at all, unless one took the voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.  The difference of nearly 4,000 nautical miles with a price tag to match was not an option.   

I of course could take an aeroplane however that too carried a steep price tag … I seriously wasn’t going to sell that many theatre tickets!  It didn’t take long to exhaust whatever options there were.

I trusted Parwez to be a fair and honest man so when he looked me straight in the eye and said, “My friend you are here in Bombay for a loooong time!”  I knew this statement to be true.  My heart sank.  

Chin-up!  I’d just had to find another way to leave India but I wasn’t so sure which direction I would be heading next in order to do it.  

Leading up to this point in my life, I realized I had become a bit plucky.  I had youth on my side and I was gaining confidence so I took more chances to make sure my life would become anything but dull.  I held my determination and I just knew I’d come up with something.

I’d still drop in every now and again to visit with Parwez at the agency.  Hoping for some surprise news of travel?  Maybe.  

Going about my business still exploring around Bombay, there was a particular place where I noticed some really large birds; I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen them when I first arrived in the city.   Maybe I wasn’t looking up?  

At any rate it was on a hill where these giant birds swooped, soared and called out their eerie cry.  They kept to this particular spot up there and needless to say, I was intrigued.  

As Jittu and I rode through town in an auto rickshaw or a bus we witnessed this spectacle, seemingly often if we were looking that way, and eventually concluding that we must find out what was going on up there.  

Neither one of us had a clue and we just wondered about it between ourselves.  We didn’t know these giant birds were vultures deeply involved in a feeding frenzy.

One day while I was having lunch with Parwez and for whatever reason, I suddenly thought on the birds so I asked him about them.  He smiled, then looking a little more serious he said, “Matter of fact, I do know.”  

He then went on to illustrate a spine-tingling scene.  Parwez told me what we saw up on the hill was a sacred and private Parsi cemetery.  It was a fairly tall circular structure made of either brick or stone, I can’t remember which and it was the custom of his people to place the dead bodies in there; exposed!

Seeing my puzzled expression, in order to help me grasp the full picture he was painting, he used the phrase ‘open tables’ in order to help define the word he then used; he called it a Dakhma.  I shouldn’t have asked!  Now this will haunt me for goodness knows how long.

🌞  Here they would decompose at the mercy of the sun and be devoured by those scavenging birds; unique system indeed.  I was horrified in fact but I listened anyway.  Oh boy!  I couldn’t wait to share this with Jittu. 

Parwez described to me how the Parsi people’s precept is understood; as the deceased body is deemed unclean and therefore would be polluting nature; offensive to at least 3 of the natural earth elements.  

It was all very disagreeable to my ears but I did my best not to react in any way as with Parwez being Parsi, I did not wish to offend my new friend.  

I certainly could not deny that the world had something new to teach me each and everyday.

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*As you know I am not here to discuss bygone accounts of the world and such.  I share my own narrative so I will merely point out that this course of history and a few others, did indeed affect my own story to some degree and that’s why they’ll show up periodically throughout my memoirs.

Parwez       once again a fictitious name for a true character.

on a hill       came to recognize as Malabar Hill: the very same hill where I’d view the Queen’s Necklace from the Kamala Nehru park.  Of course the cemetery was at a different location of this hill.

private       as in not publicly accessible for photos, curiosity or kicks, nor did I think anyone would want to just ‘visit’ for the heck of it; I knew I didn’t want to see it.

unique system       Not too long ago while watching a travel documentary, I saw that the people of Tibet and a handful of other Chinese provinces did something similar; they take their dead higher up the mountain, chopping the body into smaller, bite-sized pieces (for wild mountain animals) for nature to be fed.