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; 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? 

 

30. Golden Roti, a Ticket or Twenty and an Unexpected Party

Out and about every single day along with my South African friend Jittu, we explored all over Bombay.  Besides hanging out on Marine Drive my first favorite thing to do was experience eating as many of the different flavors available in the local restaurants.

Gopis on clothThere were Brahmin vegetarian dining establishments which I mentioned two posts back, serving silver thalis-full of amazing, cooked to perfection, curried vegetables with just right roti and puri, the excellent Punjabi cooking (we called them the best meat restaurants), and the flavorful South Indian kitchens preparing outstanding seafood meals, exquisite sambar, egg curry and masala dosa.  

We indulged in Persian (Iranian) cuisine enjoying perfected biryanis and mouthwatering lamb shish kebab – delicious!  There was always a great Chinese restaurant around any given corner serving their dishes with that Indian twist and always flavoursome to be sure plus I found it really fun to see a Chinese face speaking perfect Hindi.  

Ah yes and the Gujarati restaurants served us delightful kheema, khatti mithi daal and golden chapatis of course, all very palatable.  These are but a few, you get the idea and not to mention a suddenly juicy mouth I’m sure!  

We did our best to return to Marine Drive anywhere between 4 in the afternoon and 7 in the evening for our daily dose of people watching; okay you got me, girl watching!  Oh the beautiful girls accompanied by their families to be sure.

The two of us also had another favorite to-do and that was going to the cinema to see the Indian films.  After all Bombay is the film capital of India.  Our pick of theaters was the Naaz (near my temporary residence as I mentioned in post 28) there at Lamington Road, which ran all the biggest current films.  

In my perception of things it was the top-notch cinema house to attend.  There was elegant balcony seating, it was air-conditioned, the sound system was great, all the seats were nice and comfortable and it was beautiful you know, classy in style.

Outside the theater the line of moviegoers never broke, day or night.  Jittu and I realized we could supplement our income if we sold tickets to those people who were further back in the line, yes!  We’d make pocket money and they’d get to see the show after all, even after the ‘house full’ sign went up in the box office window.

About a week before the show we’d buy maybe 20 or so tickets each, based on how many rupees we had saved up approximately every 8 days and then sell them for that particular day and evening’s screenings for 3 to 4 times more rupees than face value.  

Yes, I know there’s a name for that and you could be sure when we spied the Police wala with their dundas as they walked the line, we’d take off as quick as lightning!  

Here’s the thing: these were mainly young guys of monied families, driving fancy cars and wanting to spoil their girls on a date; they just wanted to get into the show, not even questioning the price of our tickets.  See, the girl wanted to see her screen heroes in the newest film and well, the guys really did too.  

These people are standing in line realizing the show’s just been sold out and they start looking around to see if there are tickets for sale floating around when they notice a small group of people (gathered around Jittu and myself that is) apparently talking about getting into the currently sold out showing.  

They come over to us and there you have it!  They are going in to see the movie after all.  Points for them with their girl and everybody is happy.  They’re so happy many of them even try to give us extra rupees but we refuse the offered tip because we’re already making money.  I get to pay my rent and I eat more nice meals for the next 7 or 8 days.

Another something I was able to indulge in was a few upper-crust parties on Marine Drive, yes the ones given up there in those fancy homes.  And this all due to my Bombay companion Jittu.  At that time in my life I didn’t see how else I would have experienced all that.  

After having attended a few of them with Jittu, I noticed there were basically two types of parties; the family parties and the other parties, the ones where the children and most family members did not attend.  These were the extra entertaining gatherings.  

I can only say that I’d never been so opened up to these elements of the human existence before.  Life is definitely a curious thing.  

Here I was in Bombay, so very far from my little South Pacific island life, learning a lot about the ways of the world and now I knew for sure, there were no limits.  There was definitely no returning home as that young unexposed man I’d left behind in Fiji.

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Police wala with their dundas                                             policemen with their stick  (remember my father walking with me and his dunda?)

khatti meethi daal                                                       lentils prepared sweet & sour in taste

Bombay is the film capital of India.                            India is known all over the world for their accomplishments in the movies.  Some of India’s brightest stars are included in America’s movie scene these days.  If you guys haven’t heard of Bollywood by now well, anyway you’d definitely understand that the film industry in India is majorly important to them.

I eat more nice meals                                       Jittu did get allowance from his father every week but he spent it near as quick as he got it, and I will add that he was a very generous friend; spending equally on me as he did on himself.  Everything was ours and needless to say things like transportation expenses, snacks, meals, movies, etc, he kept no tabs.  

I paid whenever I could but there was no denying he had more of an income than I.  It clearly made him (and me) very happy to have someone fun to explore the new surroundings and get into light mischief with.  He didn’t want to hang around his father the whole time they were to be in Bombay.  It was a win, win for the both of us.