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? 

 

28. Bombay is a Beauty …

India!   And what a 1st experience it was.  I was feeling pretty good, carrying around a perception of freedom; away from confusing feelings and all at once I was excited, alone and …missing my wife.  I started to think it would have been very nice if she was with me.  

But this was also the heart of the monsoon season in Bombay!  It almost felt like the rains were mocking me as I was going through my own monsoon of sorts.  I had arrived in Bombay right smack in the middle of it!

Bombay in the state of Maharashtra, was to me, a beautiful place.  I stayed there in the city at a hostel, similar to an American YMCA, near the Naaz Cinema Hall.  These lodgings were run by a businessman with ties to an associate in the Indian Consulate back in Fiji.  

I was given the address of this place before I left the island by that connection.  Thankfully it was affordable and centrally located.  My weekly rate was approximately 25-30 rupees.   I ended up staying here nearly two months.

Each morning the proprietor had a bucket of hot water for my in-room bath, brought up to me with a knock at the door.  The heavily accented masculine voice said, “Saab-ji, garam pani.”  Also he would ask me what he could bring to me for my breakfast.

He’d go across the street to this Brahmin restaurant and bring delicious dishes for me to start my day with.  Masala chai, saag sabji, and of course hot, red, puffy puris!  If this didn’t suit my mood, I’d go out to one of countless restaurants in the immediate vicinity and chow down on amazing food.

Out and about in the city, there are so many people!  You cannot walk anywhere without bumping into each other though I never minded if it was a pretty girl.  That crowd was of yesteryear so just imagine today!  

The one place I really wanted to see and be a part of before leaving India, was Marine Drive.  As a youth this was a must!  I had seen it in the Hindi films so many times and heard that it was a very special street where so much happens.

Odds were that I’d be lucky enough to see in passing, an India film star.  Naturally girl-watching was part of the plan but the rest of the people were interesting too!  I would sit on the wall there with the Arabian Sea to my back and just watch this part of India go by.

I quickly learned that after 3 or 4 in the afternoon was the very best time to do this.  It was a place to see and be seen which lent to the girls dressing real pretty in their colourful attire; the lovely salwar kameez, saris and what have you, a blend of many nations really.  

Speaking of which, there would be 10 guys talking amongst themselves and each one’s native tongue is a different language of India.  There’s Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu (whew!) just to name a few, oh my!

But I wondered how they were actually communicating together and it wasn’t in English.  The common denominator here was Gujarati, Punjabi and Marathi and I must say it was to me quite a sight to see the Chinese man living in India speaking one of these 3 versions!

The liveliness of the crowds included the chana wala, “Chana garam babu, garam, garam chana!” singing his sales pitch as he walks by you.  Then I notice the thel malis guy singing out advertisements of his services; a quick-fix massage of various body parts -head, shoulders, arms, legs, etc., and the most important guy sells garam, garam masala chai and all for a few paisa!

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I shall tell you only what I can remember; the monsoon travels around the subcontinent and arrives at different times throughout the country.  I was soon to discover, this weather affects people in very interesting and sometimes baffling ways.  So much like the tides of life.  Well, that’s it, that’s what I got out of it!

Brahmin diet  a vegetarian lifestyle focusing on consuming clean foods thoughtfully so eating natural meant promoting peace and tranquility into one’s being; also referred to as yogic or sattvic diet

chana wala     the chickpea vendor(dry fried muttar/peas)  

thel malis       oil massage provider (quick on-the-spot)

garam              hot