The Big Three-First Encounters Of The Wonderful Kind!
The legends: Jawaharlal Nehru with Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor
In his regular column this time TOM ALTER speaks of his encounters with the doyens of Bollywood, V.Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar and Subhash Ghai. Read on:
In my more than 40 years in the Hindi film industry, I have been blessed to work with four of the pillars of that industry, four men who were directors and producers – and actors – whose films set a commercial standard of cinematic excellence upon which the whole rhyme and rhythm of the industry thrived – V. Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, and Subhash Ghai – each moved on from the other, and yet each depended on the other, grew from the other, as Sachin did from Gavaskar.
Shantaram-ji was ramrod straight, almost military in his manner – but very straightforward, and so wonderful to work with as a very young actor fresh and nervous in the industry –
Manoj-sahib deserves an entire book to describe him – one day I will write it – but, he was, and is, an elder brother, and when we shot Kranti, he ruled the industry –
Subhash-ji is my senior from the Film Institute, so the respect is always there – and in his heydays, in the 80’s, he was the King – the Showman --
And then there was – is – Raj Kapoor – and as I remember him, I also remember, with equal love and admiration, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand – for, yes, I was also blessed to work with all three of them – with Raj and Dev as director and fellow-actor, and with Dilip as fellow-actor –
I could write forever about these three amazing gentlemen, so I will try and restrict myself to ‘first encounters’ –
Dev-sahib – his children, Suneil and Devina, studied at Woodstock School in Mussoorie, where I and my wife also studied – not to mention dozens of other relatives – my wife taught both children, and I was assistant hostel warden when Suneil was in high-school – and thereby begins the tale – each student had to write home every week, so each week I saw the envelope addressed to Shri Dev Anand, 2, Iris Park, Juhu, Bombay – 49. Thus, in 1972, when I joined the Film Institute, I stopped off in Bombay, and went straight to 2, Iris Park – oh, my. The chowkidar was least impressed, and told me “Sahib is not in!” – only when I said I was from Mussoorie, from Woodstock, did he show any interest – and finally agreed to let Sahib know. And within a matter of moments, there was Dev-sahib at the gate, lean and smiling and full of such graceful energy – and welcoming me into his home for another two days. He just would not let me go – and I, a total stranger, whose only claim to fame was that I had worked at the school where his children studied. This was, and is, the true Dev-sahib. A man ruled by his heart, a man of culture and caring, but a true Hindustani, through and through. For two days I was an honoured guest, and suddenly Bombay was not a strange city for me – aaaah.
Dilip-sahib – we met for the first time at a mutual friend’s house on Pali Hill – it must have been in about ’75 – or late ’74 – all I remember is that I was suddenly in the same room with the legend, and he was talking to me – in Urdu. His gentle voice made me very comfortable, so I asked him, “Dilip-sahib, achhi acting ka raaz kya hai?” – He answered, without a moment’s hesitation, “Sher-o-shaayri” – until today, this answer had guided me, mystified me, challenged me – but what an answer – because, for Dilip Kumar, that answer was the eternal truth – not only for acting, but for life itself.
Raj-sahib – oh, my – it was the second half of ’74. I had passed-out (literally) from the Film Institute, and while there, had missed out on the chance to meet Raj-sahib at his farm near Pune, where he used to invite the acting students for dinner every year – so, thanks to a note from Girish Karnad, who was the Director of the Institute at that time, I learned that Raj-sahib wanted to meet me at RK Studios – so off I went, through those hallowed gates, and then down into Raj-sahib’s special room, where he was waiting for me – for me, the kid from Mussoorie who had seen Jagte Raho at Capitol Cinema on the Mall Road during the black-out of the ’71 war, who had seen Mera Naam Joker twice in a week at Regal at Delhi -- for me – and he was all smiles and wit and charm and we talked and talked and shared stories and sipped tea and nibbled on samosas and I knew that the great man was actually interested in me, and that knowing made my heart sing – and still does.
First encounters of the wonderful kind – there will never, ever be a Big Three again like Dev, Raj, and Dilip – I have a photo of the three of them with Nehru, and it is impossible to say who is the handsomest, the most suave, the most charming – but all four shared a love for Hindustan, and for all things Hindustani – aaaah.