London , UK Aug 1/2 , 2012 Wed/Thu 2 : 10 AM GmT
Vijji … a very happy birthday to you for the 2nd of August .. live happy and with love
A short sojourn, amazing discoveries, and back to London on way to Mumbai and home.
The spread of films from India, and their popularity amazes me. What also amazes me is the reactions of those that give identification to them, irrespective of where they come from. There is a gasp of realization, a flourish of un utterable words that one has difficulty in understanding, but the expressions say it all. They could be the traveller on the street, a guest at the lobby of a Hotel, your driver at new destination, the chef in your room, or even the immigration and customs officer at airport, the feel is the same.
Its like what was noticed this evening at Heathrow. Elderly lady walks up excitedly into the area where immigration does its, whatever it does with our passports, much to the concern and consternation of the officer and the security, holds the hand as one that has found a loved one after losing them, and then … after reprimand rushes back to where she came from - a wheel chair !
I wish I could provide such cure to all wheel chairers !!
I was not aware until someone reminded me on sms on mobile, that yesterday or was it day before, it was Meena ji’s birthday - Meena Kumari that is, the iconic leading lady of our Industry. It was her 80th ! August 1st it was that she was born in 1932 and passed away after a life of extremes in 1972. An artist of immense caliber, her finest that I admired was Guru Dutt’s ‘Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam’ . The pain of tragedy was never better expressed than through the expressions and the voice of Meena ji. That one song ‘na jao saiyan ..’ where she, under the influence of alcohol, persuades her husband, played by another great, Rehman, to not go away from her, is as historic as Meena ji’s own life story. Like Dilip Saheb - Dilip Kumar, and his standing as the tragedy King, Meena ji, who worked with him in several historic films, was christened as a tragedienne, because of the many tragic roles she played to perfection. Her performances were of course of great standing, but for me and I am certain with millions of others who admired her, it was her voice that was her most attractive asset. It was unique the way she spoke and delivered her dialogues. They had a strange melancholic tone to it, burdened it seemed, with the gravest of tragic circumstances. I had often wondered how she was able to do that in film after film, until, upon meeting her, I discovered that that was her normal speech pattern. Many an actress that came after her tried in vain to adopt her style, but none succeeded. On one of her hands she had a damaged finger - the unfortunate result of an accident early on. But no one ever saw it on screen. She would very cautiously wrap the ‘pallu’ of her sari around it to make it look natural. Notice carefully some of her films and you will observe how beautifully she camouflaged this defect.
She was very fond of and close as a friend to Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, my first director, and every film that he made, its first screening would be held for Meena ji, at a rather dilapidated mini theater behind the once upon a time major recording studio, the Tardeo Recording Center. I met her for the first time when she came to see Saat Hindustani, and shall never forget the kind words of encouragement she gave me. Coming from her esteemed position and standing, it was like the voice of God for a newcomer. I next met her at the premier of ‘Reshma aur Shera’ , a classic that started off by being directed by that man with a different style and sense, a man who I think came much ahead of his time, Sukhdev. Differences surfaced in the making of that film, Sukhdev left agrieved and Sunil Dutt Saheb, who was producing that film under his banner Ajanta Arts, took over the added responsibility of directing it eventually. It was just my second film. The first had been released without much attention, no one knew me and as I stood wonder eyed at the premier of ‘RaS’ in a corner of the cinema hall, without a place to sit, Meena Kumari walked in and occupied her seat quite close to where I was standing. As the hall darkened for the start she looked about, found me standing, recognized me from the trial of Abbas Saheb’s film and beckoned me - ‘Amitabh .. tum yahan mere paas aake baitho’ - Amitabh … you come and sit next to me -
One cannot imagine the effect such an offer can have on a fresher. I sat there next to her throughout, and perhaps just about took the required number of breathes one needs to survive, nothing more. Never looked anywhere but ahead at the film, did not register a single frame, and did not move even my little finger during the entire three hours of its duration. I play a dumb mute in the film, provoked by members of my family in rivalry with another, to kill the newly married husband of Waheeda Rehman, from rival village who had become the love interest of Sunil Dutt, my elder brother in the film. At one stage I am sent to the rival village to express my guilt in front of Waheeda Rehman, and through dumb uttering plead to be killed as a repentance. As I broke down in the scene, a moment that I had nightmares about before it got canned, I heard Meena ji cringe in desperation for my plight and audible to most around her spoke out loudly - ‘ bas bas … bas karo …aur dekha nahin jaata ‘ - ‘stop ! stop … stop it now .. I cannot see anymore of this’ - a cry almost, not just of the discomfort she was going through, but in a sense a huge endorsement in appreciation of the scene.
Through the days and years, albeit short lived, after, she always gave me her blessings and kept lovingly asking me about the films I was doing and how I was progressing.
When she passed away I went with Anu, Anwar Ali, Mehmood Bhaijaan’s brother and my close friend to her house ; an apartment on Carter Road. Could not see her, and came away. Her elder sister Madhu, was Mehmood’s first wife, until they separated and he married again.
Spoken much, written more, saying good night !!