The year: 1998. I was too young to sit down with the elder members of the family and watch a film. Born and brought up in a middle class Bengali refugee family, I was only allowed to watch some of the black and white Bengali fare by filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Hritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha — basically movies that my grandmother would watch and most of them were about the Partition. Among those icons (I realise they were that only in my adulthood) because of his Gupi Bagha series and Apu’s Trilogy, Ray managed to find a space in my childhood. And Tapan Sinha, too, courtesy Kabuliwala.
However, I was allowed to listen to every kind of music, be it Indian classical, Bollywood or Indie pop. More than watching MTV and other music channels — there were hardly any — I would watch songs on the local cable channels. In fact, they used to telecast latest films as well. That is how one afternoon I was introduced to that iconic number Chaiya Chaiya featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Malaika Arora-Khan (back then, she was a Khan).
Beautifully composed by A R Rahman, written by Gulzar, rendered by Sukhwinder Singh and Sapna Awasthi, that was one of most the hummable songs back then. I was not intellectually grown enough to understand the lyrics but still I would stand in front of the mirror, clap, dance and sing it several times.
Unfortunately, I was not allowed to watch the song in the presence of the elders — thanks to homebred censorship. I reckon a gyrating Malaika was deemed not suitable for a child like me. Perhaps, that is why from somewhere I managed to buy the cassette of Dil Se and lapped up all the songs by rote. And yes, in my opinion, that was one of the finest albums ever.
I knew each song so well that I felt like I was friends with even the creator of the album! And after watching the movie, few years later, I told my mother, ‘You know Ma, I so love Shah Rukh Khan and his dimple; I will meet him someday.” Since my mother is a Manisha Koirala fan, she said, “He has a big nose, look at Manisha. She is so beautiful, even in those scenes where she is silent.”
No, my mother never wanted me to meet Priety Zinta, who made her debut with that film because Ma was uncomfortable with one word she uttered in one of the scenes in Dil Se. Preity’s character Preeti asked Amarkant (Shah Rukh): “Are you virgin?”
Many moons later, I was to meet both the dimpled movie stars along with the creators of that magical song, Chaiya Chaiya.
When I started journalism, I had no interest in entertainment journalism, being content largely with star gossip and fashion statements.
I started with the art/culture beat, which given the environment — I was living in Delhi, a city known for its rich history, art and culture — was perfect.
Destiny however, took me to Mumbai. When you are in the land of Bollywood, you cannot be immune to the infectious energy, glamour and glitz of the Indian cinema.
Fast forward to meeting the stars. Herewith glimpses of a select few that I was fortunate to meet along the journey.
Shah Rukh Khan
A day prior to one Eid al-Fitr, I got a call from the publicist and was informed that SRK was hosting a special lunch for a select group of journalists to celebrate Eid — and that I was invited to join the party.
After receiving the call, even before I pinched myself and felt the thrill of finally being able to rub shoulders with King Khan, I got another call from Delhi head office with the instruction to send stories quickly based on what SRK says before the media.
Yes, reality bites but in my case it slapped and kept me on my toes, reminding me that meeting stars is ‘nothing but a part of my job’, so no time for romancing the ‘Rahul’ of my dreams.
Finally, when I reached Taj Lands End, in Bandra, to attend the lunch party, I was more conscious of doing my job right than living the moment. After a while, SRK came to meet journalists, sitting in a small group of five on a round table, for an informal chat.
Dressed in white Pathani suit, holding a cup of black coffee in one hand, the man walked in with a big smile and asked, “Sab ne khana khaya? Biryani kaisi thi?” (Did everyone have a meal? How was the biryani?) and continued, “Mujhe na…khana khilana zyada achha lagta hai, hamesha (You know, I love it more when I play the host, always)…I can live with black coffee and grilled chicken.”
All the journalists asked several questions on how he preferred to celebrate Eid; his vision on cinema; how he looked at success and failure…basically everything that he has answered a million times before.
A one-on-one photo session with each journalist followed. Perhaps, he noticed that I was the quiet one in the group, who only exchanged a smile and few glances here and there.
So finally, I took the opportunity to say: Shah Rukh, Eid Mubarak, to which he replied: Aap ko bhi. Aane ke liye sukhriya. (To you, too. Thanks for coming)”. Then he asked, Naam kya hai? (What’s the name?) and looked into my eyes. Trust me that ‘look’ made me feel like I was the most beautiful creation of the Almighty and perhaps, the most important person at that moment.
I uttered my name and he then quoted: Ek noor hai tujh mein, khuda kare ye mehfooz rahe (There’s a light within you, God-willing, it always remains safe).
I would not be surprised if he has forgotten about this rendezvous, or what he said but each word that he uttered in that interaction of may be only 20 seconds sounded like music to my ears. And has stayed with me.
A R Rahman
It was perhaps one of the most random things that happened to me — meeting Rahman for the first time — because it was my day off and I was having a super bad day.
I fought with almost everyone who came my way. From the vegetable vendor, who refused to give me free coriander to the auto rickshaw driver to the chaat wala, who added extra salt to the potato, to a shopkeeper of a garment shop who failed to give me XXS size of the dress I liked.
So when I got a call from the publicist of the event on a day off, I fumed. However, she was very sweet to me and said, “You are going to love me for what I have in store for you.” I retorted: “It better be a great one ha…”
She said, “How about you come and have a conversation with A R Rahman, for his concert film One Heart. I know Rahman and his music is always a good idea for you!”
And that is how I met the creator of Chaiya Chaiya, Tu Hi Re, Jai Ho. Of course, the list of songs is long and I have space constraints.
He broke all the myths that I had in mind, or had heard of: yes, he is a man of few words but if asked the right question, he can go on endlessly. Yes, he isn’t very vocal about himself like many other celebrities and therefore, it is difficult to grasp what he is thinking or feeling while answering a question but he always smiles from his eyes.
And once he knows you and likes you, he pays special attention to you, and yes, obliges for even a selfie!
Every time I made eye contact with him, I noticed a warrior in him; a man who is strong enough to admit his fault and stand by his belief. And, if anything, apart from the joy of music that drives him, is not complacent. No wonder that young keyboard player from Chennai, after ruling the world with his music, and bagging several awards including Grammys and Oscar, is now encapsulating his journey as a filmmaker with 99 Songs.
To be continued
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