Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Lucky Guy - II

Yeh Neelesh Inamdar ji kahan hai?

Imagine that line spoken in the unmistakably Amitabh Bachchan baritone, and you can also imagine the thrill that Neelesh Inamdar felt on hearing it. 

Those who grew up in the 1970s and 80s will recall 

Main aaj bhi phenke huey paise nahin uthhata.

Agar kisine hilne ki koshish ki to bhoon ke rakh doonga

Don ko pakadna mushkil he nahin, namumkin hai.

The greatest star of India, the man loved by millions of Indians cutting across religions, languages, countries and cultures - had called out my name.

I can never forget that day.

I was a cub reporter assigned to collect starry anecdotes for a column called Sugar N Spice, roaming the grounds of Kamaalistan Studio in Mumbai in search of some spicy tidbits. I was teamed up with senior photojournalist Mr Gokhale. Gokhale was a very enthusiastic old man. He'd tutored me in the ways of filmdom and always gave me tips to improve my people skills. A little bird whispered to us that AB was shooting on one of the sets. Gokhale was very excited and urged to me to try to meet him. 

I was thrilled and shit scared at the same time. For me, Amitabh Bachchan was not only Amitabh Bachchan. He was God.

However, I did not have the confidence to interview Bachchan. Just a few months ago a senior journalist in Screen had been shortlisted for one of AB's first interviews after a decade of boycotting the press. That journalist was asked to prepare a questionnaire which was reviewed and re-reviewed and re-re-reviewed first by the chief reporter, then the deputy editor and finally by editor Udaya Tara Nayar. Interviewing AB was not child's play for any journalist, let alone someone who hadn't completed even a year in the profession.

And here I was, standing outside the set, with Big B inside and Gokhale breathing down my neck, "Go and talk to him. It'll be good for your standing in the mag."

Gokhale was right. But meet AB without any preparation?

Then I told myself, "You saw Zanjeer when you were hardly six years old and smitten with this actor when you didn't know how to tie your shoelaces. You saw Majboor, Sholay, Trishul, Amar Akbar Anthony - boy, you've grown up watching AB. Can't you think of three questions you need to ask him? You're a mutthead if you can't. Don't be stupid - don't miss this golden chance."

I mustered enough courage to go inside. The production manager was at the gate, not allowing people to go through. But Screen was a big name in those days and I was ushered in with respect. 

Big B was in a shot where he was roughing up a hoodlum by the collar. The actor playing the hoodlum messed up his lines and directors Tito Tony shouted 'cut'. Big B brusquely told the assistant director to get the actor to rehearse his lines and proceeded to sit on a sofa in one corner of the set.

I approached him apprehensively and told him I was from Screen and would he mind if I asked few questions? 

If he'd asked me what questions, I was prepared to run.

He asked, "Aapka naam kya hai?"

I answered, "Neelesh Inamdar"

"Toh Neelesh Inamdar ji, aisa hai ki ye sajjan jo mere saamne baithe hain (pointing to a gentleman sitting opposite him) vo kaafi der se mera intezaar kar rahe hain. Pehle main inse baat kar loon, phir aapke sawalon ka jawab doon toh aap ko koi dikkat toh nahin?"

Trans. - Mr Neelesh Inamdar, this gentleman sitting opposite me has been waiting for a long time to speak to me. If you don't mind, may I finish with him first and then answer your questions?

I was like - are you crazy? You - AB - are willing to grant me an interview without prior appointment - and you're asking me if I can wait a while? A common man couldn't have possibly met AB even if he had kept the karva chauth vrat for ten continuous years. And here he was, politely asking me would I wait for him?

There was no way I could refuse the offer.

Harbouring a secret desire to become a film director some day, I was curious about what went on behind the camera. So while AB was talking to the other reporter, I wandered around the sets, watching the lightmen at work and a lot of people simply scurrying around for no reason.

After a few minutes, there was a lull. The crew's movements stopped and there was silence. AB, who was busy talking to the other journalist, sensed the stillness around him and looked at the assistant director standing in front of him.

"Kya hua? Shot ready hain?"

"Jee sir," he mumbled.

So I was not the only one who was tongue tied in front of him.

"Toh bolo na bhai. Hum yahan kaam karne ke liye aaye hain ya interview dene ke liye? Producer humein paise deta hai kaam karne ke liye - interview dene ke liye nahin."

He excused himself to the journalist, rose and took the position marked for him. The shot with the hoodlum was repeated and this time the actor didn't fumble. After the director shouted 'cut' AB went back to the sofa.

Again there was a flurry of movement and I was lost in the midst of men carrying around lights on their shoulders and furniture being pushed around. I was trying hard to make sense of what a film unit really did.

That's when AB's voice rang out.

"Yeh Neelesh Inamdar ji kahan hai?"

He said it one more time before I came out of my coma and raised my hand. 

"I'm here, sir."

And I sat opposite Amitabh Bachchan.

On the same sofa.

And I talked to him, and he answered my questions.

What did we talk about?

Who gives a damn?

I asked him whatever came to my mind. He patiently answered my inane questions.

I came out of the studio amazed. Not because I'd met the superstar AB. But because he had remembered my full name. 

It must have been over 30 minutes since I told him my name. Thirty minutes, in which he continued to shoot without forgetting his lines, gave a rather longish interview to another journalist and yet, after all that, AB had not forgotten my name! When he didn't see me around, he called out for me by my name, and my full name.

I am very bad at remembering names. When I'm introduced to a stranger, I forget his name barely sixty seconds later (please note I have written his, not hers). And to think that the greatest superstar of India had remembered my name! It was enough to put me on cloud ninety-nine.

That day I learnt one of the secrets of successful people - they have a terrific memory.

Not taking names here, but in my brief stint as a film reporter, I'd come across many stars of the 90s. Not one of them had asked for my name, forget about remembering it after I'd turned my back. I was already in awe of AB, but when he called out for me after finishing his earlier interview, my respect for him increased exponentially. 

What difference would it have made to Amitabh Bachchan if he had not met me? Why did he remind me that I was supposed to meet him? He was a superstar. He had journalists, producers, businessmen, actors, actresses, directors queuing up for a minute of his time. He was splashed across magazine covers (Page 3 of TOI had not come into existence then, and TV was confined to Doordarshan). What would the publishing or non-publishing of a small interview by Neelesh Inamdar matter to him?

But his gesture showed that it did matter to him. When he said he would answer my questions, he thought of it as his commitment, not only my want. Perhaps that's why Amitabh Bachchan is Amitabh Bachchan.

Decades later, I saw various episodes of several versions of 'Who
Wants to be a Millionaire?' on TV. They were hosted by various stars - Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Anupam Kher - Manisha Koirala and one by Salman Khan too. But none were as successful as the show hosted by AB.

I tried to analyse why, and then it suddenly struck me. 

Have you noticed that whenever Amitabh Bachchan speaks to a fan, or a contestant, or anyone else he comes across, he speaks very humbly? He doesn't talk as if he is a superstar. He makes the opposite person feel as if he were the star and he (AB) was a mere mortal? Have you realized how many compliments Amitabh Bachchan gives to the contestant? How much AB praises him/her?

When I compared him with Shah Rukh, Salman and others, I realised that they make the contestants feel smaller than them. They always go about as if they are extraordinary beings and all others are nothing but extras. On the other hand Amitabh Bachchan always places the contestant on a pedestal, constantly praises his achievements and emphasises that he, AB, was lucky to sit opposite him.

All contestants of Kaun Banega Karodpati, when they get the chance to sit on the hot seat, first confess that for them, meeting AB and sitting across him was a dream come true, winning or losing was secondary. They are not lying, trust me. Meeting the man was an event that changed my life. (More about that in part III.)  

Perhaps that is the reason why he is so popular. In spite of being the idol of a nation of over a billion people, he is still humble and down-to-earth.

I'm not naive. I don't claim that Amitabh Bachchan is all goody-goody. He is shrewd and knows how to play snakes and ladders. He knows exactly which moves to make, when to make them and for or against whom to make them. One cannot reach his stature without knowing how the game is played - and won.

But that's exactly why I admire him. 

He does not need to please anyone to be liked. 

He does not need to be respectful to his fans. 

That day he could very easily have said, "So who is the next journalist?" I can't think of a single reason why he should have remembered my name, even if it was for an hour or less. 

But he did. His humility bowled me over.

Whenever I see AB performing I always remember the time when I was sitting face to face with him. I was the one asking questions - he was on the hot seat.

Didn't I tell you I'm a lucky guy?

1 comment:

Pankti Mehta said...

Yes. People who are successful in real sense are humble, down-to- right and they have experienced defeat. From what I've read (I've never met him) I too find AB humble.