I was in the lobby of the The Taj in Delhi and waiting for the watch on my wrist to strike time. In a few minutes, I would be face to face with Mr. Raj Kapoor, the world famous film director and actor. A Showman. My uncle. My father’s elder brother. My ex-employer. My Teacher.
‘Put a mark on the ground here and tell Shashi that’s where he starts from.’
‘..and make sure Zeenat gets here in time, we will start with her before Shashi comes. The sunset will not wait for anyone, not even me. Go now.’
I turned around so that I couldn’t see what he was saying and therefore I wouldn’t get called again and therefore I was out of sight and hopefully out of mind and therefore I could while away some time and chat up the glamourous Zeenat Aman.
I left the Temple Set of ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ and walked across the fields which was recovering from the fire scene and fresh seeds had just began to sprout, in time for the next scene. Here at Rajbagh- an hour away from Pune, where the entire 100 acre property was dedicated to the entire setting of the movie; everything existed for the camera and a sublime cinematic purpose.
It was the late afternoon and we had to take the shot of Zeenat Aman singing the ‘Shantakaram slokam’, put to a divine tune by music composers: Laxmikant Pyarelal. As I walked along the cool afternoon and met some department workers carrying equipment back to the shooting location, I marveled at the process of film life. Nothing stopped. It was a continuous motion of film activity. We even had an editing studio set up in the living room of the main building, where we all stayed. Now we edited a week later. The gap between shooting and its putting together of the visual proof had closed and this was exciting. Technology and the demands of better film making were supporting sheer advancement. To which Mr. Raj Kapoor was no stranger. He always had the best of cameras and lenses, his own sound truck and ofcourse his own studio.
‘Mickey, I am ready.’
The sexy soft toned western accented voice hit me with the ferocity of a soft satin silk pillow and I swooned in teenage pleasure.
‘Yes maam. Very good. I just came to check. We are starting with the Shantakaram and these are the lines. I will be back in 30 minutes’
This much conversation provided nights of fantasy. The glamourous Zeenat Aman. Figure toned and abs-ready, much before the modern gym was born. A no-fuss-cut-to-the-chase-superstar, the dum maro dum girl. She was a delight. Never to create an issue, always adaptable and a no tantrum female, Zeenat Aman ruled her existence.
I left her and went to the dress department to smoke in comfort. This was a back to back film for me. The word back to back hadn’t been invented then. But people worked 15 to 18 hours a day for sure. I had started my film apprentice career with Mr. Randhir Kapoor and his film ‘Dharam Karam’ and after that got over, I joined for Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Randhir Kapoor was more relaxed and younger, therefore more in tune with the grammar of youth. Ofcourse Bobby showed the film industry the new grammar of teen romance and started a slew of similar films.
As I walked back towards the set, dutifully a few steps behind Zeenat Aman, who was in a choli and ghagra, looking just magnificent, my mind started to get back into gear. Into the Raj Kapoor mode. For him, there was just one way of doing it. The way he had foreseen. And the sun and moon could wait for him to complete his pleasure. The pleasure of film making. Even while editing, if he was doing a sad scene, there would be moistness in his eyes as he edited. He lived within that frame of vision, never to get out. He dragged reality into his purport and gave it a new name. That was his magic.
I saw him sitting at a distance, chatting with the villagers who had come to watch the shoot. We walked towards him. At heart he was a simple man, as perfectly described in Awara. After making sure that Zeenat looked perfect, he gestured that I should take her to rehearse. I did. Shortly, the cameraman, Mr. Radhu Karmakar, signaled that we should start and I went back for the director.
I stopped at the vision. The villagers were gone and he was alone, facing the setting sun, drinking in the last drops of the day. The golden rays hit him to only increase his magnificence and splendor. I couldn’t move. It looked as if he was watching himself in the mirror. He turned to look at me and said, ‘ We have to finish our business before the sun sets, lets seize the moment’
The opening glass doors reflected the sunlight from the street into the lobby and woke me up. It was a few minutes to 11 am and I got up and walked to the elevator. After Satyam Shivam Sundaram released, I would have in most regular circumstances, started my acting career and offers had already started to come in. But I was more interested in writing and direction. Mr. Raj Kapoor saw that and made sure I attended his edits and paid attention. He pulled me closer. I liked that and I saw my future.
As the lift doors closed, I pressed the floor and the lift started.
Soon after its release, I did the most irregular thing. I left the Indian film Industry and joined the business stream. This was at the instance of my spiritual guru and I believed in him. I suddenly left RK Studios. I never had the guts to explain to Mr. Raj Kapoor, my reasons and my feelings. I was too scared. Maybe he would just slap me.
This would be my first proper meeting with him after my new avatar. I was working in a new company, founded by his daughter Mrs. Ritu Nanda and the company was called: Niky Tasha. We sold gas stoves. I was a gas stove salesman. I wore a tie to work. I was in Delhi and was staying here. Mr. Raj Kapoor was invited to an all India dance festival and all States were presenting their best moves. He had asked for me.
It took a lot of effort to straighten up my finger to press the bell at his suite. I wonder what he would say, or do. I was scared.
The door opened and someone took me in and there he was sitting in the living room sofa, by himself, watching me come in, observing my body language. I knew he was a master observer and had taught me that. It was his gift to me. And here I was at the other end of the telescope.
I went to him, touched his feet and said, ‘Taya-Uncle, how are you?’
As my fathers elder brother, he was my Tayaji, or elder uncle. Half baked modernity made me call him Taya-Uncle from the time I started addressing him in this way and the moniker stuck on. He was still my uncle. And a most affectionate uncle, who had seen me grow up. The entire Prithviraj Kapoor family was very close to each other.
He hugged me and I silently wept, as I am now writing this.
‘Why haven’t you come and met me? Come to the studio when you are in Mumbai and listen, I want you to Video shoot the dance festival for me so that I can use their dance steps for my next movie.’
I touched his feet and left. I was shooting for Raj Kapoor. That was my life’s purpose sometime ago. It was done.