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A Worthy Son Pays a Rich Tribute To His Father

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Ali Peter John

During all the last fifty years, I have seen and been a part of many happenings which I could never measure once. I could never dream of meeting and exchanging talks with some of the greatest legends and other lesser human beings who I had once only heard of and could never dare to think that I would be a part of their lives one day and even make my own contribution to their lives. There are times when I have no other way but to thank God for all that he has made me do and make a difference to do many lives….

I was musing about the many unusual things that I have been an intrinsic part of when I was sitting in one of my favourite cafes during which I was having one of my casual meetings with an old friend, the actor Parikshat Sahni who I first knew as the son of Balraj Sahni, who according to me is and will always be known as one of the greatest actors India and even the world has been blessed with. I and Parikshat were talking about how so much had changed in the world around and especially in the world of Hindi films, when an idea struck me. I had known about Parikshat being a good writer in English and I had never forgotten the short story called ‘The Bitch’ he had written and which was published in one of the leading magazines of the early seventies called ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India’, and I could never forget the piece he had written in my asking him to about Sanjeev Kumar on the day of his funeral and how he had penned a moving tribute to the great actor who was also his first co-star and a very close friend…..

I asked Parikshat to start writing his memories of his father. He first behaved as if he had not heard me, but I kept pushing him and he was still showing signs of reluctance. I wondered why this son was pushing away the idea of writing about his father and why he couldn’t sit down before the computer or laptop and bring back the glorious life of his father. I don’t know what it was that kept me going at Parikshat for days till he finally agreed and started writing bits and pieces of his memories of his father. I have never claimed to be an authority on writing, I have not even considered myself to be any kind of writer, I have written only what my guru, K.A Abbas told me was writing when he wrote a line which said, “I write as I feel”. It is this one line that has kept me going as a writer for more than five decades. And so I even felt a little strange when I was trying to all my friend, Parikshat to write and it was great moment when he called me one morning and said me that he had started writing the book I wanted him to write–about his father….

He called me his mentor and guide to my face and even at public functions and events which didn’t flatter me so much as did the fact that he was writing every day, even at times when he was hard-pressed for time as an actor which gave him his livelihood and even gave him the reputation he is known for and in spite of falling sick and even breaking bones and ligaments in his feet, which were damaged years ago when he was playing Chhatrapati Shivaji in a film and had a nasty fall from a horse from which he had never really recovered.

I must admire his humility when he reported to me about every chapter he had written and made it a point to meet me in my cafe to see if he was going the right way. It is to his credit that he hardly gave me any reasons to correct or make major changes in what he had written and I felt happy with myself to know that I didn’t have to show off my knowledge or my God-given love for the English language.

Parikshat who I had known when he was in the best of health and with whom I had many occasions of spending entire Sundays in his vanity van (which I think was the first of its kind to be used by anyone in the industry). He used to bring his cook Mohammad who made some of the best delicacies and even our lunch in a part of the vanity when which was a kitchen. We discussed various plans and wrote (without writing) several scripts while we were getting drunk with every passing hour and till we passed out and knew nothing about how and when we reached home and the next morning exchanged notes about who had reached whom at home. Those drunkned days must have certainly affected our bodies, but the emotional satisfaction that we found cannot be found again….

Parikshat was like a good student and kept writing and seeking my advice for whatever he thought it was worth and I was happy with the pace at which he was working. True, there were times when he threw up his hands in despair and sometimes even asked, “arre, brother, kaun padega yeh? Chhodo na, kuch aur kaam karte hai, kuch script hi likhte hai”, but I was not the kind who would let him go after he had swum almost half-way to his goal. I kept pumping him with enthusiasm and excitement about recreating a glorious chapter and he continued writing till the story he wanted to tell came to an end….

The big problem now was to find a publisher and like I said, I still can’t under how the he right people come into my life when I need them the most. I knew a young man called Trushant Tamgaonkar who was one of the managers of ‘Title Waves’ who was deep into the buisness of publishing books. Trushant took hardly any time and got one of the best publisher in India in Penguin Random House, India and we were lucky to find Millie Aishwarya who also seemed to be a fan of Balraj Sahni and not only got things set to publish the book, but also to take it to the very end personally.

The publishers wanted a foreward written for the book and when Parikshat told me about it, I instantly thought about Amitabh Bachchan who had time and again talked about Balraj Sahni being one of his favourite actors. I also at that moment remembered the day of the funeral of Balraj Sahni when the entire industry was on one side and Amitabh who had given a string of flops was standing alone with his hands folded under a tall tree and people forgot the solemnity of the occasion to call him names like ‘manhoos’ and ‘panauti’ while he kept standing till Balraj Sahni body went up flames.

Amitabh was extremely busy when we needed the foreword, but I told Parikshat that the book would gain glory if Amitabh wrote the foreword. At the cost of sounding immodest I must say that I drafted the letter to Amitabh and what a relief it was to Parikshat when he received one of the best forewords written for a book in recent times within two days. Amitabh had proved what he believed about his favourite actor.

The book was now ready for release and Millie and her team had given it the title,‘The Non-Conformist–Memories of My Father Balraj Sahni’ and had designed the cover with a photograph of Balraj Sahni which had never been seen before. The cover of the book brought tears of joy to Parikshat’s eyes and I too was moved by the idea of seeing my idea coming to such a fascinating culmination…..

It was now time to release the book and the publishers had some other stars in mind, but I told Parikshat that the book would mean something only if Amitabh release it. Parikshat was again growing hot under his collar and was being pessimistic. I however told him that Amitabh would do it because of his admiration for Balraj Sahni and I took the responsibility of writing a letter to the Big-B who was one of the busiest human beings I knew. But like they say, a little sense of optimism and belief in some extraordinary man can never let you down. Amitabh had started shooting for “KBC” and completing three other films, but he found time to say yes to the request to release the book. Like he says in “KBC”, we had passed almost the ‘aakhiri padaav’ when the book was finally released at the Taj Lands End on September 7.

It was raining like mad since that morning and many wondered if the function would happen, but when there is Amitabh and he has agreed to be there, nothing can go wrong. The function was to start at seven pm and Amitabh had not reached till seven thirty and those who knew my belief in Amitabh never being late, looked at me as if I had committed a sin. In the meanwhile, the audience which was sparse at the beginning swelled and there was a hall that was jam-packed with guests from different fields of life.

Amitabh and Jaya finally arrived and the colour of Parikshat’s event changed and I could see him smiling his best smile and his confidence come rushing to his face and the life coming back to his voice.

As usual as is the case of Amitabh, he profoundly apologised for being late, but his reason for being late made the audience feel both relaxed and amused. His office had first told him that the function was at The Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba and it was only when he and Jaya had reached Marine Drive that his office told him that the function was at The Taj Lands End…..

Amitabh started off by reading his own foreword and Parikshat talked about his unusual journey through the writing of the book and Anil Dharker conducted a talk with the two about Balraj Sahni and the writing of the book. The talks touched on the various aspects of the life and career of Balraj Sahni, his life as an actor, as a writer, as a father and above all as a man who believed and belonged to the lives of millions of common man, labourers and the less blessed. Amitabh spoke about the four most important films of the actor which had touched him the most, “Do Bigah Zameen”,“Kabuliwala”,“Waqt” and his farewell film,“Garam Hava” and how his way of acting had a strong impact on him as an actor….

There was some serious talk about whether ‘method acting was important or not and this issue was solved by Amitabh when he narrated the story of Sir Laurence Olivier and Al Pacino, when the two were doing a film together. Al Pacino was working his heart out to prepare to do a scene with Sir Laurence Olivier and seeing him work like that had made Sir Laurence Olivier remark, “Sonny, the next time try acting”. He also narrated the story of Dilip Kumar who was once asked how he had his eyes blood-shot for a scene within minutes and Dilip Kumar had said, “I just bend down till my toes and then look up and the blood comes rushing to my eyes. I don’t have to follow any method and I don’t think acting can be followed by any method or following any school. You either have it or you don’t and then it depends on your hard work and your sheer luck”.

The function was one which I would not like to end, but like all good things had to end, this saga also had to end. And Amitabh being Amitabh brought the drama to an end when he acted out the scene of an actor who was inspired by him and other actors like Sharmila Tagore, Shammi Kapoor and others to draw Parikshat out of the shell he was in, perhaps because of his being trained as a director, writer and editor in the Moscow School of Filmmaking.

That evening, Parikshat must have gone home a proud man, a great son who had done his best to pay his tribute to his father which he always wanted to do but never found the time for the inclination to do. He said he felt redeemed that evening and he was so very right. And I went back home to find my entry to my own house difficult because of some human beings turning inhuman in their attitude and behaviour towards me, which I was sure would be a subject that Balraj Sahni would have been touched about and would also take-up the cause and fight it till the light had come back to my life.

I may or may not be able to be a part of a another major happening like this, but this one function is enough to redeem me and feel that I have made my life a little more meaningful than it was when I had started life in a slum with my mother, “Mary Aunty Daruwali,a strong female character who I am sure would fascinate a great human being like Balraj Sahni.

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Tags: Bollywood, Bollywood News, Bollywood Updates, Television, Telly News, Balraj Sahni, Amitabh Bachchan , Parikshat Sahni, Veteran Actor

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