-Ali Peter John
Dr Dharamveer Bharati was a great writer and editor and a close friend of Dr Harivanshrai Bachchan, but he was certainly not an astrologer. He had however in one of my few meetings in his office of the“Dharamyug”in Hindi of which he was the editor had told me that Amitabh Bachchan would always have a close association with time and it would be mutual. I was lucky to be a witness to Dr Bharati’s“un-prediction”come true. I have given examples of his showing respect for time, but the stories don’t end….
He was invited by producer K.C Bokadia to the launch of one of his films starring Raaj Kumar and Vinod Khanna. The mahurat was scheduled for eleven‘O’clock and Amitabh’s van entered the gate of RK Studios at ten-thirty sharp. Bokadia who had made “Aaj Ka Arjun”which was in a way a comeback film for him after he had some bad films to his name and had also made “Laal Badshah”and like always, Amitabh was grateful to Bokadia and that is why he had accepted the invitation without even referring to his diary.
Bokardia went running towards him with folded hands and asked him why he had come so early and also informed him that both his stars had not yet arrived and he himself didn’t know when they would arrive as they both lived in South Bombay. Amitabh asked Bokadia not to worry because he had come to perform a duty and would leave only after he had done his duty. He got into his van and switched on the music and went through the day’s papers as he had no chance of seeing them as he had two other meetings before he could come to the mahurat, besides his morning exercises and other routine work which was not so routine for him….
It was nearing noon and there was no sign of the two veteran stars reaching anywhere near RK Studios. At one time, Bokadia was so hassled and even nervous that he asked Amitabh to leave, but Amitabh said he would not like to insult his seniors and went back to his van, his music and his reading….
Raaj Kumar arrived at one pm and Vinod arrived at one-thirty pm. Bokadia asked Amitabh if he could get him any lunch and was surprised to see Amitabh already having his lunch which was all boiled vegetables and sprouts. Bokadia didn’t know how to show him his face, but Amitabh was prepared for the worst and was determined not to leave the studio unless he had sounded the clapper board for the first shot.
The time for the mahurat shot came only after two pm, but Amitabh was still in his van. He finally came out and touched Raaj Kumar’s feet and embraced Vinod and neither of them made any attempts to apologise to him for making him wait for more than three hours. He was the ruling superstar those days….
The character actress of Hindi films and leading lady of Punjabi films, Preeti Sapru was to launch her Punjabi film at the Bhaidaas Hall in Ville Parle. She asked me if Amitabh would come to bless her film if she invited him. I asked her to call him, because she had worked with him in“Laawaaris”and I knew he never forgot people whether they did good to him or were rude to him. She called him and told him to be present at ten am. He reached ten minutes before ten only to see Preeti entering the hall. He followed her and when she looked back she was bewildered. She panicked and did not know what to do next. Amitabh held her by her arm and asked her where the makeup rooms were and a room was made ready for him and he kept waiting for Preeti’s guests to come and Preeti kept asking him to leave if he was getting late and he kept asking for not to worry about him but to worry about her mahurat shot and assured her that he would leave only after he had completed the formalities. Preeti who is now a retired actress can never forget that morning.
There was this small-time villain called Mohan Sherry who invited Amitabh to his daughter’s wedding somewhere in the middle of South Bombay. Amitabh said he would certainly come and Sherry couldn’t believe his ears. He kept calling me and asking me if Amitabh would really come and I told him that if he had said he was coming, he would certainly come. And on the night of the receiption Amitabh was there at the time mentioned in the invitation card even as the“mandap”was being readied for the reception. Sharry started sweating at night and Amitabh went up to him and said he had come all the way from Juhu and would go back to Juhu only after he had met and congratulated the couple and that is exactly what he did. Sharry was not the same man any more.
I still cannot understand the reason why Amitabh could make time to attend the marriages of all three daughters of a freelance photographer called B.K Tambe who was otherwise considered a “nuisance”even by small TV artists because of his habit of asking for money and bringing unknown guests, especially police constables who lived near his house in a slum and asking the biggest stars, including Amitabh to pose with them whether they liked it or not because he was frank in telling them that he would get “something”(mostly money) from his“guests”. Tambe is a retired man now, but he still attends big parties accompanied by his new group of“guests”and Amitabh still doesn’t fail to enquire about him and his family even if he is surrounded by his bouncers and his growing number of fans….
Amitabh had just recovered after that near fatal accident and had started shooting for films like“Coolie”and a new Prakash Mehra film called“Sharaabi”. I would have hated to do what I did to him during this time. A doctor who was the nephew of my chief reporter had built his municipality-like hospital in Four Bungalows in Andheri West. I had got him into the bad habit of bringing Dharmendra due the inauguration and Sunil Dutt for the opening of the heart centre. The doctor had now grown ambitious. He had opened his ICU unit and wanted no one but Amitabh to inaugurate it.
I took the doctor and his uncle to Film City where Amitabh was shooting for “Sharaabi”and in their presence, I told Amitabh about the doctor’s ambition and Amitabh gave me a look he had never given me before. He looked more angry when the stupid doctor told him the function was on the following morning. Amitabh was in a very kind mood and agreed, but asked me to come to his Madh Island bungalow where he was living with his family those days on the advice of his doctors. I reached as he had asked me to. I first saw Ramola, the wife of Ajitabh Bachchan and she rudely asked me what I was doing there at that time. I told her I was asked by Amitabh to come as he had to inaugurate the ICU of a hospital in Andheri.
“Don’t you people have a heart? The man has just come back after a battle with death and has been shooting till four in the morning. Don’t you think he deserves some rest or do you want to kill him after he has survived such a great ordeal”? She would have gone on and on till I saw Jaya Bachchan coming down and she was pleasantly surprised to see me and when I told her the truth about Amitabh accepting the invitation, she just went up and within fifteen minutes a fresh Amitabh dressed in his then usual white pyjama and kurta came down and apologised to me for keeping me waiting and asked me where my car was. I looked at him sheepishly and he understood. He told me that he had sent all the driver’s on leave as it was a Sunday and within a minute he got into the driver’s seat of a white Ambassador and asked me to get in from the other side and the moment I was in, he drive like a mad man and I knew why he was doing it.
He wanted to be at the hospital before it was ten‘O’clock which was the time he had promised and he reached ten minutes before ten. But the massive crowd made him angry as he had warned the doctor not to make a show of his presence, but how could the stupid doctor be quiet about Amitabh Bachchan coming to his hospital? There were thousands of people all over the road and there was no security arrangements and Amitabh fired the few constables who were around and before I could try to accompany him, I was flung into the crowd and I ran for my life till I only met Amitabh the next morning to thank him and he said, “where were you?
I kept looking at and asking for you, but no one knew where you were”. I folded my hands and said, “not with you again, Mr Bachchan. I still love my life”and we both had a big laugh. Now, only last year the same stupid doctor called again. How could I forget his voice? He sounded as if he was crying and I could sense what he wanted. The stupid doctor had now gone senile. He said it was not him, but his children and grandchildren who wanted Amitabh Bachchan to come to the celebration of his seventy-fifth birthday and I couldn’t control my and gave him a piece of my mind without considering his age and switched off my phone. Was I being rude to him?
It was during the same shooting of“Sharaabi”that a delegation of Egyptian students of cinema came to Bombay only to meet Amitabh. They too found me as a guenea pig and I fell for their bait. I forgot my vow and approached Amitabh again. He smiled and asked me to bring the students to Film City at two pm the next afternoon.
We were travelling in a luxury bus, but I was tense all the time. We reached Film City and I was shocked by the silence all around. My tension mounted when I was told that Amitabh’s shooting for the day was cancelled as an old technician of Prakash Mehra’s unit had died. I didn’t know how to face that crowd of students when I saw a man I knew coming towards me and he said Amitabh was sitting under a tree and waiting for me since one-thirty pm. The students had the time of their lives, but I was still thinking about this strange man who could do anything to keep his date with time…
If you think, I am done with my stories about Amitabh Bachchan and time, give me some time and you will have another round of stories which will sound like believe it or not stories, like what would you say if I finish this round of stories with this last one. My last editor, Bhawana Somayya was releasing a book on Amitabh. All her guests had arrived and she had told them to be in time. There were only fifteen minutes to go before the function could start and I had seen his van near Girgaum Chowpatty, but I still told her that if he had said six pm, he would be there at least two minutes before six and before I could complete my sentence, I saw his famous van entering the gate of the place where the function was to be held. I have still not been able to understand how a man or even superman could make it from Girgaum Chowpatty to Worli in seven minutes. Is that why they call him the man with whom anything is possible, even the impossible is possible?