Ali Peter John
The first time I heard about the Holi celebrations at R. K. Studios was when my “Guru”, K. A. Abbas who Raj Kapoor called ‘My voice and my conscience’ talked about it. He told me about the Holi revelry, the “Holi” flow of imported liquor and “bhang”, the “Holi” food festival and the “Holi”, “kuaan” (well) permanently built in the compound of R. K. Studios in which everyone had to take a dip willfully or were forcibly flung into it once they were inside the gate, like a colourful scene from one of Raj Kapoor’s big films. I first read about the Holi celebration at R. K. in “Screen” at a time when it was sold for just twenty-five naya paise and when I got a free copy thanks to my neighbour, Pandeyji, a driver who used to distribute copies of “Screen” all over Mumbai. I wondered what it would feel like to be a part of the celebrations. Little did I know that I would be working in “Screen” one day and be a part of the grand Holi celebration at R. K.
I always felt I was doing a strange job when I was sent to cover wedding receptions, funerals, chauthas, meetings and conferences of all kinds of events some of which excited me and some which didn’t. But, I remember how excited I was the day my Chief Reporter R. M. Kumtakar told me that I was selected by the Editor, Mr. S. S. Pillai to cover the Holi festivities at R. K. I was still an apprentice, under observation for a year and felt honored to be given the honor of covering such a major event during the very first three months of my career in “Screen”. Mr. Kumtakar, a veteran at covering the festival warned me not to wear good clothes not to wear a wrist watch and not to wear good chappals or shoes but didn’t really tell me why I should follow all his instructions but I followed his advice very seriously and wondered what the next day had in store for me.
I reached R. K. and was surprised when the huge security guards allowed me to enter the gate without asking me any questions. It was only after I was inside that I saw an unrecognizable and completely drenched in all kinds of colours form of a man. I tried my best to recognize him but I couldn’t. He came racing towards me, embraced me and then without saying a word he just lifted me and ran towards a well and flung me into it. It was my first experience and what an experience it was! I remember how I tumbled thrice in the well and was gasping for breath but before I could give up any hope of living again the man I couldn’t recognize pulled me out of the well and shouted “Holi Hai”. It was only because of his voice that I recognized the man covered with all kinds of colours and with a bottle of beer in his hand. It was Rishi Kapoor, the very first Kapoor of the family I had met and made friends with. He immediately covered me with a huge dry towel and then led me to a bar and pushed two bottles of beer into my hand and said, “Just gulp down the two bottles and you will feel on top of the world”. I followed his advice like a desperate patient would follow his doctor. I finished the two bottles, then grabbed two more and followed it with some glasses of what I later came to know was whisky. I suddenly found a big change in me. I was no longer scared. I was no longer in a mood to run out of the Studio. I was shouting and singing and jumping and falling into the well and coming out of it all on my own. It was the first time I realized the power of alcohol and how it could change “a good boy” who wanted to be a priest into a cousin of the devil. As I looked around I could feel as if I was visiting another planet where human beings had gone through one big transformation.
It was in the midst of my madness that I suddenly realized that I was on duty and had to report what had happened during the celebration. I tried my best to come back to normal and I saw the great showman Raj Kapoor and his wife Krishna sitting in huge chairs like the king and the queen of the kingdom of endless fun. Almost the entire industry walked in, touched the showman’s feet and then joined the crowd who were all going totally mad. I saw the world renowned Kathak dancer Sitara Devi dancing exclusively for Raj Kapoor for more than an hour. She was joined by Joginder Singh, the famous Bhangra dancer from Punjab who danced as if there was to be no tomorrow. Raj Kapoor was growing old, was drunk to his gills even as he went on finishing one large peg after another. Soon I saw Randhir Kapoor being carried away by four people and put into a Mercedes and taken home. It was later that I realized that he was always the first to get drunk at any festival, party or occasion. The celebrations went on till late in the evening. I celebrated three more Holi festivals at R. K. and Randhir Kapoor who was the spokesperson of the family accepted me as a part of the family and there was not any event or happenings in the R. K. family to which I was not invited, and I still have the same privilege.
But, like all good things come to an end, the R. K. Holi which was as eagerly awaited as Diwali or Dusshera had also come to an end. Raj Kapoor fell seriously ill during the shooting of “Ram Teri Ganga Maili”, the last film he directed. He won the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and was so sick that the President of India, Mr. R Venkatraman broke protocol and walked down to where Raj Kapoor was sitting with his wife Krishna and presented him with the award. The showman collapsed on the spot and was rushed to the Escorts Hospital in New Delhi owned by the Nandas (Raj’s eldest daughter Ritu was married into the Nanda family). He fought a grim battle to survive but found it difficult to overcome the forces of death and the curtain came down on one of the most colourful chapters of Hindi Cinema. His death brought about many changes at R. K. but the most drastic change was the Kapoors calling of the festival of Holi for all time. Today the only witness to all that happened during those glorious Holi days is the dry “kuan” well which stands there as if in an endless state of mourning.
Years later, the title of “The Showman” was handed over to Subhash Ghai. He followed the greatest showman in everything he did during his lifetime. He made big films with big stars, he made box-office history and his parties were as talked about as the parties of the original Showman. Then when he had his own bungalow in Madh Island, he started his own celebrations of Holi. It took on the same colour as the celebrations at R. K. His celebrations also had the entire Industry as guests and even had guests from outside the industry. The celebration followed the same pattern as the R. K. Holi and now there were many more singers and dancers who had the time of their lives in just one day. Soon these celebrations also came to a stop because of the threats received by the new Showman and for other reasons best known to him. Randhir Kapoor, one of the regulars at all his Holi celebrations once said, “I come here because I feel I am coming to one of my father’s parties on this auspicious day of Holi. This man truly is the inheritor of the title of the Showman”. It was one of the best compliments Subhash Ghai has received, he believes.
Then it was the time of the Bachchans. Amitabh Bachchan decided to celebrate Holi in the large compound of “Prateeksha”. Days before Holi both Amitabh and Jaya personally invited everyone they wanted to be at the celebrations. Amitabh and the entire Bachchan family personally welcomed every guest and took personal care of them. The Bachchan party was the kind which was once held by the Nawabs and Maharajas or that was the opinion of everyone who walked out after celebrating Holi with the Bachchans. The highlight was his mother, Mrs. Teji Bachchan dancing even when she was ninety, especially her trying to dance with the “hijdas” outside the gate. However, the Bachchan Holi celebration lasted the shortest time because Bachchan was forced to call of his celebration because of threats to his life both physically and from unknown forces. The first time it was cancelled when his father Dr. Harivanshrai Bachchan fell ill and passed away. The second time it was because of his mother Mrs. Teji Bachchan falling ill and passing away and the third time he had called of the celebrations because of the terror attack on Mumbai in 1993. Talking about his decision, he says, “The joyous spirit has been dampened by the atrocities that our city faced on 26/11. In its wake it is very difficult to exhibit any kind of jubilation. Professional work is understandable, but to indulge in any kind of excesses doesn’t go well with the mood of the time. My elders would not have recommended this and that is why we have refrained from such celebrations.”
Amitabh goes into a nostalgic mood when he remembers all the Holi celebrations right from the time he was a little boy in Allahabad and down to the last Holi he celebrated when his mother was alive……
Yash Chopra had his own private Holi celebrations at his “Aditodaya” (named after his two sons, Aditya and Uday) bungalow in Juhu where he invited members of his own family and some of his very close friends. His celebrations were as grand as any other, but he did not like to celebrate his Holi as a public festival open for one and all. Now, with his passing away, all the celebrations in his house have also come to a standstill… and the way one celebration after another is coming to an end, I wonder if Holi will be the same again in the industry which is gradually growing more into an industry than one big family it was. That feeling of being one family is also sadly missing.
There is a strange feeling all over. Festivals like Holi, Diwali and festivals celebrated by all castes, creeds and communities are losing their charm and colour and festivals are being celebrated just because they have to. It is time we found meanings in these celebrations and not make them into events used to have fun and for business purposes and meeting grounds to build contacts. It is time to make Holi a Holy Day and not like the way Holi is being celebrated now when the new generation is only interested in all the fun, frolic and frivolities without trying to understand the meaning of this festival which is the mighty triumph of good over evil.
The older generation is too old to celebrate Holi the way they used to once and the new generation doesn’t want to take the risks of spoiling and ruining the complexion of their skin and the risks that all the hectic celebrations can make them face at a time when they have realized that it is very important to maintain themselves than living up to age old traditions. They would rather celebrate the same Holi in hotels, pubs, discos or arrange their own festival celebrating Holi in five star hotels in the cities of their birth or travel in groups to different beautiful locations where they have a Holi celebration which is all planned out for them by different hotels and event managers.
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Tags: Bollywood, Bollywood News, Bollywood Updates, Television, Telly News, Holi, Bollywood Ki Holi, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor