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Art is not a luxury, but a necessity.



The Buisness Manager of Indian Express, Mr V. Ranganathan was a great admirer of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, R.D Burman and above all Dev Anand. He was known as a man who could fix up things with any powerful person, whether it was the governor, the chief minister or leaders of any party and he was very close to some of the best doctors in the city.

A time however came when one of his relatives from Chennai was dying of cancer and had tried all the best doctors in Chennai and Bombay. There were no chances of his survival, but someone advised him to meet the veteran actor, Ashok Kumar at least once. The man and his family came down Bombay and it was Ranganathan who made all the arrangements for their stay. The family told him about the purpose of their visit. Ranganathan knew that the Chief Reporter of“Screen”, Mr R.M Kumtakar had a very close rapport with Dadamoni as Ashok Kumar was popularly called. But Mr.Kumtakar was on leave.

Mr Ranganathan then asked me who was still a newcomer if I could try to get a meeting with Dadamoni. I didn’t want to take the risk of talking to him on the phone and so travelled all the way to Chembur where he had his huge bungalow. I asked the director Basu Chatterjee who I had come to know to speak to Dadamoni about me and the meeting was fixed for a Saturday evening.

I had been seeing his films right from the time  I started seeing films, may be when I was five or six years old and he looked the same in real life too. I found it very peculiar when he said that he never spoke to“chhote chhote bacche”without first giving them a quiz or a puzzle to solve. I had never faced a situation like this before….. It was only years later that I faced the same situation with the so called eccentric actor, Raaj Kumar…

I was surprised with myself when I solved the puzzle he had challenged me with. He then asked me what he could do for me. I told him about Mr Ranganathan who he knew by his name. He asked me what the problem was. I told him about the cancer patient from Chennai who had great faith in his homeopathic healing powers. He asked me to bring the patient and his family to his bungalow the next day….

We all reached his bungalow, travelling in Mr Ranganathan’s car. He didn’t waste any time and took the patient to a room and shocked the patient and everyone around when he laughed out aloud. It was almost as if he had gone mad. He asked the patient’s family if they could stay on in Bombay for a week and bring the patient to him every morning. They had no other alternative but to follow him. On the seventh day, Dadamoni gave the patient three small packets of very tiny white pills and asked him to take them regularly twice a day and he also told the family that they could go back to Chennai and report to him after a week….

They came back after doing a thorough  test with one of the best cancer specialists in Chennai and they were all surprised when the reports said that the patient was almost cured. They couldn’t believe what was happening. They had spent lakhs of rupees on the man’s treatment but nothing had happened, and here, Dadamoni had given him just a pouch of white pills and that too without charging them a rupee.

The family came back and gave the good news to Mr Ranganathan who passed on the news to me and we decided to visit Dadamoni again the following day. He saw us and laughed the same laughter when he had seen the patient the first time. He said, “only three days more”and no one could understand what he was saying till he made it clear that they would have to see him only for three days more. On the third day, Dadamoni asked them to go and get the patient checked up with Dr Luiz Fernandes at the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital in Parel. They did and Dr Fernandes told them that the patient was cancer free. They went back to Chembur and all of them fell flat at Dadamoni’s feet and the eldest in the family said,“from today, Dadamoni, you are our God”and Dadamoni in his humble way said,“you should not call any human being God, whatever has happened is because of the magic of homeopathy which I have been practising for years”. The patient went on to live for twenty years more and died, not of cancer or not even of a heart attack, but in a car accident….

Dadamoni’s magic with homeopathy had treated thousands of people of all kinds of aliments and he was busier as a doctor than he was as an actor at times.  He continued acting and practising homeopathy almost till the end of his life. There were other homeopathic doctors in the industry like Manoj Kumar and the veteran actor, Raj Mehra, but for the final word, they always approached Dadamoni….

Years passed, I met him casually and one of the incidents I vividly remember is a scene at the Cochin shipyard where he and Dilip Kumar were shooting for one of his last big films, “Duniya”, directed by my friend, Ramesh Talwar. We were a group of journalists who were in Cochin to cover the shooting of the film Dadamoni asked the director to introduce all the journalists to him and had some comment to pass against each of us. He saw me and remembered our regular meetings during that battle with cancer. But the best thing was when he was introduced to the critic of the Times of India, Khalid Mohamed. He kept shaking Mohamed’s hand and said, “you don’t know how happy I am to meet you. I have been looking for you for quite some time. So, you are the man who makes me smile and makes my Sundays bright”. It was not meant as a compliment, but was one of the many sarcastic comments Dadamoni was known for. Like there was a guest scene in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s“Guddi”which made Jaya Bhaduri a star. There was a guest appearance scene in which Hrishida had involved the then superstar, Rajesh Khanna who is supposed to cross a line, but he keeps crossing the line more than the scene needed and the dialogue of Hrishida both in the scene for the film and for the mock scene was, “arre bhai, Rajesh, abhi tum bahot aage badh chuke ho, aur aage badoge toh…..”and the scene was cut. It was a line created by Hrishida and Dadamoni to give Rajesh Khanna a hint of how he was playing havoc with the industry after he had become a superstar. The dialogue especially was created by Dadamoni, who was perhaps the only Bengali who spoke very fluent Hindi and Urdu….

The years kept passing and Dadamoni kept growing old, but he never gave up working even if it was a two minute role in Boney Kapoor’s first big hit,“Mr India”and also took to the new medium of television and was best known for his role in  Balaji’s“Hum Paanch”and the historical he did for TV called“Bahadur Shah Zafar”….

He was nearing ninety and still had the zeal to keep working, but he was also falling sick regularly. It was when Sunil Dutt came to know that he was really not well, he asked me to join him in his visit to  Dadamoni in the same Chembur house (he also had a massive Ashok Kumar House in the Flora Fountain area and had taken up to real estate buisness which he closed down after a while).

Dutt Sahaab had told him about our coming to see him and even though he was sick, he had made sure that a feast of a lunch was prepared for us…

It was the right mood and atmosphere for him to go into a flashback….

He talked about the great days at Bombay Talkies where he said he had the pleasure of working with“one of the most beautiful women I have seen”, Devika Rani who was the boss of the studio which he had joined as a laboratory assistant and was forced  by circumstances to face the camera as the leading man of“Achoot Kanya”which was the beginning of one of the longest lasting careers of an actor in Indian films.

He could hardly speak, but he never missed forgetting “the little boys”he had seen growing . He talked about the trio of Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor (who like Dadamoni had  started as one of the junior assistants in Bombay Talkies before he joined Kidar Sharma as an assistant and was once slapped by the noted director which was like a good luck sign for him to take off as the Showman of India). There were tears in his eyes when he spoke about how“the boys”had grown into legends even as he watched them take one big step after another and felt proud about being the first witness to their success stories.

He could hardly breathe and had to use a“breather” whenever he had problems in breathing and talking, but even in this condition, he never forgot the great directors he had worked with in his long career, big names like Bimal Roy and his assistant, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and many of the directors of every decade of the seventy years he had worked in films…

He especially took all the trouble to talk about his youngest brother, Kishore Kumar. His memory was still strong enough to remember how Kishore had reached Bombay Talkies without letting him know and how he had thrown him out of the studio and asked him to go back to Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh and how the “mad but determined”Kishore went on to become a very popular singer after initially trying to imitate the great K.L Saigal. He said he had no part to play in the success of Kishore who on the contrary had given him and his brother, Anoop Kumar their biggest hit in“Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi”which had Madhubala in the lead, the same Madhubala who went on to be Kishore’s wife in a marriage that lasted a very short time as Madhubala died of a heart ailment….

He was getting tired and was gasping for breath and his Man Friday kept making gestures for us to stop, but both Dutt Sahaab and me could do very little as Dadamoni just didn’t want to stop talking…

He remembered the names of some of the heroines he had worked with, especially Leela Chitnis, Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Nalini Jaywant with whom he had done several films, but looking at Sunil Dutt, he said, there was no better actress than Nargis.

He was about to fall asleep when he said he was very happy with the progress the industry had made and then as if he had forgotten, he remembered the villain, Pran with whom he had done the biggest hit of both their careers,“Victoria 203″and how they had become very good friends and there was not a day when they didn’t talk on the phone for at least two hours at a stretch.

He had fallen asleep and we didn’t want to disturb him and left with our hearts heavy.

Strangely, as soon as we stepped out of his bungalow we bumped into one of his favourite heroines Nalini Jaywant who was also the first heroine of Sunil Dutt. She was not looking normal and the next thing we heard about her was that she had walked away from her house and was not to be found for days…

We tried to meet Dadamoni again, but time played the villain and on December 10,2001, I like the whole world received the news about his passing away after a massive heart attack when he was all of ninety. I must confess that I couldn’t make it to his funeral as I was  not well, but there were many others who should have and could be there to bid Dadamoni a fond farewell. His funeral proved to me once again that your funeral is big only if you are big at the time of your death or no one, not your relatives, not your friends and certainly not all that crowd of people whose world you have changed, attend your funeral because they are busy building on the world which you gave them and they have no time to know that what they are doing to those who helped them rise, would also happen to them one day and then it will be too late to repent….

Isn’t it strange that all the pioneers and veterans of those times have died and gone and have become a part of history, but Dilip Kumar who could be called the youngest of them all is still fighting a grim battle between life and death and what is more sad and tragic is the fact that he doesn’t know about the fight he is waging.

It is sometimes a strange world, especially when you realise that you are of worth only as long as you are worth, otherwise you are a burden and a waste. Cruel world, isn’t it?



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