I was still finding my foothold in the industry and my first few assignments used to be to cover funerals, birthdays, weddings and if I was lucky the shooting of some new actor.
One morning, my boss asked me to go to the Filmalaya studio to cover the shooting of a film called Sooryavanshi which had a new actor called Salman Khan and a new actress who’s name was Sheeba and the film was being directed by Rakesh Kumar who was known to be a favorite of Amitabh Bachchan.
Ali Peter John
he saw Salman’s face covered with what was supposed to be blood
My photographer Mr RD Rai who had covered politics and politicians and had just joined “Screen” joined me and we reached the studio.There was a fight sequence being short with Salman and a Group of fighters. Rai who was an expert in shooting real life scenes went into action and shot everything that came before his camera. And when he saw Salman’s face covered with what was supposed to be blood, he went haywire and kept shooting pictures of Salman’s bloodied face.That was what he was trained to do as a news photographer at the Indian Express.
“Ali saab yeh gali deta hain aur dhamki bhi deta hain”
Salman who I was told was a hot-bloodied young Khan kept making signs asking Rai not to click pictures, but Rai (God bless his soul),felt challenged and went on clicking more furiously , till Salman first abused him and then threatened to smash his camera. Rai kept clicking and in his typical UP hindi said ,”Ali saab yeh gali deta hain aur dhamki bhi deta hain”.I asked him to stop talking pictures and we went back to office and reported the story to our editor, Mrs Udaya Nayar and without taking a minute she announced her decision to ban Salman. And said no photograph of Salman’s would be published in any form. I didn’t expect Mrs Nayar who was a very mild person to take such a stern decision.
Screen banning someone was never heard of before. It was like the Breaking News we have on social media today. And soon all the film magazines and even dailies banned and boycotted Salman in solidarity with screen.
There were embarrassing scenes when all the photographers together asked the producers to take off Salman from group photographs taken at ceremonies, functions, launching of films and even during shootings.
There were attempts made by Salman’s friends and advisors to know ‘who this Ali Peter John is’.
I was on a flight to Delhi with some leading stars which included Madhuri Dixit, Anupam Kher director Raj Kamal and Salman. I was prepared for a showdown and it almost happened when someone told Salman that I was on the flight. Salman kept walking up and down the aisle saying “Are kamaal ho gaya mere flight per maahaan patrakar hain jinka mujhe sau saal se intezaar tha.”
He came to my seat in a menacing manner and folded his hands and said “Aap hi hain yeh Maahaan Patrakar jinone mujhe kahi ka nahin raka”.And he went back and came back to say ,”Kabhi Bombay mein milthe hain.’ I did’nt know what to make of this second dramatic scene with Salman.
They shocked to know that Screen had banned Salman.
It was time for the release of Rajashri’s most ambitious film Hum apke hain kaun with Salman and Madhuri leading a huge cast and Rajashri’s had the tradition of opening their publicity of any film with Screen. They shocked to know that Screen had banned Salman. The brothers at Rajashri, Ajit Kumar, Kamal Kumar, Raj Kumar and the director of the film Sooraj Kumar came to our office and had a long meeting with Mrs Nayar after which it was decided that only a working still of Salman and Madhuri would be used on the front page, the ban on Salman however continued.
There were intermediaries who tried to put an end to “war” and the one who tried his best was Rajnikanth who kept saying ,”Jaane do Ali” , “ leave it yaar” but Mrs Nayaar was adamant, frankly I still don’t know why.
And then more than thirty years later, Subhash Ghai was celebrating his birthday at the Taj in bandra. I was the only journalist invited and I was meeting all my old friends after years, when at 1 am I saw Salman walking in with his bouncers. I had decided that too much was made of the whole issue it was time to end the “war”. He was leaving the hall when I shouted out his name and he came running back to me embraced me and said ,”Itni si baat ke liye itni lambi sazaa, chalo dost bante hain” .And we promised to meet soon , but I am still waiting for that “soon’ to come.
Aisa bhi ek kissa tha mere lambhe safaar mein.