Ali Peter John
I was lucky to get away with doing what my heart felt like doing when I was in” Screen” because I had a boss like Mr. S.S.Pillai who took pleasure in giving me the freedom to do what I wanted. He only said one thing and that was “please never take advantage of my goodness because there are people in the staff who are waiting to hang me for being kind to you ,I know ” . He was followed by another editor called Mr. S.S.Kapadia, who was as mild as a sheep and did not even raise his voice before his wife but was very rigid when it came to discipline. The specialty of both these editors was that they both knew very little or nothing about Hindi films and Mr. Goenka the founder of the Indian Express Group had appointed them editor for this reason specifically as he believed that their ignorance would not lead to any kind of corruption. I was encouraged to be some kind of a guide to both these great editors, a honour I continued to have when Mr. Pillai’s daughter, Ms.Udaya Tara Pillai took over as the editor some years later .
It was the best time of my career, a time when I could pursue some of my most interesting ambitions in the interest of “Screen “.It was also the time when I faced the worst time of my career because of two “well-wishers” who I had got appointed on the staff and had even fixed their salaries who went on to be the two men who wished me to be in the well of despair every day, God bless them wherever they are.
It was during this time that I thought of a brainwave. Colour was the in thing in films, in the media, in publicity and so was it in all the film magazines and “Screen “was no exception. I was looking at some black and white photographs from a distant past and realized that some of them looked more fascinating and beautiful than some colour photographs.
I went to Mrs.Pillai and told her about my idea about bringing out an entire issue of “Screen” in black and white and she shot back, “one more crazy idea, huh ?”She asked me if I knew what it meant and how much work would have to be done if the issue had to be brought out. I said I would do all the work if she would give me to weeks. She still thought it was a joke and asked ,”but ,when will you find time to drink, Ali ?”I took her question as a challenge and started work on the special issue of “Screen “in black and white.
I started with collecting some of the best black and white photographs of all the big stars ,producers, directors and music directors right from the silent era and down to the present time and the only help I received was from the two so -called peons, Pramod and Patil and my two seniors and typists, Chandran and Chari, without whom I don’t know what I would have done in “Screen “.None of my journalist “friends “came forward to support me as I wrote the captions for every photograph which was like re-writing history.
My editor said it would be nice if we had a specially taken photograph in black and white of Madhuri Dixit who was the ruling star those days. I said it would be done without thinking of how it would be done. That night, I met my friend Rikku over drinks (we hardly met without drinks) and I told him about the photograph and he instantly agreed and without consulting Madhuri it was decided that we would shoot the photograph the next morning. But, who would shoot the photograph and where ?Three large pegs of whisky can sometimes work wonders. At eleven in the night I remembered a friend called Hemant Thakkar who was the only son of a well-known photographer of the fifties and sixties who took black and white photographs and who had his studio in Parel and where he still took photographs at the age of eighty and whose last photograph of a struggling actor was that of Mithun Chakraborty.
Rikku and I met Madhuri at 8 o’clock in the morning and by nine thirty were on the way to Parel. Mr.J.H. Thakkar, the veteran photographer and his son and their staff were waiting for Madhuri with excitement and Madhuri was waiting with double their excitement. She had done many photo sessions, but never had an experience like this and ran into the dark room of the studio and started marveling at all the age – old cameras which Mr.Thakkar had been using for more than fifty years and asking Mr.Thakkar questions about his work.
It was time to start shooting when there was a sudden sound of sirens wailing. There was panic all over the city. A noted and popular BJP leader Ramdas Nayak was shot dead in cold blood at eleven fifteen outside his office on Hill Road in Bandra. A call for Bombay Bandh was given .All the shops where pulling down their shutters. Mr.Thakkar asked Madhuri if the shoot had to be cancelled and she didn’t show any signs of being perturbed or scared and told Mr.Thakkar to just pull down the shutter from the front,order some “Chai and Nashta” and continue with the shooting with her.
Mr.Thakkar said he had shot with any number of stars and celebrities in his fifty years, but never with a daring woman like Madhuri Dixit .
The shoot got over by 3.pm.Bombay was normal again and Madhuri was on her way to report for a shooting at 5.pm at Film City. It is perhaps this kind of an attitude towards her work that made the girl from J.B.Nagar and Divine Child High School the number one actress of Indian cinema. And by the way, the all black and white issue of ” Screen “with Madhuri on the cover was a grand success and a sell-out on the day its hit the stands all over the country. And I was given a twenty-five-rupee hike in my salary!
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