THE SHOWMAN WAS A STRUGGLER ONCE

author-image
By Team Bollyy
New Update
THE SHOWMAN WAS A STRUGGLER ONCE

BY ALI PETER JOHN

publive-image

Sometime in the late sixties and early seventies, a group of young “aliens” descended on the film industry in Bombay (it was yet to be known as Mumbai). The industry was complacent with its achievements and experiments, its chocolate heroes and beautiful heroines, its movie badshahs, its age-old technicians and composers who were happy with the status quo.

These “aliens” landed from a planet called Poona (now Pune) which had its first filmmaking institute founded by the Government of India. They had to face an uphill struggle and had to face days making the rounds of studios and the offices of established and well-known directors and kept facing rejection and humiliation and for most it was even difficult to enter the gates of the studios. These were brilliant students who had passed out of the FTII with gold medals and certificates and diplomas for excellence in different fields of cinema. Among these “aliens” was a young and handsome man from Rohtak called Subhash Ghai who was seen as a bright spark for the future, but like most of his colleagues, he had to live on empty and hollow promises.

publive-image

These “aliens” who were mostly from various parts of the country found accommodation as paying guests and some who were lucky had relatives in the city of dreams where they had a place to find shelter and dream their lofty dreams. But for most, it was the local speakeasies (addas) and aunty’s bars where country liquor was served at a very cheap price, a peg of naarangi for just fifty paisa. These ambitious strugglers who were groomed in films made by Godard, Fellini, Kurosawa and Michael Angelo Antonioni found these addas the place where they could have heated debates on all that they had learned at the FTII and as they kept getting high on naarangi, they also talked philosophy and argued about the place taqdeer (luck) and destiny played in the lives of anyone striving to find a place in the industry. The debates mostly ended with everyone getting so high that they forgot what they had discussed and debated about the previous night and returned to the adda the next evening to begin the same debates all over again.

Subhash Ghai who lived with his paternal aunt in Chembur, a faraway suburb of Bombay was a non-drinker but still sat in these addas just to imbibe the atmosphere and the moods of his colleagues. He was impressed by a struggling poet called Javed Akhtar who loved picking up an argument on any subject whether he believed in it or not. He had the gift of the gab which attracted the attention of all the others. He also had the ability for changing forty naya paisa to seventy naya paisa within minutes as he was a very good gambler. Subhash who was a very quiet man was further dissuaded by some of his friends who said he would never make it as an actor.

publive-image

 

 

He was considered as a misfit as long as he didn’t join in the drinking sessions and some even avoided him because they felt that he would listen to all their drunken chatter and spill the beans about them the next day or anytime in the future when it suited him. He was accused of being too simple for the industry and one evening he decided to get rid of the tag of simplicity attached to him.

 

He was literally dragged to a party by Monto, one of his friends from the FTII. It was at this party that he had his first big swallow of a drink which as he remembered was like “a dagger piercing through my chest”. The boiled eggs cut down the piercing feeling and there was a lot of singing and dancing as more and more of the naarangi got the better of him till it was blackout for him.

He regained consciousness only the next morning and found himself alone in the adda and his bill had been paid off by a friend and he was allowed to go home. He stepped out of the adda and into the streets of Bandra and could feel the entire city of Bombay revolving around him, nothing seemed to be clear to his vision but he still managed to reach his aunt’s home, but before reaching he sat on the pavement and cried and bawled out loudly with or without any reason as he remembers. He went back to his aunty’s house feeling ashamed of himself for the mockery he had made of himself the previous night.

publive-image

His aunt who was very fond of him and was the only one who kept encouraging him made him comfortable and sent him to the room allotted to him from where he did not come out for the next six days. It was his aunt who kept stopping him from quitting the field whenever he felt he would never be able to succeed as an actor. It was during these days that he read Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People” which he had found in his cousin’s shelf. These six days were also the time when he went into deep introspection and ruminated into the past.

THE FTII DAYS

He was a very good student of theatre while he was in Rohtak and wrote, acted and directed several plays which made him a popular name in the Hindi theatre circle and many encouraged him to join the FTII. His father who was married twice had a certain kind of disinterest in Hindi films, but yet when Subhash sought his permission to join the FTII, he never stopped him. Ever since Subhash joined the FTII, his most ambitious and emotional dream was to prove to his father that he had not wasted his time and had done enough to make him (his father) proud of him… and that time came even though it took its own time.

Subhash had to face tough competition from the students of his batch who were “more English and were carried away by the cinema of Godard, Fellini, Kurosawa, while he was amazed by the “very Indian cinema” of Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan and Raj Kapoor. He was a hardworking and dedicated student and was soon considered as one of the leading students of acting who also had a grasp of different crafts of filmmaking. He was an ardent Dilip Kumar fan and had written a ninety-page thesis of his own on the performance of the thespian on his acting in Bimal Roy’s “Devdas”. He was a true devotee of cinema, he had proved it in more ways than one. He could never forget the impact Prof. Roshan Taneja, the first ever teacher of acting in India had on him and the slight insecurity he felt when he saw the brilliant work of actors like Govardhan Asrani and Kanwar Paintal who later went on to become teachers at the FTII and joined the industry and turned out to be leading comedians which they still are after almost fifty years.

publive-image

 

THE REAL STRUGGLE

The young man loaded with ambition and dreams landed in Bombay to start his new struggle to make it come what may. He too had to go through the grind like all the other strugglers, but destiny or taqdeer, two words which he had often heard had a distinct place in the way he was going.

A talent hunt was organised by the United Producers Combined and Filmfare magazine in 1965 with renowned filmmakers like B. R Chopra, Bimal Roy, G P Sippy, H S Rawail, Nasir Husain, J Om Prakash, Mohan Segal, Shakti Samanta, Hemant Kumar and Subodh Mukherji forming the jury which had the formidable task of selecting winners from among ten thousand applicants. The last winner was Dharmendra. Most of the students from the FTII had applied and Subhash also joined the fray. The contest was shortlisted and two hundred applicants were selected for the final audition. The list kept growing shorter and interesting when there were only a few applicants waiting for the final audition. It was finally the turn of Subhash Ghai and he had the choice to either perform a scene given to him by the jury or a scene he had written and prepared for himself. He opted for his own choice in which he played both the judge as well as the convict. His performance as the convict was so powerful that the entire jury clapped for him unanimously. Subhash felt that his big day was about to dawn and all pessimism left him for good.

That year the contest had five winners, Jatin Khanna who had done theatre in Bombay, Dheeraj Kumar who was still a student at the FTII, Farida Jalal who was not from the FTII and Baby Sarika who became a popular child artist and a leading lady with her first film, “Geet Gaata Chal” and Subhash.

publive-image

It was time for taqdeer or destiny to play its part in the life and career of Subhash again. He lost two of the best opportunities by sheer bad timing and ill-luck. He lost G P Sippy’s “Raaz” to Jatin Khanna who was now Rajesh Khanna and he again lost to Jatin when Nasir Husain also opted for Jatin. It was reason enough for Subhash to despair, but he had mastered the art of not giving up in the face of the toughest circumstances.

publive-image

 

He had expected all the producers on the jury of the United Producers Talent contest to offer him a break which was a condition, but most of them offered Subhash cups of tea and better luck the next time “because you are a good actor” and the forever line given to all struggler, “milte raho, keep meeting, it is important to keep meeting”

He never gave up and destiny never gave him up. He got his first major break as a hero in Atma Ram’s (the younger brother of the late Guru Dutt) in his film, “Umang” which was an experiment he was daring to make with all the cast comprising of students from the FTII. Subhash who was heading the cast as the hero was offered a monthly salary of rupees six hundred and fifty, a first class railway pass between Andheri and Churchgate and a little room in Atma Ram’s bungalow to live in. It was quite a sight to see the entire cast of the film at the Janata Dairy Dugdhalaya outside the Natraj Studio where Atma Ram had his office and where he also shot most of “Umang”. The Janata Dairy Dugdhalaya was the favourite of the unit because the lassi, milk and pakodaas were very good and were also cheap and the Panditji who owned the shop had a soft corner for struggling actors and even gave them credit. Atma Ram and his team made all the efforts to make a good film that could also do well at the box-office, but their dream was shattered as people who were used to only seeing big stars refused to have even one look at the “aliens” who had come from Poona to change the face of Hindi cinema.

publive-image

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

It was not the end for Subhash Ghai, the actor. The roles continued coming in, but they were roles in bad or what in film parlance are called B grade films. Most of the films were never completed and even those who were could not find buyers (distributors) because the hero was not saleable. The only time he was slightly recognised was when he played the friend of the younger Rajesh Khanna, the pilot in Shakti Samanta’s “Aradhana” which shot Rajesh Khanna to overnight stardom and surprisingly made no difference to the trained and brilliant actor in Subhash.

He was in a fix and did not know what taqdeer had in store for him next. He realised that he could write well, whether it was stories, screenplays or dialogue. He knew he would not be a force to reckon with on his own and so formed a team with B. B. Bhalla, another failed actor. They wrote a couple of films together, “Aakhri Daku” being their best. The team however split and Subhash Ghai, the writer went on his own as a writer and made the rounds of filmmakers with his scripts.

publive-image

It was a meeting with the veteran filmmaker, N. N Sippy that changed his taqdeer. He gave Sippy a narration of his script for which he had also chosen the title, “Kalicharan” (the name of the then very popular West Indies cricketer, Allwyn Kalicharan). Sippy gave him a complete hearing and fixed up another day to have a narration again. As Subhash was going down the steps, Sippy, an experienced filmmaker sent for Subhash and asked him to direct the film. Subhash said he had never directed a film before. Sippy convinced him that he had a very good script and if he just followed it with some good technicians he could make a very good film. Subhash couldn’t believe how taqdeer or call it karma could be so kind to him after all the struggle.

publive-image

He went to work with all the energy, enthusiasm and enlightenment at his command. He first talked to his friend Shatrughan Sinha to play the title role and Shatru who is said to have had an affair of the heart with Reena Roy, the leading lady of the times spoke to her about Subhash’s film and she was game. Subhash managed to get an entire team together and assured Sippy that he was ready to take on his challenge. The result was “Kalicharan”, Subhash Ghai’s first film as a director which turned out to be a big hit. Subhash next directed “Vishwanath” (this time the name of the well-known Indian batsman, Gundappa Vishwanath) with almost the same team except for the addition of Premnath who had a role which was entirely against the image formed about him as a villain. This film too was a hit and Subhash Ghai was established as a director. His next film, “Gautam Govinda” was different from the first two films, except for Shatrughan Sinha being the leading man playing a dacoit.

Latest Stories