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Sepia Stories / Season 2/31 Remembering Ranjeeta Kaur – Day 1883

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In the late 70s when I began my career, the FTII actors were a big rage and Ranjeeta Kaur was among them. She had signed some prestigious films with top banners like HS Rawail’s #LailaMajnu pairing opposite Rishi Kapoor and was touted as among the promising stars.  I often met Ranjeeta those days because she was friends with Akbar Khan and I would often bump into them at the Sun-n-Sand Hotel. Akbar spent most of his evenings by the hotel poolside, watching sunset and eating steaks. Those days, Sun-n-Sand was a favorite haunt of the film fraternity and journalists conducted frequent interviews at the coffee shop. Almost every day a crew was either shooting or hosting a celebration at the hotel.
Ranjeetw saw a super phase in her career when her film Suraksha with Mithun Chakraborty proved a big time hit at the box-office. In the film industry nothing succeeds like success, so when Tarana, Humse Badhkar Kaun, Aadat Se Majboor, Baazi and Gunahon Ka Devta all proved big hits, the pair got coined as coined Amitabh -Rekha of small budget films.  The interesting part was that since both of them came from FTII they were close friends and as long as they worked together, there were no conflicts, no controversies. Most of her fans remember her for her Mithun Chakraborty films but my personal favorite Ranjeeta film is Rajshri Productions’ Aankhiyon Ke Jharoke Se. Everything about this film was special, the story, the music and the performances.
One fine day, sometime after Satte Pe Satta, Ranjeeta Kaur got married and settled down in Pune. She was still in Maharashtra but nobody ever saw her, spoke of her and then about two years ago, I met Ranjeeta at her ex manager Rakeshnath’s daughter’s wedding, she still looked the same, appeared awkward and shy like always. I asked her why she was not doing any more films or series and she merely smiled. I’m still figuring out what that expression meant and what is holding her back.
And by the way, happy birthday!

Sepia Stories/ Season 2/ 31 Bebo to Kareena Kapoor – Day 1882

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My first memory of Kareen Kapoor is at the shooting of Pukar in 1983 in Goa. They were shooting an action sequence between Randhir Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan and Babita was at the location with Karisma and Kareena. While Karisma was playing with Shweta, Srishti and Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena all of three years old was on her mother’s lap watching the filming. When it was time for Bachchan to bash up Kapoor, Kareena began bawling and the shooting had to come to a standstill. To pacify her, Bachchan and Kapoor embraced each other but Bebo would not stop crying so finally Babita had to take the kids and leave for the hotel.
The next time, I saw Bebo was at the funeral of Raj Kapoor. The RK Bunglow was over flowing with people and as hours went by, Babita and Neetu had to attend to domestic responsibilities, so there was Babita sitting amidst guests like us, feeding dahi chawal to a sleepy Bebo. Babita hoped Bebo would go to sleep after dinner but Bebo was strolling in the garden with other kids.
A few years later, we had a photo shoot with Karisma Kapoor and Jackie Shroff for g magazine cover and were meeting at Jackie’s home. Karisma was reaching there directly from her shooting and requested if I would bring Bebo with me to Jackie’s home in Bandra. Those days the K sisters lived in Lokhandwala, very close to my home, so Bebo just back from school, her short hair left lose, looked spectacular. I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said, ‘An actress, what else? Lolo has time till I finish schoo,l after that I will take over’.
And then came the year 2000. I spotted her as soon as I entered the Bachchan’s Diwali party. This was before the release of Refugee and I was mesmerized. In a white ghaghra and eyes filled with kohl she looked like an apsara descended on earth. Who is that beautiful girl, I asked Kirron Kher standing beside me? Kher said, ‘You mean you did not recognize, that’s Bebo who else?’.

One film led to another and decades transformed Bebo to Diva Kareena Kapoor. Today the little girl who cried on the sets of her father’s film is a mother herself and knows how to protect her little boy from the shooting chaos. Her attraction with the spotlight continues though and who knows, a decade later, son Taimur will be making his debut in movies and I will be still around, writing about the family legacy?

Letters To Mother – day 1878

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‘I am not a writer, most of us are not; but everybody seeks expression.’
– Narendra Modi
Translated from the Gujarati by
Bhawana Somaaya
‘This is not an attempt at literary writing; the passages featured in this book are reflections of my observations and sometimes unprocessed thoughts, expressed without filter…I am not a writer, most of us are not; but everybody seeks expression, and when the urge to unload becomes overpowering there is no option but to take pen and paper, not necessarily to write but to introspect and unravel what is happening within the heart and the head and why.’ – Narendra Modi
‘In my opinion Shri Narendra Modi’s strength as a writer is his emotional quotient. There is a raw intensity, a simmering restlessness which he does not disguise and that is his attraction.’ – Bhawana Somaaya, Translator
As a young man, Narendra Modi had got into the habit of writing a letter to the Mother Goddess, whom he addressed as Jagat janani, every night before going to bed. The topics were varied: there were seething sorrows, fleeting joys, lingering memories. In Modi’s writings there was the enthusiasm of a youngster and the passion to usher in change.
But every few months, Modi would tear up the pages and consign them to a bonfire. The pages of one diary, dating back to 1986, survived, however. These are now available in English for the very first time as Letters to Mother, in a powerful translation by Bhawana Somaaya.

Ayushmaan Khurana , new age common man -day 1876

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Sometimes, inexperience prevents adequate decisions that affect our destinies, in this case the fate of the film and sometimes, submission absolves all obstacles and travels us paths we had never determined as in the case of Ayushman Khurana whose birthday falls on 14 September.

His career is the stuff fairy tales are made of. A television show Roadies ventured him into anchoring and his talent as a singer landed him his debut role Vicky Donor followed by a long list of pathbreaking films that identified him as the new age common man.

Unlike Amol Palekar of the 70’s cinema who represented innocent middle-class aspirations, Ayushman’s common man was complicated, complex and often irreverent. He embraced his characters’ insecurities and celebrated their vulnerability, as a result he suffered low self-esteem in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, was under confident in Bareily Ki Barfi, impotent and therefore frustrated in Shubh Mangal Savdhan, confused and self-centered in Badhai Ho, fuelling sexual fantasies in Dream Girl, isolated in Bala and aggressive in Gulabo Sitabo.

His portrayals liberated the middle class restless for a new identity. Was Ayushman conscious of his impact on his audience? I don’t think so, because by the time the image of an actor becomes a reality, he is usually half way through success. That’s what happened with Ayushman as well because had he thought through his creative choices, he would have been terrified. He was able to travel this far because he went with the flow.
Bhawana Somaaya

Theory of instinct – day 1875

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The director was so impressed that he confirmed Raakhee for the role on the spot. Shashi Kapoor was roped in for a guest appearance as Raakhee and his resemblance with his nephew was a requirement of the story.

Doosra Aadmi addressed multiple social and psychological issues like marriage, adultery, working woman, single woman, single man, professional etiquette, mental health issues like neglect, depression and loneliness.

The film received rave reviews but did not fare well at the box-office, partly because the subject was volatile and partly, because Raakhe (matriarch of Tapasya) was unacceptable as a home breaker by her fans. And which brings me back to Raj Kapoor’s theory of instinct and I wonder if the fate of Doosra Aadmi would have been different had Ramesh Talwar signed Sharmila Tagore in the role of an eccentric copywriter?

The answer is probably yes and probably no but the response would have been certainly different had Ramesh Talwar had heeded to his producer’s advice and changed the climax, he didn’t.
To be continued

Doosra Aadmi/ The other man – Day 1874

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Raj Kapoor once said that every film has its destiny, and it is instinct that guides a film. Sometimes, though in the adrenaline rush, the creator disconnects with his instinct and follows a different path and in doing so, he alters his destiny, sometimes for the better and sometimes for worse.

During the shooting of Kabhi Kabhie in Kashmir, Yash Chopra decided to launch his first assistant Ramesh Talwar as director and asked him to plan his debut film. Talwar had more or less finalized a subject when a dear friend narrated to him a story about the ‘other woman’ who unintentionally interrupts the love story of a young couple. The older woman is attracted to the younger man because he resembles her deceased boyfriend who died in a car crash.

Doosra Aadmi or the ‘other man’ censored in September 1977 was a story of heart aches and heart breaks. Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh are still newly married when another woman enters Kapoor’s life. Talwar had set his heart on casting Sharmila Tagore for the older woman role but when Raakhee learnt about this, she dressed up as the character/copywriter at an advertising agency and presented herself before Talwar.

To be concluded

Stringent contracts – day 1873

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The bigger challenge of course is the poor economy, as a result fewer projects, in moderate budgets and smaller crews will be the new normal. Everyone will have to accept pay cuts and that includes letting go off the star entourage – no personal spot boys and fewer assistants for the technical crew. No shooting outside India, rather outside Maharashtra for the time being unless it is a location one can travel by road.
The star contracts will be even more stringent now, besides the confidentiality clause where actors are forbidden to discuss the subject, forbidden guests on shooting premise, forbidden selfies/pictures on sets, to which some filmmakers have added a ban on cosmetic surgeries because they don’t want the hero/ heroine to appear different in the middle of a schedule, will probably include a clause on consumption of drugs, a repercussion of the ongoing Sushant Singh Rajput controversy.
If Ekta Kapoor can ask for horoscope of her actors before confirming them for the show, the legal team is entitled to think out of the box for the filmmakers.
To be continued

Collaborative medium – day 1872

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Unlike other professions that can be indulged in ‘Work from Home’ cinema being a collaborative medium cannot. It involves multiple artistes on multiple levels for instance, an actor needs make-up, hair, costume. The camera man needs his light men and the director needs his assistants and everyone requires to be in close proximity.
Despite the enormous challenges, some film and television production houses have begun shoot with requisite precautions of thermometers, sanitizers and a doctor on the set. Recently actor Satish Kaushik posted a picture of him getting ready where the team is in PPE suits and shields and another actor tweeted about how writers are conceiving intimate scenes without actors physically touching each other. A television actress explained to me that the present scenario is harder on the heroine than the hero because “By the time I walk from the vanity van to the set covered in my mask and shield, my makeup and hair is in total mess!”
To be continued

Commercials take over creative – day 1871

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Over the decades, the work culture changed drastically and so did the film budgets. Chopra joked that what was the budget of his earlier films was now, the budget of just the costumes designed by Manish Malhotra. “Then I whispered a figure into the actor’s ear and the deal was confirmed today, star managers discuss commercials with finance teams and subjects are approved only after that”.
Soon contracts became an essential foundation for all studios and production houses and all of them invested in top legal teams to avoid complications. In the year 2020 two determining events have occurred, the pandemic and the unnatural demise of Sushant Singh Rajput that has altered the perception and the reality of the business of entertainment forever.  
If the new normal of our daily existence is to wear our masks, frequently wash hands and maintain social distance, the new normal in the film world is set to usher a revolution.
To be continued

Trust and relationships – Day 1870

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Before Yash Raj Films turned corporate and shifted office to the high tech, sprawling studio in Andheri, filmmaker Yash Chopra operated from a relatively smaller office but still a bungalow in Mumbai’s posh location, Juhu.

There was a small lobby on the ground floor and a lift that traveled you to the first floor where Yash Chopra occupied one half of the office and the other half was divided into smaller cabins for the administrative staff.

I often dropped by to meet Yash Chopra and he relegated me with delicious stories of his struggle, his directorial debut, his first premier and later, his first independent make-shift office at V Shantaram’s Raj Kamal Studio in Parel. He said, in the olden days, they made films as a family, cast actors he enjoyed working with and after checking dates a mahurat was announced and the film was completed before the end of the year.

Chopra revealed that there were no written contracts with anyone and yet everyone stayed committed, “We relied on trust, relationships and nobody ever complained”.

To be continued