‘I was used to promises being made’

Call me and come next week,’ he said. Wow! That was simple.

Published: 10th November 2021 06:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th November 2021 06:25 AM   |  A+A-

By Express News Service

BENGALURU: Call me and come next week,’ he said. Wow! That was simple.

Before I knew it, I was sitting in his office. All the walls were covered with posters of movies I had loved watching as a kid! In about ten minutes, the peon came and said, ‘Sir is calling you. Aaiye!’ His room was full of books and he was sitting in the corner, reading something. ‘Come my dear! How are you?’

Life can be so intriguing. I had been telling the world that  I would love to meet Shyam Benegal someday and now that he was sitting in front of me, words eluded me. I kept crushing the poor little tissue paper in my hand and mustered a belated, ‘How are you sir? I am fine!’ All in the same breath.
He smiled.

I am sure he could gauge that I was nervous. ‘Have some tea,’ he said and asked for two cups to be brought in. After an awkward silence, I managed, ‘Sir . . . err, Shyam babu, I would so love to work with you. Do you have something for me in your next?’ I wasn’t used to asking anything from anyone but with him, I felt I could. It felt so right.

He thought for a moment and rolled up his fingers to make a lens-like gesture and looked at me through it. I’ll never forget that moment! And the pause after it. I waited with bated breath as he sat thinking. ‘Okay, young lady! So, I already have a cast for my film Samar . . .’ My heart sank. He then continued, ‘. . . but there’s a dance number in it . . . a folk number. Would you like to do it?’

I was about to stand up and jump but I controlled myself, ‘Yes, of course, Shyam babu!’

‘Okay, lovely. I shall ask the team to give you all the details. See you then,’ he said. I pinched myself as I walked out. In my experience in the industry till then, I was used to promises being made but never being fulfilled. And here was a man who had just met me, and instantly told me what he had to offer. No postponing. No promises. That is Shyam babu! Always honest, clear and straightforward. He says things the way they are and offers the best possible solutions for every query.

Nothing complicated. He made me wonder: if everything can be that simple, why do people complicate it? And that, I think, is the sign of a genuinely successful man and achiever who is so secure with himself that he does not need to derive it by rubbing his powerful status on others. On the contrary, his simplicity surprised me. He never said, ‘Call my manager’, even though I was a rank newcomer. He said, ‘Call me if you have any queries, lady!’

I went back humming and dancing, counting the days till  I would join him at the shoot in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh (MP). I was debuting in a Shyam Benegal film with a dance number! That was special since Shyam Benegal movies mostly don’t have song and dance numbers. And yes, I was finally working with the Shyam Benegal!

I was informed well in advance that everyone would be travelling by train and staying at the same hotel.
In those days, I had no man Friday or personal staff travelling with me, so I was alone. But, very meticulously, I had been booked with some other crew members, so I didn’t face any problems.

Sagar is a very small town in MP. So, there were two hotels there for the crew. Unfortunately, my friends Rajit Kapur and Rajeshwari were in the other hotel along with Shyam babu and Seema Biswas. My hotel was lovely but all the people I was familiar with were in the other one, so I felt a bit alone.

Not for too long though. I was told that Shyam babu had called me to his hotel to discuss something. I was wondering what it could be. When I reached the hotel, I got a very warm welcome. Shyam babu introduced me to everyone and then later asked me, ‘. . . so what are your hobbies, my dear?’ I excitedly said, ‘Shyam babu, I love watching movies, cooking and reading.’ Before I could think of more, he said, ‘Okay great! So, today, this young lady will cook something for us as it’s a break day!’

(Excerpted with permission from The Stars in my Sky:Those Who Brightened My Film Journey by Divya Dutta, published by Penguin Random House India)


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