Story of a brief, successful flirtation
My skimpy film career dates to the 1970s, with a plunge into the murky waters as a ‘Gofer.’
He has a face only his mother would like!’ Auntie Maisie would say. Mercifully, she never said that about me, but had she done so, she wouldn’t have been far wrong. That, anyway, is the reason why I am tempted to begin this piece with a statutory disclaimer: ‘I have little or almost nothing to do with films.’
My skimpy film career dates to the 1970s, with a plunge into the murky waters as a ‘Gofer.’ Fancy as it may sound, I soon discovered that I ranked somewhere between an urchin and a waiter, to-go-for-this or to-go-for-that for Raymond Louis-Steiner, an Australian who chanced upon a Ruskin Bond children’s story titled Big Business set in Mussoorie in which the events take place in a single day. But things got delayed, and our hero’s mother, a local school teacher who was picture-perfect on Day One, when she returned to the sets six months later, had blossomed into imminent motherhood.
A double was needed. Pretty, lissome Anita Sunderam, a final year student from Woodstock School, Mussoorie, fit the bill when draped in a cotton sari in a ‘long shot’ against the background of your typical Garhwali, wood-and-slate-roofed house.
‘Go away! Go away!’ yelled an old man waving his tired staff of life at us.
‘Won’t enter your house!’ I yelled in Garhwali, hoping to convince him we were a film crew and not an excise team raiding his hooch still. That and a few pieces of silver helped.
Sadly though, Big Business never did make it. Sealed inside cans, it never saw the inside of a theatre.
Years later, one evening, I strayed into the town’s Writers’ Bar to recharge my batteries and walked into the affable owner, Kamal Kishore Kaya.
‘Sooner or later, we will all be gone. Your stories about my hotel will be lost forever. Record them on film,’ he said. Shot over four days with a crew of four, I funneled Mussoorie’s history (without a script) through the archway of the hotel, and made Saga of an Icon.
‘Saw your lousy promo,’ snapped Deepak Vaidya, a friend who lives in Happy Garden, Barlowganj. He was unimpressed: ‘You look like a fat duck waddling around. If I were you, my boy, I’d stick to writing.’
Despite his brilliant career as a shattered accountant, Deepak had for once got it wrong. The film received many awards national and international, including two Dadasaheb Phalke.
Mercifully, my brief flirtation with films flatlined, and shooting stars, even those with their tails afire, cannot shine forever.
Author, photographer, illustrator