We were in a boat in Malaysia. Without any of us realising it, it drifted towards the high seas and suddenly the wooden jetty was miles away. I don’t know how to swim and for about three minutes in the water, I was struggling for my life. Had it not been for Hrithik (Roshan) and my driver Babu who pulled me out, I could have drowned that day…”
I’m so glad that Subhash Ghai didn’t drown. Even though I remember Yaadein (2001), during whose climax this near-fatal incident occurred, mostly for the free paan masala sachets that were distributed after the show, the man who made it, epitomises for me, the flash and flamboyance of Bollywood. And is one of my favourite people in film city.
When Mukta Arts was celebrating a silver jubilee run, I coaxed Subhashji to go down memory lane with me. The appointment was fixed for 9 pm at a city hotel. He was untraceable for an hour-an-a-half during which the hotel suffered a blackout.
As the lights slowly dimmed back, I saw a silhouette that looked like Subhashji’s and dashed up the stairs. Cornered, he sheepishly admitted he’d been locked in a business meeting. What about our meeting? “Come home, it’s just up the hill,” he suggested. “We’ll be more comfortable there.”
In his study, as the clock ticked towards midnight, he recalled his first day at Pune’s FTII. It was pouring and Subhashji arrived for his first class, dripping and two hours late. “The professor took one look at me and said sternly, ‘Bahar khada raho (Stand outside).’ So, there I stood in the rain, getting wetter and wetter,” he said.
Despite the damp beginning, Subhashji went on to act in six movies, including Taqdeer (1967) and Aradhana (1969). Taqdeer got him his first cheque, for Rs 200, from Rajshri Productions. “I sent Rs 50 to my mother, put Rs 100 in the bank and with the remaining Rs 50 went to Pune to meet my fiancée, Rehana. We married soon after,” he smiled.
Looking good Aradhana was his first superhit. At the film’s premiere, he remembered feeling like a wallflower as everyone rushed past him after the newest superstar, Rajesh Khanna. The disappointment abated when someone wrote to tell him that he’d performed well in his friendly appearance and looked good too.
It took seven years for his next superhit, Kalicharan (1976), to come along. This time, Subhashji was behind the screen, debuting as a director. He went for the first show with great expectations. They came crashing down as the audience started hooting. Crushed, he returned home, told his wife Rehana that the film had flopped and went to bed.
That evening, producer NN Sippy called to congratulate him. “Why?” asked an astounded Subahshji. “People were reacting favourably to the film,” he was told.
He refused to believe it even through Sippy kept repeating the good news for four days. “It was only when I went to Delhi for a show and saw the cheer that went up in the audience when I was introduced as the director, that I let myself believe that I had actually delivered a hit,” he laughed.
Kalicharan was followed by more superhits --Vishwanath (1978), Karz (1980), Vidhaata (1982), Hero (1983), Meri Jung (1985), Karma (1986), Ram Lakhan (1989), Saudagar (1991), Khalnayak (1993), Pardes (1997), Taal (1999)… They earned him the exalted tag of a “showman”.
The first time he heard it, Subhashji was livid. Up North, showman meant a man who showed off. Later, someone explained to him that the term meant a maker who made BIG movies with great songs. “That’s me!” he exulted.
Another seven years have passed. This week at Mukta Arts’ 32nd anniversary, Subhashji announced three new movies for 2011-- a thriller with Abbas-Mustan, one with Priyadarshan and one which he would direct himself.
There was also Paschim Express With Love that he was producing with graduates from his film institute. Another Whistling Woods should open in three years in Jhanjar, taking the Haryanvi back to his roots. Raj Kapoor, the first showman, has coined the mantra, ‘Jeena yahan marna yahan, iske siva jana kahan…’ For the next showman too, the show goes on...