Amitabh Bachchan has come to be synonymous with Holi thanks to colourful chartbusters like Rang barse…, and Holi khele Raghuveera…. And while the rang mein bhang sizzler from Silsila still fires up young passions every year, the Baghban track is like old wine whose taste lingers on the tongue long after the meal is over.
I’ve grown out of the annual ritual of mud baths, bhang parties and gulaal sprinklers. But there’s joy in a quiet celebration with a soulmate who is more likely to express his feeling through a scowl rather than a song. My very own baghban… gardener.. with whom I have nurtured some beautiful blossoms together.
The seeds of BR Chopra’s Baghban were sown at the end of a BR retrospective that wrapped up on August 16, 2002 with the announcement of this film that was launched the following day at Film City. Choprasaab gave the mahurat clap, Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini descended down a staircase, arm-in-arm, to be greeted by their children and grandchildren. The happy family picture however was just an illusion because 60-year-old Raj Malhotra soon realises that his wife Pooja and he have no place in the homes and hearts of the four sons whose future he has invested the last of his savings to secure. It was a heartrendering story that Choprasaab had heard while on a holiday in Europe.The hotel he’d checked into in Copenhagen was next door to an old people’s home and every time he would step out into the balcony, his eyes would be drawn to the old couples sitting on the benches outside. One day, he joined one of them on a bench and gently enquired if they were happy in their sunset years. The beautiful old lady sighed, "This place is not lacking in luxuries, but we could have done with a little love. It would have been nice had we been with our children ad grandchildren instead of others who are as alone as us."
The words stayed with Choprasaab for almost a decade. Then, one day, in 1973, during a vacation in Lonavala, at around 2.30 pm, he picked up his pen. He put it down only 14 hours later, close to dawn. Baghban written in one go…
Back in Mumbai, son, Ravi was shooting Zameer with Amitabh Bachchan and Saira Banu. One afternoon, Sairaji complained that she wasn’t feeling well and suggested they can the last shot at her Pali Hill bungalow. Choprasaab when informed about the shift in location, dropped by to have a cup of tea with his old friend, Dilip Kumar.
In the course of their conversation, he started narrating the story he’d just penned. Once he had completed the narration he looked cautiously at Dilip Kumar who smiled, “You should go sign Raakhee right away, she’d be perfect to play my wife.” Soon after however, Sairaji fell seriously ill and Dilipsaab, who accompanied her to London for treatment, was too preoccupied with his begum to think about Baghban. Almost two decades passed by, the script remained in the right hand side of Chopra-saab's office drawer.
Then one night, around 10 pm, when Ravi returned home from an editing session of their tele epic Mahabharat, he saw the light on in his father’s office. Curious, he stepped in and found his father narrating a story to a writer-friend. He pulled up a chair and by the time the narration ended, he was crying. Baghban was Ravi Chopra’s comeback film after Majdoor. There was no doubt in Ravi’s mind that Raj Malhotra was Amitabh Bachchan with whom he reunited 29 years after The Burning Train.
But for the role of his wife Pooja, he toyed with several names, including that of younger actors like Tabu and Manisha Koirala before eventually zeroing in on Dream Girl. Hemaji was busy with her dance recitals and had no plans of returning to movies. But she fell in love with Baghban instantly. “It’s a role suited to my age. I didn’t think as a mother and grandmother I get to sing and romance. But I have a close dance on Valentine’s Day, a Punjabi bhangra and a Holi song too. It’s been a long time since I got to dance in a film,” she beamed.
Tomorrow as the dholaks beat outside my door, signaling the beginning of the festival of colours, Baghban’s Holi khele Raghuveera… will play in my ears as I wait for my Raj to bring Holi home.