In 1929, Himanshu Rai (film pioneer) came to Mumbai with Devika Rani (actor-wife and Rabindranath Tagore’s great-grand niece) looking for a location to set up a studio. Niranjan Pal (screenwriter) was assisting them. Some broker told them that a Parsi man had built a bungalow in Malad for his wife who had passed away, so he was willing to sell it,” narrates Rajendra Ojha, the man who has been creating and publishing the Screen World directory for Bollywood for many decades now.
He adds, “The man who sold the location asked them for just one thing — not to touch the well in the premises, from which slum dwellers would fetch water. Obliging, Bombay Talkies flourished. Many years later, a manager noticed a girl who’d stand at the well every day to help people fetch water in return for food. That seven-year-old was Baby Mumtaz, who later came to be known as Madhubala. She was offered Basant (1942). When the producers asked to meet her father, she told them he had gone to beg for the day. Madhubala’s father was a beggar,” he says.
Courtesy Ojha’s guru, Pal’s son Colin, who was one of the three biggest public relations gurus in Bollywood at the time, stories like these made their way into the book, Shooting Stars.
“The book includes tales about Dev Anand, who would hang around local railway stations wearing broken slippers and smoking disposed cigarette butts and why flower-vendor Yusuf Khan was renamed Dilip Kumar. I took all his stories and made this book,” says Ojha, adding that Colin managed the likes of Kishore Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Keshto Mukherjee and even Amitabh Bachchan at some point in his career.
“Stars used to come to these managers to have their careers taken care of. But they were better writers than they were PROs.”
Ojha entered the film industry in 1970, as an office boy at Rajshri Productions. Soon, he made his way up as a production manager, after which, he spent 10 years writing censor scripts for the Board authorities: “I had to watch the final censored film and then write the script as per what I watched, including shots and dialogue; four copies were made for the Board. I must have written those for about 500 films. I was happy there, since it made me feel like I achieved my dream of being a writer-filmmaker.” Now, Ojha has no interest in pursuing that dream. He is happy curating the Hindi film industry in his own way. The Screen World directory currently has over 35,000 contacts in it, categorised into various segments.
Ojha proudly announces that he doesn’t speak English, yet has some of the best material on the Hindi film industry compiled safely in a set comprising nine books that sells for R 8,500. But his current aim is to mark the 100 years of Hindi cinema with one last book to complete the collection, revealing details of every film made since 1913. “The last book will be for 2011, 2012 and 2013. On May 3, 2013, the industry will have completed 100 years, and by then, my book set will be ready.”