A couple of days ago I was discussing Khamosh at a meeting when a younger colleague piped up, “You mean the Manisha Koirala film?” I wasn’t surprised she’d never heard of this murder mystery lost in the cobwebbed annals of Hindi cinema for 27 years, and urged her towards Juhu’s PVR cinema where the film is playing today as part of the Vidhu Vinod Chopra retrospective.
Would you believe that Vinod who has to his credit Bollywood’s biggest grosser, 3 Idiots, a film that took him back to his Rancho days of cutting classes, made Khamosh in just Rs 8 lakh. They were so short of funds that they’d to bribe the fire brigade with rum to draw water from a nearby river because a rain machine cost too much, then rub rum over the blue body of the ‘dead’ actor they’d fished out of the freezing waters to revive him.
“When shooting in a hotel in Pahalgam, we’d order two cups of tea once a day and six-eight of us would share. We couldn't afford anything else on the menu and weren’t allowed food from outside. When the owner, Narendra Singh, realised just how poor this film unit was, he gave us tea for free for the rest of our stay,” Vinod reminisces with a laugh.
The cash crunch continued through Parinda. The law was broken to take crowd shots on New Year’s Eve at the Gateway and shopkeepers at Dadar’s Kabutar Khana, a busy junction of five roads, downed shutters for the shoot believing Vinod was the PM’s younger brother. The smuggler’s den was taken to a water tank on the top of Antop Hill strewn with the crap of the nearby slum dwellers because BMC let Vinod rent it for Rs 500, and Nana Patekar once stormed out when told that there was no money for bottled water so he’d have to get his bottle from home.
“Poor guy, he even got real burns from the fire we sparked off using rubber solution and petrol and was in hospital for a while because there were no digital fires then. The screams you now hear on 5.1 digital now are actually Nana screaming,” says Vinod.
Two other Ms associated with his films are Munnabhai and music. The Munnabhai franchise was flagged off to give Raju Hirani, his Mission Kashmir editor, a break as a director even though Vinod hates producing movies. It marked the debut of Boman Irani in Hindi films. “Boman had to be pushed into doing the movie, but a clueless Sanjay Dutt put himself into our hands when told at the last minute that he was playing Munna. He’s a real Munnabhai and brought our Munna to life,” he smiles.
So did Rancho Aamir Khan even though at 40-plus he was light years away from his college days. “The first thing we did was record the song, ‘Bachpan to gaya, jawani bhi gayi…’ and it gave us an insight into what 3 Idiots was about,” says Vinod, for whom Parineeta breathes Bengal and sways to the Rabindra Sangeet strains of ‘Phoole phoole, dhole dhole…’ and 1942—A Love Story is RD Burman all the way.
For me too, even after 18 years… Every monsoon I splash in the puddles humming, ‘Rim jhim rum jhum…’ Every time I see Manisha Koirala I croon, ‘Ek ladki ko dekha to aisa laga….’ And every night as the cacophony of everyday life dies around me, I savour the silence with ‘Kuch na kaho…’
The music company had warned Vinod that if he opted for Panchamda they wouldn’t buy his score. “Dada was lonely, dejected, ready to die. And his first tune for ‘Kuch na kaho…’ was so bad, I had to tell him it was ‘bakwas’. He begged me to give him a week and returned with music that had us hugging each other with tears in our eyes,” recalls Vinod, adding that after that he set Javed Akhtar’s sublime poetry, ‘Ek ladki ko dekha…’ to tune tune in two minutes flat. “That’s magic for you!”
Ab kuch na kaho, kuch bhi na kaho, kya kehna hai
… What’s left to say, let time stop right here!