On April 18, Arshad Warsi turned 42. I’d like to imagine that he woke up to a chorus of young voices warbling, "Happy birthday daddy." If he were home, I’d like imagine that at some point he and his children, Zeke and Zene Zoe, played their favourite game that involves asking questions that have no answers and end in a fit of giggles as daddy goes tickle tickle.
It’s just the kind of silly game I’d expect Arshad to have invented because even after 14 years on the Bollywood circuit, he’s still a ‘regular’ guy who’d rather roost than rule.I met him for the first time in 1996 at ace lenser Jagdish Maali’s studio in Versova.
His first film, ABCL’s (it wasn’t AB Corp then) Tere Mere Sapne was coming up for release and we had planned a cover with the three debutants, Chandrachur Singh, Priya Gill and Arshad, along with their mentor producer Jaya Bachchan.
Priya was chatty, with smiles in plenty. Chandrachur was supremely in control with the aura of a superstar-to-be. Mrs Bachchan was regally intimidating with her long silences and terse answers. Arshad was endearing, with his happy feet and fumbling words. He’s been dancing long before he moved to acting, had choreographed the title track of the Anil Kapoor-Sridevi starrer, Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, three years before, and seemed far more comfortable crowding into the frame with his buddy gang as Jaggi’s camera went click-click, than doing a routine q-and-a with me.
Arshad was the last one to be pinned down. And as he squatted down besides me, we were joined by a pretty girl, with a mass of curls, who looked vaguely familiar. She had kept a hawk’s eye on proceedings, deliberating on Arshad’s clothes, checking to see that he had not wiped off his make-up and when he was stumped for words, nudging him along.
Like an angel Who’s she, I asked Jaggi later. Maria Goretti, Arshad’s long-time friend and dancing partner who was also a VJ on MTV. Ah, that explained why she looked familiar! She seemed almost like his guardian angel, I remember thinking.The following year, all three debutants were in contention for the Best Debutant Award.
I was rooting for Ankh mare... Arshad. So was Maria. But with a sparkling performance in Maachis, Chandrachur stole a march over him.It would be seven years before Arshad was in the running for another award. This one was for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Munnabhai’s Circuit in Munnabhai MBBS. And it would be another four before he won it for Lage Raho Munnabhai. On both occasions, Maria was with him, rooting for him, not as Miss Goretti but as Mrs Warsi. On one occasion, I remember her being hugely pregnant and beaming blissfully.
Over the years, we met infrequently. Sometimes for interviews, sometimes when I dropped by to invite Arshad to yet another award show. Once a voice beckoned me from behind the back door of his apartment to come right in. I did, to find him pottering around in his kitchen with Zeke buzzing around like a busy bee.It was a charming picture I carried back with me to the car. The smile vanished as I watched smoke spiralling out from under the bonnet of the car. The air conditioner had misfired and the car was out of action. Phew!
When he started work on his first home production, we connected again. The film didn’t have a name then. Arshad wanted to title it I Believe In Angels but friends and crew thought it was too anglicised. “May be it is,” he admitted, “but I truly believe in angels. There’s one around me all the time, looking after me, giving me a nudge and a shove when I get too chilled out.”
He didn’t have a name for his angel. I did, Maria. She’s been a part of Arshad’s life for close to two decades. But now she no longer joins him during interviews. In fact, the last time Arshad refused to even mention her name.
“Too much has been already written about Maria, me and our marriage.She doesn’t care for it. Hey, she doesn’t even watch my films now. She hasn’t seen Ishqiya and I don’t think she will. She hasn’t even seen Hum Tum Aur Ghost. I’ve now decided not to talk about her at all in print,” I was told.
Guess years of living your life in a glass house despite all their efforts to be normal, have taken a toll. Arshad may still be innately laid-back, unfailing modest and carelessly disheveled but he’s still a movie star. The only difference is that this star seeks his wife’s permission for a reel life kiss.
And then, when he sees the kiss on screen he panics, “Oh my God, this doesn’t stop! It goes on and on. and on What am I to do now? Someone please make it stop!”And it’s this too-real terror that makes me believe that despite all the rumours, Arshad’s angel will always be with him!