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Safe in his company

He’d called me over to a Juhu bungalow where he was shooting a serial. There was a longish break between shots but Navin Nischol refused to take the promised stroll down memory lane till “pack-up”.

entertainment Updated: Mar 27, 2011 14:58 IST
Roshmila bhattacharya

He’d called me over to a Juhu bungalow where he was shooting a serial. There was a longish break between shots but Navin Nischol refused to take the promised stroll down memory lane till “pack-up”. “Breaks during an interview are irritating,” he reasoned.

It was a couple of hours before he drove me in his car to his favourite hangout in Bandra. There, over a platter of ‘kebabs’ that remained largely untouched, and several drinks that he downed, we went down the decades to a cigarette commercial that had sparked off starry dreams in this Kolkata collegian.

A photo-shoot got him a call from the United Producers Talent contest. He jetted down to Delhi, cleared the preliminary rounds and then air-dashed to Mumbai for the finals. There, he bumped into an old classmate of his father’s, filmmaker Mohan Segal, who told him to forget the contest and instead join the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Reluctantly, Navin enrolled for a two-year acting course that Segal paid for, and graduated first class.

Golden lining
“The other examiners were rooting for Asha Chandra but Raj Kapoor insisted that I deserved the gold medal. The results were delayed by two months but eventually, I scored over Asha,” he smiled. Navin returned to Mumbai and on October 11, 1969, Segal launched Sawan Bhadon with Navin. His leading lady was Rekha, a dark, overweight South Indian teenager whose first film, Anjana Safar, had run into censor problems and was never released.

Rekha insists that once she’d overheard Navin telling a unit member, “Kahan se pakkad laye hain Mohanji iss Madrasan ko? (From were did Mohanji pick up this Madrasi girl?).” He however denied saying such a thing. “But Rekha never believed me,” he admitted with a grin.

Before long however, the tomboy became Navin’s best buddy. When she went abroad for the first time, she came back with shorts, skirts and even a bikini for Navin’s daughter.

Rekha and romance
“At times, it was difficult romancing Rekha, particularly when filming the song, Kaan mein jhumka, chaal mein thumka, kamar pe chhoti latke, hil gaya dil ka purza purza , lage pachasi jhatke, oo tera rang hai nasheela, ang ang hai nasheela... because she was a buddy,” reminisced Navin.

Sawan Bhadon released in 1970, along with more hyped movies like Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker, Raaj Kumar’s Heer Ranjha, Dev Anand’s Prem Pujari, Manoj Kumar’s Purab Aur Paschim, Dilip Kumar’s Gopi, Rajesh Khanna’s Kati Patang, Anand and Sachaa Jhootha and Rajendra Kumar’s Geet. And it celebrated a silver jubilee run in 34 centres, including Minerva in Chennai, despite an anti-Hindi wave in Tamil Nadu at the time.

Navin had an attack of cramps following a ‘nervous’ diarrhoea on the Thursday that the film released in Delhi. “The pain in my stomach subsided as soon as I entered the theatre. I was picked up and carried to the stage. But the next day, at a party, I borrowed a production assistant’s bed and slept through the celebrations,” recalled the overnight star, who then almost went under with a string of flops.

Four square
“But I hit back with four jubilees in a row—Victoria No. 203, Dharma, Dhund and Woh Main Nahin,” he points out. His career see-sawed through highs and lows, even as his co-star’s peaked following a startling metamorphosis.

“Rekha was a lovely girl but during Aastha I was surprised at how mature and considerate she’d become,” Navin recalled. Rekha had recommended his name to Basu Bhattacharya for the role that was unremarkable except for one seduction scene that has him sucking on her toes, telling Basuda she felt “safe” with Navin. He wasn’t thrilled with the compliment. “May be Rekha felt safe because for me she’d always been a friend... A boyfriend,” he grinned.

Navin is gone, felled by a massive heart attack on his way to Pune. We never met after that one encounter but the memory of his almost comical disappointment when I repeatedly turned down his offer of a drink is still fresh in my mind.

I still smile when I recall him telling me with a straight face that soon after the release of Sawan Bhadon, during a shoot in Mahabaleshwar, he overheard a fan saying. “I’ve heard of the chaurasi (84) aasanas’ in the Kama Sutra ‘par yeh pachasi jhatke kya hai’? (what are these 85 thrusts)?”