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Day 16: Reuniting after 12 years

The halcyon days of near perfection, fights, cackle of laughter, aspirations and leg pulling. Ah! Those silly pranks. The whining about how horrible we (were) are to each other to sit together the next morning and huddled for a common cause. Bitching about each other with each other. The college days where we nurtured rebellion, innocent crushes, falling in love and slugging out, ticklish in the name of thrill or pretending to ignore or not talking to each other.

Time heals or perhaps, we compromise with each other, accepting flaws or differences as a sign of maturity or growing old up. An entire lifetime seems to be wiped off and memories cherished in a box confined in some ruined corners, looking at the 12 years that flitted. The defining years that made us real and not flinching in expressing emotions, anger, sadness or happiness. For sure, it is a long time. Neraj, his wife, and two kids came down for holiday from Nepal. A reunion where we made new memories for spending two days together, reminiscing about the lost years, laughing and making silly pranks that give the feeling that nothing has changed after all those years. The entire gang who were together in Pune met at the house of Manish, his wife and little daughter. The college get together with many of us who kicked off with dinner and staying over night with Manish’s brother Gaurav and cousin joining the fun.

There was a time in Pune when all of us were students who used to stay together and often crashing-Neraj and I-at Manish’s place. I used to be flatmates with Manish and Kusum for a year and left for a new house but kept spending my time with them. The friendship stayed intact. Human interaction can be quirky and amusing at the same time when I met another guy, a former flatmate with whom I wasn’t in talking terms for two years of my life. Initially, I was apprehensive but glad that the ice was broken as we spoke about respective careers and experience in Pune.

I was in for a shock when he told me that one of our first flatmates during our first year committed suicide in 2007. It made me feel uneasy for a moment when you didn’t realize that fact, assuming people must be getting on their own lives. I mean, we were not friends and didn’t spoke much or saw each other. But, it does take away something from us.

We boozed till the wee hours in the morning. A silly prank was played on me by Neraj like it used to be during the carefree days. Manish called me in the kitchen to choose the whisky bottle to be opened and zeroed on the Chivas Regal. I got the honor to open the bottle and was serving everyone to realize that my iPhone 8 went missing. I almost lost the head, trying to recollect where it was kept but remembered crisply well it was just with me a second away. Neraj was the mastermind who asked Manish’s wife to hide the phone. The only difference was that I wasn’t angry unlike in those days where an outburst would have been my legitimate reaction.

A cigar followed. Neraj was forced to have a second peg that he resisted initially since the wife and children were waiting for him in the room. He turned out to be quite the family man who gave up on the fag and alcohol makes him once in a blue moon type. The best thing is that he is still the same fun-loving man and never shy in making the silly jokes or laughing the loudest, making some bizarre sound with his mouth. The morning, breakfast time and tea session just felt like in Pune as Manish’s wife aptly read my feeling. It reminded me of the wintery morning in the kitchen when tea brew and the near perfect moments when we would be laughing, running and pulling silly pranks on each other in Pune. The only person missing in the picture is Adi.

We recreated memories, accompanying Neraj, his wife R and two kids, Jagrit and his cute little munchkin just 10 months old who simply touched the heart. Lunch followed and I bonded with the son who has turned into such a fine young man. I love his inquisitive nature of exploring things and the thirst for knowledge. We bonded. Of course, his baby daughter is so adorable and the moment you take her in your arms, she will rest her tender head on your shoulder. It’s amazing how a toddler can trust you with her life. It feels divine for a bachelor like me and bizarre at the same time since I am one of the rare ones, unmarried minus children.

The pictures clicked together and there are lots of them on the smartphones. There was a time we all owned a modest camera and some used to have a digicam to shoot all of us in action. Today, at a click, the phone conjures all the tricks. The two days spent and renewing the bonding with friends made me realize that we hardly met and time to catch up more often. Quality time doesn’t mean seeing each other every alternate moment but those two days strengthened the belief what friendship is all about and we can still make memories remaining entrenched in our lives forever.

The way I saw Neraj in college and never in my most crazy imagination would imagine meeting him years later as an affectionate husband, doting husband to his two children and a changed man for good and better. I told him so on the phone and was amazed to see how we can change in more than one ways for life is never constant.

We met in another country and quite an emotional goodbye to each other, hugging and of course, the baby also embraced her elder but new friends. Isn’t it interesting how as babies we may never know the people whom we met or places we saw? Yet, there is an emotional connect. I almost pushed Neraj inside the car before getting emotional. The time I went back home on the day it was raining and realized that we weathered the cyclone and stormy weather to happily hang out together. The positive mood triggered some past emotions in my heart and veering to the day which defined our lives, thinking how some people are bound to meet or overcome conflicts. We had quite a few disagreements but he reached out to me a couple of years back. We decided to close the chapter and moved on to being good friends.

Guess what, he got me some Nepali chai, tokla and a shawl for Mom which is very thoughtful since he never met Mom. I made Mom chide him for not coming home and he promised of making amends the next time. I am dying to visit Nepal and would be a wonderful opportunity to explore not just the place but also the spiritual side of life. Another time, another place…chartering new memories as I have already to miss the days that makes a perfect framed moment.





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Pune Memoirs (III): A twist of friendship

Pune Memoirs :

Third Year


Some relationships are just meant to be like lemon twist and the splash bubble that grow sweet and sour with maturity.  Today, Ajitabh Bhaiya called me from Jamshedpur after reading a status on how I loathed Jacqueline Fernandez act in the new version of Madhuri Dixit’s Ek do teen, something he showed to his sister who is a seasoned journalist in Bihar who related to what I expressed. A lovely conversation I happened to have with Anni Didi and spoke to aunty in Jamshedpur. Anni Didi is a Chief reporter for Hindi news channel in Jamshedpur and we connected on one common link, national issues in the country, journalism and the common brother, Ajitabh. At the stroke of a phone call, I can feel the bond with the entire family of Ajitabh Bhaiya in Bihar, the place we hail from and a strong realization just struck on the roots percolating in the heart and soul through the pure relationship nurtured in Pune.

I remember meeting Ajitabh Bhaiya for the first time at Savera one Sunday morning while sitting for breakfast with one of his friend and college senior S, an affable and cheerful girl with whom I became friends. A group of our seniors, both boys and girls would always randomly sit on the last table cheering and singing with a birthday cake that was their way to celebrate friendship. S was part of the enthusiastic group and some girls passed me a piece of cake, telling that it was no one’s birthday. A simple way to celebrate randomness, friendship, changing weather and the state of being. So much for being alive and makes me wonder why we celebrate less about everything worth living. That’s how I became friends with S and we sat at Savera a couple of times having chai, coffee and gupshut or taking walks.

She introduced me to Ajitabh Bhaiya who was dressed formally and we exchanged Hi, a few pleasantries. He was doing his Masters at SP College and once I met them on the way at FC Road which is always teeming with activities after coming straight from the small Ayurvedic clinic after buying sleeping pills since there was anxiety pang afflicting the soul and body. The man who became a good friend over the days, months and years told me that being sleep deprived happens when we think too much. The words worked like a magic pill that night when I slept peacefully like a kid. The hazy days when he took me as a subject to SP college as part of some Psychology department experiment and we had tea in the stall outside his PG institute is a fond remembrance of those moments of elated joy. Or another instance, when I was sitting with another senior Bhakti and he came along, both asking each other how do you know him, alluding to me. They answered in chorus, ‘He is my friend’ and laughed. I felt like a balloon being tossed in the air.

One thing led to the other and friendship was carved between smoke blown in the air, soulful and deeply intense philosophy conversation, chai aur coffee and boozing next door at Namaskar. There wasn’t a minute when we didn’t laugh at every mundane moment and making me mouth the favourite Amitabh Bachchan dialogue since I was Bachchan for friends. One morning, I walked inside Savera for a place to sit that was over packed and casually said, ‘Jaga Nahin hai baithne ke Liye bhenchod.’” Ajitabh Bhaiya would always say how I am very pyare (sweet) mouthing the Hindi cuss words that must have happened by chilling with the gang. We almost ended up acting in a short film that our friend Kaku was planning and Chanda would always say that Bachchan (me) asks too much questions. Doctor Sahab just said that it is our karma to ask questions since we are actors. But, the film never got to be made with us but was ultimately was canned, the time I left Pune.

Whatever conversations we always had was laden with Ajitabh Bhaiya’s own inimitable style that made me laugh about it and seems so vivid as if the ear just heard them. Once Chanda was driving in his car to college and saw an accident happening at Deep Bangla Chowk which he found funny in the way the vehicles banged. Ajitabh Bhaiya just came and popped something that irked him. “Haan Chandi, kahani sunao (continue the story),” Ajitabh quipped in a funny tone. Chanda was like, ‘It’s no story fucker but reality.”

He would always blame me for not being able to make a new girl friend since I keep calling him ‘Bhaiya’ (brother) in college and the girls who sit with us have started calling him that. I was the one to be blamed. We all laughed in jest. It was Bachchan’s fault, after all. That’s me. Our boozing parties were made of legendary stuff and he is one truly honest dude who would tell me the reality on my face on what I am lacking or getting a bit over-the-top after a couple of drinks.

In my heightened booze state, I would always say, ‘Ajitabh tu aata hai jaata hai, mamla kya hai ( You just come, meet us and go). Probably, because he was always in a hurry during the day, coming for a smoke, his personal brand was either four square or small Wills stick and to disappear suddenly in the distance like a UFO.  It’s another story that he was the much sought after person everywhere, in our surrounding, the external environment, cosmic and beyond for the deep conversation that sucks us into his world. The way he would play with his hand and glint in the eyes doing the theatrics and acting moved us into a world of dreams where nothing was impossible in life. The bunch of us vowed to make it big in music and films where he would casually remark that we don’t need to go to Mumbai to make it big creatively but the city of dreams would one day come to us.

The last time we met was in the same old Pune at Namaskar and recalled at that time, there were some tensions brewing among close friends. I was also going through a terrible heart break in Mumbai that compelled me to withdraw into a sullen mood but somehow, our vibes were lost in translation. The conversation was very less except for a snippet of conversation that Ajitabh Bhaiya made with a genuine smile on his face to dilute the tension. But, I suddenly grew distant and cold. Call it my immaturity but certain friendships have to take a leap back, wear thin on the sleeve to regain its strength. Like all deeply connected ties, we weathered the storms and connected again last year after a decade plus.

But, many years back, I sensed that we were destined for reaching out to each other.  I happened to be in Pune towards the end of 2011 and was having a joint with A and S when they told that Ajitabh Bhaiya happened to face a major accident in Pune where he fell down and his parents came to take him back. He was in a serious condition but he is fine. It came as a jolt. On that day, I passed out on the ground but don’t know whether it was the effect of ganja or focussing my mind too much on his accident, like my dear friend A said.



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Pune Memoirs (III): Smoking up and midnight drama

Pune Memoirs: 2005/06

Third Year

Fergusson College Road:

It was a Saturday afternoon. I straddled my way to the college hang out at Savera for the cuppa tea ritual but this outing was beyond ordinary that would change my life forever in the company of friends. The road was always pocked with people in the evening and the gaze fixed at the cool crowd teeming their way for tea, coffee, and snacks.  Of course, our eyes were fixed to the college building watching people hopping past the gate for evenings walk, the sound or sight of vehicles screeching and honking or the favorite pastime of watching chicks thronging their way with friends or gallant company.

The first time I explored ganja in full public glare that happened in the nick of time. I sashayed my way outside the restaurant entrance that felt like an inlet, surrounded by the line up of bamboo,  flower pots and to huddle on the pavement. Someone in our group asked if I am game to smoke up and vaguely remember sometimes back I obstinately refused a friend A asking the same past noon at the same place. The crime was committed in less than 10 minutes, exchange filter that passed different hands and we bask into the glory of the puff and scent of the leaves. Ganja has a golden rule that newly initiated like me discovered:  Once you take a puff or two, it must be passed in the circle pretty much like the childhood games to everyone in regular interval till the roll is done and dissected with.

I was ballooning in the air and the throat felt suddenly dry as we lingered on the pavement watching in wonderment at our college that stood tall like a rock solid human made of steel that nobody could touch or harm. I stood in deference right in front of the alma mater’s gate.

Alcohol and the first brush of ganja do things to me, getting swayed by emotions high on adrenaline and feeling the wind blowing in ruffling burst. I felt like leaping and being carried by an unknown force to fly in the air. The feeling of unusual happiness has always made me feel good and smoking up parachuted in me in a universe where no dreams are too big a path to tread.

We took leave of each other since the boys had to go home after the traditional hug bonding us forever during the last year in college. I didn’t give a tinker’s curse about the world and took herky-jerky steps straight to the room. A bottle of water was kept by the side of the mattress lying on the floor and hunger pang was felt.

For one moment, I almost forget about the dinner with Adi, M, K and a bunch of new people. It was almost six when Adi sms-ed with the typical, ‘When are you coming?’ It felt like quite an effort to type with a simple, ‘sum time…will get ready.’ I got up and swiped left and right on the feet, trying to strike a balance to stand straight. After all, the smoking up and a couple of drag didn’t seem to wane away. Half a bottle of Bisleri was gulped to dilute the effect. I was feeling good being high but had to cross the busy road to reach the apartment of my friends at the other end. I went back slouching on the mattress and trying to close the eyes. After some time, I not only felt better but saw a couple of missed calls from the chums. It was time to go. I washed the face and scampered my way down the stairs. I stopped at the pan wallah to buy a couple of cigarettes and crossed the road to again trudge on the stairs to reach my friends’ apartment. M’s younger brother G greeted me and as soon as I entered made a u-turn into flaneur mode back on the jam-packed road since the folks wanted to buy stuff to cook. We stopped at the small Kirana shop, halted for a smoke and got some paan since the dude wanted to have a taste in the evening. Of course, the bhaiya in me would never miss an occasion to munch on the banarasi.

We got back to the apartment and Adi who was on his way out asked whether I have an extra fag on me. I flipped open the box.  Trying not to speak and silently praying that he would buzz off since I didn’t want to be caught and subjected to his irritating sermons like the holy priest. But, some people have the dog’s luck and sniff! He was watching my mouth and casually asking, “What are you having?” ‘Paan’, came my answer. Dude sniggered and called me ‘weird’ before disappearing. He came back in a short while and pulled a fast one on me, making a joke on who eats paan before dinner. Well! I do.

Post dinner, we were roaming in the night a bit high on alcohol and smoking up stuff in his Dad’s brand new Maruti Swift that I loved to death. Now, you know why yours truly is hooked to the Swift that goes a long time back to connect the dots of friendship. Now, I don’t know what got into him or us as we drove from the Peth area at leisurely pace till Aundh. What happened afterward made me reel into embarrassment which was the entire doing of our dear friend.  I shouldered the blame and kicked myself in the ass for popping the question of exams where the conversation was routine in the middle of the night at Aundh village, smoking and having alcohol which we got from the wine shop.  Exams were round the corner. We whined on how we didn’t study and there was barely enough time to wrap up the whole thing as the finale was fast approaching.

Lord Voldemort was our staple diet in those days. He had to spoil everything. “Did G gave back your notes?”, he doggedly asked. I tried to avert the question with a chilled out, she will give it back. But, no, Mister decided to have his way and funnily enough to be concerned for Xerox notes in a subject that he wasn’t doing in the first place, Economics general. There was no way that I could avoid his pressing and he dialed her number from my mobile. The phone was ringing and finally, she picked up. Now, this guy was pinching and tickling me in the car. I had no option after saying Hi to ask in a hesitating tone about the notes but think she said something about giving it back to me on Monday in college. But, no, asshole had to speak and make his voice louder at the back of the conversation clearing saying something like, ‘ask her…you need it now.’

Pure hell. It felt like the end of the world for me.  This Abhay Deol feeling of the funniest situation in Socha Na Tha just happened to me and couldn’t believe that a chosen victim was born in my soul.  G was pissed and legitimately so.  She just fired while Adi pulled the trigger. “Please tell Adi if he has some problem, speak directly or tell it to my face.” I was crestfallen and felt like being caught in a war zone.  Fucker had the nerves to steer the engine and stationed right in front of G’s gate and casually ordering me to press the bell to take the notes. Can you imagine my plight? I tiptoed on my foot and walked the slowest praying the building gets into blackout mode. It would have been the saving grace. Nothing of that sort happened.

I landed in front of the door when Adi suddenly buzzed and telling, “Press the bell fucker.” What timing! I did it out of fear and G opened the door to hand me the notes. I apologized more than 10 times and made a silly face. She gave a wry smile in return, ‘that’s alright.’ But, I could make out that she was majorly pissed off. This story of losing face goes back to one year back when I had a huge crush on her and proposed on sms with 1, 4, 3-it was Adi’s idea by the way-but we remained good friends after that. But, suspense had to be triggered towards the end of it by one of my closest buddies to create unnecessary drama. Deep inside, I knew that gotta mend things out but, somehow, we were drifting apart which was not Adi’s doing but mine.

Love bell was tinkling inside the heart. A new crush and an old flame were surfacing in my life. I love Saturdays when one evening, path was crossed with K outside CCD on FC Road and she was wearing a saree. I instinctively complimented her saying that she looked like Rekha. The smile was divine and the drums started to dance inside the heart. Well! Adi believes that such compliments during evenings can be lusty.



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Pune Memoirs (III): Lights, Camera, Action!

Pune Memoirs

Third year

FTII, Law College Road, 2006:

Splatter of mist and icy cold morning felt like a chimera conspiring with forces to unwrap a perfect adventure this January as the wind fluttered in ruffling burst dripping the long, unkempt hair off the straight head into a mound. Cold seeped through the pained legs thrust on its own and plodding heavily at a stretch from FC Road to finally land right in front of India’s premier film institute, FTII. I strode past the gate with a triumphant air like an image flash pan on the face. I was broke. I didn’t stand a chance to hail a rickshaw but passion drove me on the feet for three consecutive days. The perks of turning into an Assistant Director for a diploma film shoot overrode all money consideration. I swayed to the tune of breaking bones, broke, tired but passionate.

A couple of days back, a magic sms landed in my inbox and Gyanesh, now a sound engineer in the film industry, asked me to come to the institute to discuss a diploma project. Films was my life and aspirations. I walked inside to meet Gyanesh and was introduced to Shailesh Sir, the short film’s director. The dreams almost went for a toss when asked if I hail from communications background. Clearly, I wasn’t but made the cut for being friends with Gyanesh, with whom I worked on a diploma project a year earlier.

I was elated to be part of the crew. Early morning, we hopped on the bus straight to the hospital in Warje. Life has strange way to throw you in the high tide sea to swim and turning into an early bird that felt like a miraculous lullaby. I remember tottering with the huge film equipments from the van towards the spacious hospital’s floor upstairs.  Convinced that I have to make it as an Assistant Director whose job is to ensure crew and equipments are in place, I wouldn’t give a tinker’s curse. Shailesh Sir handed the continuity sheet in my hand and briefed me on ticks and notes to be penned once a shot is canned for the next schedule, actors’ lines and the follow up. I was living a dream and couldn’t believe everything craved for was becoming true. Three days of awesomeness, waking up to the lark , to push myself to the edge and almost spending an exhaustive journey till the wee hours at the hospital surrounded by actors and medical students scampering their way for the shoot to look the part.

Inside the sprawling FTII campus. Image credit: Google India/Indian Express.

There was tiredness in my soles and knees but the inner determination made me sail through when I realized that if one has passion in the belly, the sky is the limit to make work fun. Days when we wrapped the shoot past midnight and crashing at FTII made the last year in college bliss. We couldn’t afford being bored or amused on Day One for I remember some kids storming towards me asking, “Hero kaun hai (who is the hero?) I smiled and said, it’s a short diploma project but they were adamant and convinced that some big star will come. To get rid of them, I vaguely remembering telling them SRK and Aishwarya Rai will soon join before sneaking away.

Of course, some very cute girls and medical students wearing the white coat traipsed their way to look the authentic part. I remember some FTII crew asking their friends about my identity since I was never seen at the institute and hearing Assistant for AD made me almost leap with joy and marveled in silence. During the break, I remember overhearing someone-he must have been below 17 and with the look of a kid telling in hushed tone how I don’t have it in me to become an actor. It was amusing and irked me at the same time. But, now as I hark back, I smile at the incident for he was right and yours truly never made it due to the dearth of initiatives. I remember A who is a Marathi film actor once urged me during our chai conversation in Savera to try for more diploma projects to create a platform for myself.

Day one was also the time I met and made a good friend in Anuya Bhagwat who was a student of acting at FTII and who essayed the role of a doctor in the short film. I remember the first thing she asked me was whether I had tea or something to eat. It’s another thing that we spoke only a few words at the shoot but became friends at Savera for I didn’t realize we had common friends outside the world of films. Today, I look with pride when I see her going great guns as a leading lady in Tamil cinema and she also appeared in the Big Boss regional version.One thing which I enjoyed doing as an AD was to stroll among the crew and offering tea to everyone, traipsing at length of the hospital’s sprawling surface.

Image credit: Google India. A view of FTII hostel.

The best thing about the three days was dabbling into so many things, doing the running around, following instructions by standing behind my director, smoke break, sitting in a corner on the stairs to relieve the feet and turning into the boom operator panning the equipment to hover precisely above the actor’s head. It was a hospital sequence. The actor was Anurag Singh whom you may have seen acting opposite Anil Kapoor as the main lead in Subhash Ghai’s Black and White. During the short film and diploma project, Anurag played a terminally ill patient. Over the few days, we became good friends bonding over one love, cinema. The scene vividly struck the mind. Anurag was lying on the bed and opposite to him was a child playing a blind girl. I placed some yummy apples on the bed as part of the scene. The dialogue read in Hindi, ‘Walk slowly, make three to four steps, stop and sit,” Anurag mouthed in a gentle and emphatic manner to the child. There is a genuineness in the dude and one could see it in the subtle scene which reflects on the soul doing it for acting is a medium that brings you closer to divinity and humanity. I remember Anurag offering me an apple to munch and we were in the middle of the shoot. The arm was paining and was chided by my director for the lack of concentration that pushed me to make an excruciating effort to raise and hunch the boom above Anurag’s head with flash and sound panning towards his mouth.

I realized how the innocence in kids equips them with the flair to deliver a natural performance and unfazed by camera or flashes. The child obeyed the director’s instruction and responded to Anurag’s dialogue interaction but was never intimidated. It’s sheer beauty and divinity. The first time I came close to the nitty-gritty, the film process of the director wielding the megaphone to shout, ‘Lights! Camera! Action!’ and to get the scene right with, ‘Repetition’ to assuage voices and whispers with, ‘Silence.’ Yes, the timid guy in me got to shout at people outside the room who disturbed the scene. It was the last day of shoot or one day before.

Probably, on the last day of the shoot, I was able to observe more closely a doyen of acting and a genius who contributed immensely to Marathi television and films, the late Smita Talwalkar. Ma’am played the mother of Anurag. I remember the scene and the day right now. A Monday. It was the last scene where actors donning the white dress as doctors and rushing in the middle of herky-jerky camera movements. Smita-ji effortlessly played the role of a mother who lost her son, succumbing to cancer in the last shot. It was pure education watching her perform, the subtlety and intensity in her eyes expressing grief and tears dropping. I had a very brief chat with the lady and remember on the first day of shoot, she returned my greeting with a genuine and affable smile. I was too afraid to strike a conversation with the TV csar, perhaps because of the star aura and the respect she commanded as an artist.

There was one guy I remember at the shoot with whom I became friends with and we would wade out, walk at length to smoke since it wasn’t allowed inside the hospital premise.  We spoke about cinema and the future of acting, genre and how a door was blown open for us at FTII.  The bus trip back to the institute after the scenes were canned turned out to be long, caught in the traffic swirl but made smooth with singing and jokes inside the bus, which flitted past a wedding and me in enthusiastic mood told Shailesh Sir that we could have gone there for food. In jolly mood, he said that they will ask who are you. I was like, ‘A star matlab banne wala hai cineme ka bohot bade star (I will become a  huge superstar). The silly banter ended with him telling me we won’t be let in and the marriage folks will tell, “Pehle star bana tab aana (First you become a star and then you come.”

It took us to the last day of the shoot on Monday past the graveyard shift and we packed up beyond 2 a.m. Tired like hell.  I could never imagine to sustain throughout the full stretch but did. It showed that passion can take us through the thick and thin, beating all thoughts of boredom.  During one of those shoots past might, there was one senior person called Mama and with whom we would hang around after shoot time in the bus and at FTII. Mama was talkative, high and a jolly good fellow who could sense the potential in me. We are speaking in a circle with smoke in hand and he told everyone that I have it in me to become an actor and a director. He was truthful and saw the passion through my eyes. But, you know the story, right. Kuch nahin hua! The best was another guy who was already sloshed, a student at the institute and constantly cussing in Hindi to bitch at everyone person who wasn’t there.  Someone remarked that something is wrong with this dude, spouting venoms, finding fault with everyone and seems there is no good human on earth. I remarked in a jolly spirit, “Usko mandir leke jao, acha insaan milega (He should visit a temple to meet a good soul).

The starry night ended in style like the climax of a heart-pounding film. A tall shadow sashayed in front of us and the towering persona blessed with a baritone voice tightly shook the hands. I almost fainted and couldn’t believe it was true. The late Tom Alter who was one of FTII’s patron inquired about our film shoot in the blink-of-an-eye appearance and speaking in pure, shuddh Hindi before disappearing not before telling he will go back to Mumbai tomorrow but will be around. The night and shoot ended in style. I crashed at FTII in Gyanesh’s room on the night and surrounded by huge trees sprawling over the windows blown wide open.

The shoot remains one of my most prized memory in Pune which I fondly remember. Mama-ji and Shailesh Sir wanted to shoot a video of mine, mouthing the dialogues of Amitabh Bachchan but never happened. Neither did the party post the film shoot. I became busy with college and stuff. Once, I remember meeting Anurag on his bike at Deccan and he called me out, asking to visit the institute sometimes. I could have built up on that but shall not mull over things that never happened. Regret is the antidote to hope and passion. Cinema lives forever in my veins. Never say never for I shall never hang out my boots. I am forever acting in my mind. Grateful to the world and friends in Pune is one thing that shall stay forever.

With love



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Tribute: Tom Alter, the lasting impression

Alumni and former Head of Acting Department at the prestigious Film Television Institute of India (FTII), veteran actor Tom Alter breathed his last on September 29 at 67. Eternally grateful to life that I was able to interact with the supremely talented artist one late night at FTII, the days I was assisting some friends who were aspiring filmmakers, actors, editors and sound engineers.  The year was 2006 when I was doing my finals at Fergusson College.

Alter was a huge fan of the first superstar in Hindi cinema, Kaka aka Rajesh Khanna and it was the time when the acting bug hit him like millions across India. Born to American missionaries in Mussoorie, the versatile actor joined the FTII where he had among his peers, stalwarts like Naseeruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani, who went on to found the theatre group, Motley.

Image credit Google/ Tom Alter







The most I remember about this impeccable artist was during my childhood and teens ushering into adulthood days, they are his various portrayals of the ruthless Angrez, be it in Kranti, Parinda, and Aashiqui, just to name a few. Don’t blame me when it came as a shock and surprise during one breezy and wintery Pune night to witness him speaking in Shuddh Hindi after our three days shoot was canned.

I was naturally bowled and amazed to see a ‘Gora’ speaking pure Hindi with ease and not diluted by Puneri or Mumbaiya slang. Unfortunately, some of the cliché roles that he played in some Hindi pot boilers made me ‘wrongly’ believe that he was a white man while the reality is that he breathed Indian in blood and soul since he was born and brought up in the country.

I remember him as someone who was very down-to-earth, showing no starry airs or the slightest arrogance. There was a certain simplicity about him and stood in awe at the man who was not only very much grounded but a towering persona that commands huge respect.

Struck as I was, Tom Alter Sir was passionate about cinema and of course, offering his inputs to the aspiring film-makers that we were and having an uncanny eye for detail by inquiring about the shoot. It was his firm belief that in the years to come, FTII will play a bigger role to shape the destiny of Indian cinema through the talents nurtured.

It was a brief conversation and recalled him saying in Hindi that he should go to Mumbai tomorrow (Saturday) but will be around. He shook hands with everyone and walked fast like a royalty cum Kingly warrior. His spoken Hindi was like flawless music to the ear and an artist painting an aesthetic gem on the wall. I could never forget seeing him walking away from us with poise, grace, and style.

I wonder how someone in a very short span of time can make such a lasting impression on the mind and when heard that he was in a coma, suffering from cancer, it brought a tinge of sadness harking back to those days.

There are so many of his films that I missed watching and intend to go back to Shatranj ke Khiladi, Shyam Benegal’s Samvidhaan, Junoon, Sardar, Gandhi, Charas and of course visiting Zabaan Sambhal ke.

Tom Saab, as he was known by people close to him in the industry, was the one who conducted the first television interview of cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, himself being a cricket buff bleeding blue. Many say that this all-rounder always wanted to portray on-screen Jim Corbett and of course, the hosting the Chunavi Chai show for the 2014 Lok Sabha that went on to become a huge hit. According to insiders, the man who served as director at FTII was a recluse and a private person that showed during my brief interaction with him, along with my friends who knew him well. Whether it’s playing Lucky in the play Waiting for Godot or his last appearance playing good friend Ruskin Bonde onscreen in The Black Cat, Tom Alter remains an institution of acting and legend that will serve as fodder for future generation of actors.

Shuddh Hindi and Urdu as his languages, Padma Shri Tom Alter was someone who I remember in this blink-and-eye meeting. There are people like this and perhaps unfulfilled wishes will find fruition in the sky and clouds. Rest in peace Sir for I am eternally grateful for having met such an admirable personality like you.



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My Ganesh Chaturthi moments in Maharashtra

Ganesh Chaturthichya Hardik Shubhechha. The extravaganza and simplicity simply add to the glory of the elephant God, Ganesha that unfurl in every nook-and-corner of Maharashtra but also across the entire of India and far-flung corners of the world that Indians made their home. There can be no soul that is unmoved by the sparkle, might, and sweetness of Bappa where his blessing is sought to gain knowledge, wisdom, and wealth.

As I hark back to the past, Ganesh Chaturthi or Chavithi Chaturthi brings vividly fond and personal memories of witnessing devotees throng to celebrate his presence for 10 days and the beating of drums, dancing wildly and the pandals adorned with clay and earth idols that make the celebration a grand spectacular affair

The eclectic grandeur of the celebration was first witnessed when I first shifted to Mumbai in 2006 and found a triple room in the hostel at Churchgate to stay. It was the immersion day and along with roomie, Lalit from Kohlapure and another friend, we wrestled our way in the midst of the swarming crowd, buses, cars, and trucks carrying Ganesha idols in various forms and shapes. Of course, colors sprinkled on devotees scything their way to Girgaon Chowpatty.

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All roads converging to Chowpatty are normally closed on the Visarjan day and the only way for devotees, admirers, and curious visitors is to take the local train to stop at Marine Lines. The vehicles must stop somewhere at Marine Drive and walk a distance of three minutes to reach the sea. The ambience drags one into the world of Bappa where the crowd scrums their way to get a darshan of Bappa rising tall in various forms, from small, big and mammoth idols carved with the love of devotees singing, Ganpati Bappa Morya’, swirling from one side to the other on the beach, pushed back and forth to make way into the sea water.

The universe of Bappa brings a vibrant sense of community that blends beautifully in the Maharashtrian way of life, be it the conversation in Marathi by organizers and devotees involved in arrangements that make this melting pot called Mumbai endearing. It’s about oneness where the Lord reminds us that there is no outsider in the city where celebration touches souls and spirits.

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The drum beating to an octane level, folks swarming and gyrating wild to music on the busy road and pandals sprouting on every path makes the city endearing. It a uniquely aesthetic treat and enthralling experience where the drum beats still reverberates in the mind as if it was yesterday only, ear-splitting Marathi folk and crazy foot tapping songs bringing so much joy and wild abandon.

I was spending my last few days in India before moving out in 2008 and it was a Sunday evening that the coach from Pune took a grueling five hours to reach Mumbai. I got off much before Dadar and plodded my tiring feet to experience the festival that the mind captured forever. It’s such a beautiful sight to walk through the night and be surrounded by colorful pandals sprouting on both sides of the road where devotional music is played and posters of Bappa greeting everyone makes the road taken a sheer delight.

Of course, Pune happened much before Mumbai where the celebration was in full swing in the various colonies where I stayed from Gokhale Nagar and Fergusson College Road and the slums nestled not very far away. It doesn’t come as a surprise where music was played full blast till the wee morning. The chapri dance and children gyrating in sheer wilderness, fire crackers may disturb the sleep but it brings so much fun and joy in a seamless manner. Of course, walking past the crowd and pandals decked in colors, from red to yellow makes Ganesh Chaturthi a memorable fest in true Puneri style.

The best thing is the double whammy celebration since Pune Festival celebrates tradition, music and folk dance takes place at the same time. The Peth areas become magnificent and of course, Vinayaka Chaturthi cannot be celebrated with the traditional Lavani dance. If you are in Pune, make it a point to seek the blessing of Bappa at popular places like Jogeshwari Gbapati, Kasba Ganpati, Tulsi Baug Ganpati and of course, Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Temple, Pune which is famous for its opulence where the idol is carved in gold. The place is visited every year by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

The eclectic beauty and magnificence make the pompous celebration in Maharashtra and many parts of Pune an enthralling grand affair that hails Bappa who brings so much glitter and sheen in our lives. You cannot afford to miss the celebration in Mumbai at Gurgaon Chowpatty, Lalbaug cha Raja or Kasba Ganpati in Pune. So much for the vibrant life and pandal hopping that makes Chaturthi a blissful celebration.

Ganpati Bappa Morya

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi




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Pune Memoirs (III): Protesting against reservation, ideology and friendship

Pune Memoirs, 2005/06:

Third year in Pune

May 28, 2006:

The TYBA (Third Year) exams were finally over. Everyone waited in anticipation for the results that were delayed forever. I was constantly making this stupid joke of pulling a Rang De Basanti (RDB) climax at the University, reeling under the effect of the film that could be a mass movement in college. I was not the only one under the effect of RDB, it seems.

We were all counting the days, sitting and whining time at our college hang out in Savera with the gang. A bigger movement was taking shape all over India and it spread from one city to another, that ultimately reached Pune. Students all over the country, from  MBBS, engineers and arts, were angry over the latest measure announced by the Government and the HRD Minister Arjun Singh to go ahead with the reservation of 27 percent seats in premier institutions like AIMS, IIT and IIM for the OBC castes. We were young and reckless. After all, 20s is the age to protest against discrimination, misplaced merit which we viewed as negative discrimination to garner a vote bank.

It was a Sunday. I was bored sitting in the flat.  On that day, I took off early morning at Savera, picking up the morning newspapers and sipping countless cups of filter coffee and chai. I received an sms from P who became a close friend during the last year in college, where we were hanging out together at Savera to puff and indulging in gup shup. I walked back to the flat that was minutes away from Savera on FC road to take a shower and hastily walked back to my favorite restaurant for a quick meal. I met Sudhendhu on my way out when P buzzed, asking me to wait outside since she is on her way in the rickshaw where I’ll be picked on FC Road.

The movement was hosted by Youth For Equality and everyone would assemble at Saras Baug, Bajirao Road near Swargate where we would march from Saras Baug to Tilak Road, Deccan Corporation to end our march at Shanivar Vada. As we reached the venue, we could see flags flying against reservation and cops surveying the students’ movement with rumors spreading like wildfire that students were lathi charged.

Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened the time we reached post lunch at 1 pm and things started to move fluidly where we walked peacefully and in a disciplined manner following the crowd on a line on the bustling roads in the city. It was quite a long march and can’t remember the last time I plodded my feet for so long. We strongly believed in ideology and a quest for a better and equal India that shouldn’t have a room for discrimination.

Image credit: India.
An outside view of Sambhaji Garden off JM Road in Pune.

Today, it’s a different story that my ideology has shifted drastically away from the misplaced capital system where I find myself more in sync with leftist socialism. Needless to say, I have a significantly altered view-point on the whole reservation issue after reading several scholar articles on groups lacking access to education and there is a certain ground reality that we cannot ignore.

As we sweated it in the sun, we indulged in discussion on the whole issue between sharing fags and P rightly observed that this march wouldn’t make any difference to a chai or paan wala who is more concerned to make both ends meet, ensuring that his children don’t sleep on an empty stomach and on how to send them to school. It’s a valid point that has relevance even in today’s times. Time was flying fast on this otherwise boring Sunday where it didn’t struck us that it was almost past 4 pm as we sat at the Chattrapati Shambaji Garden on JM Road sipping chai and resting our tiring legs.

It was fun times to be in the city. I constantly pulled P during the entire year in Savera and she would get angry, protesting at my antics and the next breaking into a cackle of laughter. But, we were thinkers who could also have a passionate debate about issues. We spoke about a classmate who was planning for DU (Delhi University)  and has boasted about how he will never go through reservation under foreign quota, but would rather give entrance exams. But, sometimes, ideology fails when it doesn’t suit your interest. The man who faced the truth about the DU exams decided to opt for a seat under the quota, ultimately. It can happen with people where all their self-claimed ideologies go for  a toss. I found it ludicrous. Why boast about ideology when you will ultimately choose the easiest route?

At that time, I was trying for Mumbai University to do my Masters and was eligible under the NRI quota but decided that I am not going for it. As a proud Indian, I told the administration that trying under the merit list suits me when my results will come. It was either a do or die situation for me. It was one of the reasons that I was anxious about the result getting delayed and desperately praying to secure a first class. Ultimately, I sealed my seat in the Second Merit List at Kalina Campus. Delay meant not being in time for admission and there was always the risk of being royally fucked in the ass. I shared it with P who told me, ‘I am so proud of you Vishal.’

We parted ways in the evening. The cherry on the cake was that we crossed the path with N who was apparently the darling of college dudes and on whom I had such a soft crush in the first year. We cheerfully said Hi to her and exchanged pleasantries, talking about the reservation march for few minutes before she disappeared.

It was one of the memorable friendships carved during the college days with P and the bond that makes everything so vivid as if it was yesterday only. How I wish time would never fly so fast! I mean, we take every good thing for granted and at that juncture in life, we never realize that nothing stays forever but the only thing that would matter are the memory, friendships, and bonds. It was the last days that I was spending in Pune where good things were escalating one after the other that would make one miss the place like hell. College life was almost over. The best in my life.