I cannot, in all honesty say that the meeting with the ineffable Amitabh Bachhan changed my life. But yes, it shattered some myths and reinforced some others.The meeting occurred when the Big B personified himself was shooting in town for his movie, 'Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyon.' That was the summer of superstardom for Chandigarh. Suddenly, everybody who was anybody in Bollywood suddenly (re)discovered the city environs to shoot their amazing next. Budget cuts or the sudden swadeshi-is-exotic or simply supplying the missing Punju touch…………whatever it was, it was raining tinsel in the summer of 2004.
And amidst all big budget ventures, AB spent nearly a month guzzling down the winds of Chandigarh, sticking to his room in the farthest resort in the city, not too much in the hi-how-ya-doin meeting mood and resting his tired frame after a busy day’s work in his cosy studio. Then one night it happened. The owners of the resort, hosted this stiff-upper-lipped-sophisticated –hifi party for all the city P3Ps. And getting a personal invite to it, was like a hand-me-down label, hey you a P3P too. Really! Nah! Duty calls. Many more scribes were called to cover the gala party. The only catch though, "Oh! Don't tell him you from the press. He's publicity shy." My first undercover assignment…. "Yipee"… I spoke too soon.
That the stiff-upper-lipped-sophisticated-professional socialite, who are VVIP's, ex-VVIP's or consider themselves VVIP's, hail from a glorious past and are used to people routing for them and usually don't get excited when someone of stature and fame greets the. NOT. The banquet hall was lined with guests. Close friends and family (ya right. Call the taxation commissioner that too!) and some ex-judges, a lot of IAS officers, an ex-governor, members of the ministries (local) crammed up the space of the hall. The security was outside. Your typical wine and cheese affair. Fake kisses, folded sat-sri-akals, that gentle shoulder tapping, the twirl on the greeting etiquettes were all on full display. The wait was on. About 3 hours and plenty of empty wine glasses later…. he arrived. (and oh yeah, wine is only thing that makes me whine ) The hall shrieked. IAS officers, governor, judges took to the chairs (in standing position) to catch a glimpse of the Big B. Women fainted at his feet. People pushed and toppled in total chaos. That hep aunty sitting royally on her chair a second ago was leaping and screaming at the same time. I was crushed in the madness and didn't quite know where to look.
"Security! I can't believe I'm doing this. These are supposed to be calm, old, sophisticated people,” I heard the resort owner panicking and playing the bouncer.
That hard-bitten journalists who see their share of the celebrities all in a day's work, are a blasé lot. NOT. When the news sizzled – and I use the word sizzled that he was in the room. It caused a reciprocating flutter, in the party scribe tribe. I was there. A couple of us were on the tables shrieking equally. One was seen smoothing her hair and another (who usually covered business at that time) actually pulled put her compact.
After smoothing my hair (okay, that was me!) I pushed my way around and infusing a sense of urgency in my tone, told my mom that we had to push in and meet him. After the initial amusement subsided, (or what seemed to be calmer now) my mom pushed through the VVIP's and made her way to the Big B. The tired old actor, equally amused at the plight of small-town-socialites decided to sit down. Holding his arm, she shook it and told him. "Hi! I'm Kanwal. My so-n-so worked with you in the so-n-so ad and so-n-so movie. We have to talk. Give me five minutes,” she literally screamed into his straining-to-hear ear over the loud hum of the room. "But its only time that I don\'t have. But I know that so-n-so and yeah he's damn good," he simply smiled.
That women acquire maturity as they age and lose their giddiness of their teenage years. NOT. Mid-drool, I realised I was supposed to be covering the god-damn party. Oh! Fortuitous circumstance! Out popped the camera. So I walked up to AB, (hey my mom could do, so could I ) asked, "Mr Bachhan, can I have a photograph taken with you?”
All I can say in my defence, now that time has imposed its own perspective, is that a momentary madness had overtaken me. In any case, Mr B graciously obliged and even, put an arm across my shoulder. People rushed to aid (of the picture) on all sides. The resort owner-ne-bouncer asked which button to click. The excitement had driven all coherent thought out of my head so I stared blankly at him. Till, he somehow trying not to falling apart fired a shot.
All one's education is liable to desert you at crucial times. AB and I didn't exchange profound thoughts, just a couple of sentences. I had a job to do and I had to regain my equilibrium. NOW. A veritable queue of women asked for a copy of the photograph. When it was developed, it came out shaky and barely discernable. Alas! But there was a prominent nose, salt and pepper beard in the picture and zillions of gleaming white teeth.
And a year later at my Interview into journalism school, the BIG B's meeting helped me get a seat. "How was it meeting him? Some say language fails when you speak to him,” I was asked. And I had quite a story to narrate….
Into every life, some rain must fall