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A Brief Film Career

The author reminiscences about his interaction with Gurudutt and Dev Anand

The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) based in Pune, which teaches young men and women to make films and taught the likes of Jaya Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah to act, has completed 50 years.

I used to know it well when it was Prabhat Film Studio, and also some of its actors, including Dev Anand who worked there. I was a student in Poona (now Pune) at the time and happened to live in the same hostel-like building on Fergusson Road, which Dev Anand visited almost every afternoon to meet his friend, Gurudutt, who lived there.Gurudutt lived across the passage from me, along with his cousin, who was a dancer. Gurudutt was a dancer too but he was learning to be a director and spent most of his time in bed with a notebook, making sketches with soft pencils and scattering the papers around on the floor. Often they used to have music sessions and we used to hear heavy dance steps being practised on the cement floor, though only for a while, until we would ask them to shut up and go to sleep.

Dev Anand generally ambled or cycled along in the afternoon and tried to wake up Gurudutt and others deep in their snooze. Then we all went to Good Luck Café down the road, an institution in itself, like Leopold Café in Bombay's Colaba which came under heavy fire in the recent terror attack in Mumbai. Dev Anand was very careful with money and rarely paid for anybody but himself, though he was the only one among us to be working, and that too, in Prabhat.

Surprisingly, as I now recall, there were very few girls or women in our crowd. I find this strange, considering Poona was awash with young women and many would have given their right hand to work in films. But few did. Our Good Luck crowd consisted almost wholly of males, though at the time, among the actresses working in Prabhat, there was one called Madhubala. We never saw her, or any other actress for that matter.

We often used to visit Prabhat and some time worked as extras to make some money. Prabhat, like Dev Anand, was also careful with money, and rarely paid more than a rupee, for which we had to stand in a queue and wait for hours, but it was great fun, provided you didn't have to stand in the fierce Poona sun.

Gurudutt was working as a kind of trainee director on a film in which a young Peshwa was to be killed. He told me they were going to shoot the scene - apparently the most important scene in the film - the following Sunday, and would I like to be an extra in the crowd?

Of course, I would. I was to be paid a rupee for a day's work, or something like that, which was not too bad. So Gurudutt and I went to the studio on his bike, where I was given some clothes and a bright turban, and asked to stand in the front row, and run for life as soon as the Peshwa approached, followed by sword-toting guards, who were supposed to be after his blood. There was a trolley with a camera mounted on it following the Peshwa, a boy of about eighteen, and I, along with some others, were supposed to start running as soon as the trolley levelled with us.

Something went wrong, as it always does in such cases, and the trolley got stuck in the rails. We started running as told, but we were running in vain. All work had come to a standstill, and people were laughing at us, for the shooting had stopped and the Peshwa and his guards had disappeared into the crowd. That was the end of my brief film career even before it had taken off.

Years later, on my return from abroad, I was walking by Opera House in Bombay, a well-known cinema theatre, when what should I see but a large poster of Gurudutt eying soulfully a new actress I had not seen before. Gurudutt had, I thought, progressed from chasing the Peshwa in Poona to girls in Bombay in no time at all!

(The writer is a well-known columnist and economist.)