Since Mujhe Jeene Do’s seed was sown during the making of Usne Kaha Tha, it is only right that the latter forms a part of these memoirs. The making of Usne Kaha Tha was quite eventful for my father. Without going into too much detail I will just briefly touch upon the so called ‘events’. During the wedding scene (dad and Nanda’s wedding), he suffered an electric shock; then during the war scene his leg landed in a trench. There was a plank of wood placed on the trench which broke as he ran over it, and the last straw on the camel’s back was when he almost got trampled by an army tank. If Sunil Dutt hadn’t pushed him out of the way just in the nick of time he would have been—well I do not need add anything, it is pretty obvious what would have happened.
Mr. Dutt may have already been toying with the idea of making a film on the dacoits of Chambal Valley, but it was during the making of Usne Kaha Tha that it took concrete shape. Sunil Dutt launched his banner Ajanta Arts with this film. You will find quite a few of Usne Kaha Tha’s cast and crew in Mujhe Jeene Do. The director (Moni Bhattacharjee), dad, Durga Khote and Rajendranath were common to both films. Significantly, the narration of Mujhe Jeene Do was absolutely different from Usne Kaha Tha. While I found Usne Kaha Tha quite tedious, Mujhe Jeene Do in sharp contrast held my attention throughout. Barring a few scenes the film was quite dramatic. Facts were inter-woven with fiction which made for some engrossing viewing. Though Ganga Jamuna—also a dacoit film—was made earlier, I think it was Mujhe Jeene Do’s success which later spawned a slew of dacoit films.
Dad’s role of Superintendent of Police was based on a real life character. The film was shot on actual locations in the heart of the dacoit-infested Chambal Valley. Since there was no question of staying in a hotel, Swiss tents with all the comforts of a hotel were provided for the cast and crew.
The unit needed continuous police protection, and needless to say family members of the cast and crew spent some sleepless nights—at least my mum sure did. There was no way she could be in touch with dad; this was before cell phones.
The villagers obviously watched the shooting daily, but one day it seems some dacoits also turned up to watch the shooting of the film. Of course the film unit and the police were clueless about their presence, dressed as they were like ordinary villagers. The people who recognized the dacoits were too scared to inform the police, but revealed this fact the following day when the dacoits were safely ensconced again in their hideouts.
This was one close encounter with dacoits. Now I will take a leap forward, several years later to describe another strange experience. The film was the Rajendra Kumar–Vyjayantimala starrer Ganwaar. Dad, Pran and Jeevan were off to shoot on location in a village. They were picked up by the production car from Delhi airport and were cruising along the highway to some village located probably in Uttar Pradesh (north India). It was late in the night and pitch dark; nothing was visible barring the street lights. On either side of the highway all that one could see was forest and bushes. As the threesome chatted, suddenly a ‘tap tap’ sound from the roof of the car intruded upon their conversation. Guessing that it had to be the luggage which was strapped onto the carrier on the car’s roof, dad asked the chauffeur to halt the car so that he could check out. Sure enough it was the metallic end of the strap of his luggage which was hitting against the car’s roof.
As my father was fixing the strap a bearded man with a rifle strung across his shoulder emerged on a bicycle from the the forest beyond and asked the chauffer, ‘Yahan kya kar rahe ho? Kya ho raha hai?’ (‘What are you doing here? What is happening?’). My father was impressed thinking that this man was some sort of guard appointed by the authorities to patrol the lonely highway during the night. Noticing that the chauffeur refused to answer the man, my father went on to explain to the man what the problem was. However, the man ignored dad and grabbed the collar of the chauffeur and once again asked the same questions—this time more roughly. Fortunately at that point a truck with its headlights on came from the opposite direction, and the man was slightly distracted and turned to look at the oncoming truck. Taking advantage of the distraction the chauffeur pushed the man, got into the car and started it up uncaring whether dad had gotten into the car or not. Dad had in the confusion jumped into the car, and being quite irritated with the chauffeur asked him what was wrong and why he hadn’t answered the guard. The chauffeur replied, ‘Woh guard nahin daku tha.’ (‘He was not a guard but a dacoit.’)
Needless to say, dad was shocked: he was travelling very comfortably with reel-life villains—but would they have been a match for the real-life villain? I think not.
Before I wind up I would like to share this funny and embarrassing experience he and his colleagues once had. I will not be able to name anyone, particularly the heroine who was a newcomer then, for she is a big name today and may not be amused by this revelation. They were shooting at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur. One day after pack-up they noticed a procession of villagers nearby and on enquiring learned that it was a marriage procession. Someone from the unit joked ‘Arey shaadi hai, mooh to meetha karo!’ (‘It is a wedding, why don’t you give us some sweets!’) The wedding party happily distributed some sweets and went on their way. After some time everyone began behaving strangely. The film’s hero caught hold of some foreign tourists and introduced himself: ‘You know I am an actor!’ He said a lot more but I don’t remember much. The film’s heroine insisted that she would jump into the lake: ‘I want to swim!’ she said. Dad found himself staring hard at his palm and when someone cracked a joked he found he just could not stop laughing despite trying to slap his own mouth shut. The villain was trying to jump over an imaginary hurdle, and one of the character actors—who had a sweet tooth and had treated himself to quite a large quantity of sweets—had to be hospitalized. They later learned that the villagers, as was their practice, had added bhang (Indian cannabis), an ancient Indian herb. If used in the right quantity it has medicinal properties but excessive consumption gives a real high.
In Part 5—the penultimate part—I will talk about his observations on his favourite directors, noteworthy roles and films.