The one question that I am most frequently asked by cine-crazy strangers and acquaintances is, what is it like to be friends with the Bachchans?
Quite frankly, I’ve no answer. They give a lot of love and affection and Mr Bachchan once told a contestant from Bihar on Kaun Banega Crorepati that he has a dear friend in Patna(me). It was many years ago and I’ve still not forgotten his kindness. Amitji, as I call him, never fails to make one feel special. But sorry, I can’t call him a friend. We don’t speak freely to one another. I weigh every word that I utter to him. And, I certainly don’t sing Lata Mangeshkar songs with him.
That’s what makes Sanjay Bhansali, my closest friend in Mumbai. I became a huge fan of his work after watching his debut film Khamoshi: The Musical. I wanted to immediately reach out to him. But those were the days of landline phones. And, I was told he is a moody and tantrum thrower.
It was only after Hum...Dil De Chuke Sanam in 1999 that I gathered the courage to call him on his landline number. And the first thing he said to me was, “If you are a fan of Lataji I am her bigger fan.”
20 years later he is still not convinced that there can be no bigger fan of the Melody Goddess than I. We squabble regularly over this. We also sing the rarest Lataji’s songs to one another as an ongoing challenge, and here I must admit Sanjay is a far better singer than me. He is also a music composer and regularly composes the songs of all his films. I have had the privilege of hearing the songs that he composed for Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat in the composer’s voice long before anyone else.
Yes, I’ve heard the songs of his next opus Inshaallah. But I am not saying anything. The one unwritten rule between us is, never write about anything that we speak about during our long conversations. This rule eliminates all confusion that a close relationship between a journalist and a potential interviewee may have.
Once we got our equation on the track it’s been smooth-sailing between Sanjay and I for 20 years. He tells me everything and anything without the fear of it showing up in my writing. I’ve seen that fear crop up suddenly in the eyes of some of my other good friends in Bollywood as they speak their mind.
“You are not going to write this, are you?”
Sanjay has taught me how to segregate the journalist from the friend. Gulzar Saab had once told me, ‘Har cheez likhne ki zaroorat nahin.’
It’s a lesson I’ve applied to my friendship with Sanjay. I have never told you this, Sanjay. But you are a terrific company, a fabulous mimic and savagely self-critical. And you taught me how to LOL.
It was Raakheedi (Raakhee Gulzar to the world) who had told me how the character actress Shammi had taught her to laugh out loud. Rakheedi would always suppress her laughter. That’s what she was taught to do.
I am laughing right now as I remember how you taught me to laugh out loud.
And as the laughter reaches outside my room I can hear my wife saying, ‘That must be Sanjay Bhansali on the phone.’
Enjoy your birthday, my friend. I know you don't like to be reminded you are 58 and that you and I will remain 26 forever. I also knew you don't like to celebrate birthdays. You once told me, "During childhood my sister and I had no birthday parties. We would take a packet of sweets to school and distribute it to our class-mates. That was it. We never had birthday parties. Nor were we allowed to go to parties. Now it has become a habit to be on my own on my birthday. And, I am a very happy that way."
But I wish you a great birthday and many more magnificent masterpieces. You have rightly earned the reputation of being the most significant epic filmmaker since Raj Kapoor. But you haven't found life partner to spend your life with.
We both know it won't happen. You once told me: "I have chosen the life I lead. There were relationships that didn’t work out. I am basically a nomadic loner. And I am not capable of moving ahead with the baggage of a relationship. I’ve seen relationships traumatize people. As a child I’d helplessly watch relationships crumble around me. Every individual is a sum-total of his past experiences. Maybe that’s why I am wary of relationships.
And you said you'd change nothing in your life. "Nothing at all. All the pain, suffering, love passion and conflict have made me what I am. I make passionate love stories because I don’t have love in my life. My art completes my life. My life may be unfulfilled. But it isn’t unhappy."
Three cheers to that.
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