Hi! I’m Rishi Vohra, author of Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai. I thought I was saying bye last time on my second blog here! But on learning of the years I spent in the film industry, MissMalini insisted that I share some of my on-the-set experiences with you!
I moved back from San Francisco to Mumbai recently, after six years which got me a Green MBA, a Masters Diploma in Environmental Law, a Certified Specialist in Wine certification, and of course – Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai. Before that, I was here in Mumbai working in the Ad Film, Film, and Television Industry in both, creative and production roles.
A majority of my time in media was spent in the film industry. As a result, it proved to be the most influential of all three and it opened up a completely different world to me. I found the people in the Industry to be more real than portrayed on screen and through the media. Everyone I worked and interacted with proved to be consistently warm, friendly, helpful, and professional. I made some great friends here and learned new things apart from the craft and new technologies that kept emerging along with it.
Here are some of anecdotes connected with my time in the Hindi Film Industry and some lessons learned along the way!
All throughout my life, I used to eat with cutlery – fork, knife, spoon – whatever the cuisine demanded. Of course, I did eat with my hands, but only when essential. On the sets of a film I was working on, the cast and crew always had lunch together on the same table. On one occasion, I was seated right opposite Dharmendra. He noticed me shoveling my rice into my mouth with a fork and told me, “Beta, you must always eat with your hands. Then only do you get the best taste of food.” I looked around and saw that everyone was eating with his/her hands. I put my fork down and tried a bite as per Dharamji’s advice – and he was right! Since then, I eat with my hands but use cutlery only when essential!
I came across many actors who get completely immersed in their roles, to the point that they stayed in character even when the camera wasn’t rolling! During the shooting of one of our films, a character actor (no names here) suddenly fainted. Since he was standing next to me at the time, I got worried thinking that I must have unknowingly knocked him down with my elbow or something. Apparently, he was so into his character of a drugged out hooligan that it knocked him out of his senses! Since then, I have always been both wary and respectful of method actors!
While working for Mr. Sohail Khan (this was before he went in front of the camera so people didn’t really know what he looked like), I impersonated him on a couple occasions when I needed to get work done quickly in studios or required urgent bookings. Of course, I didn’t/couldn’t push my luck after he came in front of the camera!
At a silver jubilee party (a 25 weeks theatre run) for one of our films (the concept of the 100 crore club came much later), I was one of the last to leave. It was pretty late and we literally jumped into the remaining cars. Mr. Salman Khan’s brand new BMW was one of them. It was late, I dozed off and when I woke up, I saw that we were parked outside the emergency entrance of Hinduja Hospital in Mahim. Apparently, he had picked up a bloodied hit-and-run accident victim (I think it was a taxi driver) from the road and brought him there for immediate treatment. It was one of my first lessons in Being Human.
On one film, we had built a set adjoining a farmhouse by a lake in Karjat (on the outskirts of Mumbai). The lake was shared with the villagers, some of whom were fishing at the time. I requested them to teach me how to fish(as I had never laid my hand on a fishing rod before before), and within minutes my line emerged with a huge fish fluttering at the end of it. I was ecstatic! But within seconds, Mr. Salman Khan appeared from nowhere, disengaged my fish and set it back in the lake, giving it a new lease of life.
We were shooting at the Pune Airport, and I had a shoulder injury resulting from a recent motorbike accident. I found that my injury was hampering my work and I couldn’t move as fast. Since it was an outdoor, the crew was small, and there was no one who could ‘shoulder’ my responsibilities. Mr. Nana Patekar was the actor, and he saw my plight. Whenever he wasn’t in the shot, he took over my shot breakdown list and insisted I rest! Yes, Nana Patekar does have a soft side to him!
We keep hearing about actors being insecure about their roles or appearance on screen. On shoots, there is a video monitor on which the director can view the shot while it’s being filmed, after which the shot is replayed for actors. On one of our films, I noticed that Mr. Sanjay Dutt never went to the monitor to view his shot but waited patiently while others did! Truly secure as an actor!
I was directing a TV show and for that episode, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan was the guest. Since it was a Hindi channel, I requested him to stick to Hindi as far as possible (actors are known to slip into English words during interviews). Mr. Bachchan spoke in perfect Hindi without uttering even one word of English. I was truly embarrassed and in awe!
On one shoot, a junior artiste didn’t show up for a shot. I was told by the director to step in. My shot was brief and involved a short dialogue with Mr. Kabir Bedi. I learned two things. First, anyone on the set could be called to step in front of the camera – it’s a part of the job! And also – how intimidating it must be for a newcomer to face a big star on camera!
During my early days, I was working under Ad Filmmaker Prahlad Kakar. One ad, which we were shooting for at Madh Island in Mumbai, involved a wedding sequence, and Mr. Kakar told me that the male model (to play the groom) hadn’t showed up. He added that to make the scene look authentic, the Pandit would recite the whole marriage mantra and I would actually be getting married! Of course, it was a prank and everyone, including the female model (playing the bride) and male model (hiding in the shadows), was in on it! For a few minutes there, I had accepted the female model as my life partner!
Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai is my debut novel and I am very excited for all you to read it! I really hope that you’re looking to pick up a copy! I’m positive that you’ll find the book both unique and entertaining, and a good read!
The book is a work of alternative mass fiction (a first in Indian mass fiction) and is available now in all bookstores. If it hasn’t arrived in your nearest book shop yet, you can get it online on Flipkart, Indiaplaza, and other online bookstores – at a discounted price (they even have a Cash on Delivery option). For more information on the book, please visit my website www.rishivohra.com, and drop into my Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, and blog pages. Look forward to seeing you there!
A big thanks to MissMalini for inviting me to once again be a part of the most happening place in cyber world – MissMalini.com! And a huge thanks to all of you for stopping by – again!