Tales of the Rising S(o)ns and Daughters: Bollywood behind the scenes

I am just back after watching the latest Bollywood release, ‘Two States’ which stars Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor. It’s a little implausible at first to see these people on screen and realise they’re the same kids one knew not so long ago.

I first saw Alia peeking out from behind a door! I had gone to her home to interview her mother, actress Soni Razdan. In a small room in a typical poky Bombay flat, with indoor plants trailing hither and yon, I noticed this little girl fixing me with bright, inquisitive button eyes and rumpled curly hair, her little sister (Shaheen) trailing behind her vainly trying to break free of the ayah. Soni scolded her gently to go and finish her homework and she scuttled off, but not before I noticed this very determined set to her chin! She would have been less than ten years old then, a gawky kid as most little girls are. She has grown up to be a self-possessed young lady, an amazing replica of her mum. Shades of her dad, Mahesh Bhatt, flash through in sudden moments of startling candour even as she tries to be ladylike; Mahesh is quite irrepressible and no one can stop him from mouthing off his opinions on any and every topic.

As for Arjun Kapoor – lordy me! I never would have thought the boy ever stood a chance on celluloid and frankly, I still have to pinch myself to be sure whom I’m watching. Arjun was as wide as a barn door both as a child and as an adolescent. His mother Mona was a friend of mine. I stayed at their house each time I had to catch a flight out of Bombay on one of my international assignments and I would watch in awe as he only grew bigger and bigger. Obesity of course runs in the family as both his parents suffer from it. Not surprisingly, Arjun’s pet name as a child was ‘Fubbu.’ As an adolescent he was surly, quiet and uncommunicative for the main, hardly startling given his parents’ bitter marital history. He was very fond of his younger uncle Sanjay, who lived in the same house with his wife Maheep and parents; every time I’d be sitting with Arjun’s grandmother in her bedroom, Sanjay’s gorgeous, angelic-looking two-year old daughter would toddle into the room to ‘daadi’ while Arjun would inevitably be found in Sanjay chaachu’s room.

Later, much later, when he wanted to be a directorial assistant – and did, in fact, assist Karan Johar on ‘Kal ho Na Ho’ and Nikhil Advani on Salaam-e-Ishq – and began dating Salman Khan’s sister Arpita, the latter took him in hand and got him to work out to lose all the flab. The result is there for all to see.

It makes me somewhat proud when I watch Arjun on interviews such as ‘Koffee with Karan’ and see the poised, articulate manner in which he handles personal questions. There are still flashes of insecurity that peek out ever so often, letting one glimpse the lost boy within, however, he handles any delicate or intrusive matters with aplomb and maturity, rather than the cynicism one would perhaps expect given the strong influence the maternal side of the family had on him; his mother became quite embittered and his grandmother, Sattee Shourie, famously slapped Sridevi once in the lobby of a five star hotel.

Arjun’s dad didn’t do much to further his son’s directorial or acting aspirations (although he did work as assistant producer on ‘No Entry’ and Wanted.’) It is his mother Mona Kapoor who prevailed on Karan to take her son on as his assistant and she was fairly instrumental in Arjun signing the three-film deal with Yash Chopra Productions. I have to say I am hugely skeptical about Arjun’s acting prowess. ‘Ishaqzaade’ ‘Aurangzeb’ and ‘Gundaay’ left me cold. His character in ‘Two States’ however, suits him to a T. Sober, geeky, quiet, somewhat insecure, good boy, with flashes of humour showing through; this is a role that is fairly close to his personality. Arjun would do well to follow in the footsteps of his talented uncle Anil Kapoor who was well aware he had neither the looks nor the persona of a typical Bollywood hero and therefore chose roles that he could slide into easily and be believable; Muscle Man he is not, and neither, for all the conquered flab, is Fubbu!

One star son who is still a prankster is Abhishek Bachchan, although thankfully, he is not brattish anymore! I first came across Abhishek on the sets of his movie, ‘Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya.’ Quite the brat, he was prancing around with the back-up dancers, being loud and boisterous on the sets, while his heroine Keerti Reddy sat demurely in a corner. If I am not mistaken, his debut film ‘Refugee’ was yet to release but shooting for TJCG had already commenced. Abhishek was young, gung-ho, a little nervous and more than a little cocksure. I had gone on the sets to check out the shooting and interview Shammi aunty (veteran actress Shammi and a friend of my mother.) Shammi aunty kept telling me, “beta, mujhe chhod, usska interview kar, dekhna ek din who bahut bada star banega.” (Child, leave me and go interview him; mark my words one day he will be a big star.” Seeing AB’s antics however, with one eye on me as he was fully aware there was a journalist present on the sets and who would doubtless toddle up to him for an interview, I was like, “naaah.” Apart from his lineage, a callow Abhishek had neither the looks nor star-like qualities to make one hanker for a tete-a-tete with him. With age, his sense of humour too has matured and it is a pleasure now listening to his ready sense of repartee.

Kajol Mukherjee (now Devgn) perfectly embodies the adage, “a storm in a teacup!” She was liable to fly off the handle without a moment’s notice. I had gone to interview her on the sets of ‘Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain’ a D. Rama Naidu production being shot in Hyderabad and directed by Satish Kaushik. Despite the presence of a senior co-star like Anil Kapoor, she threw a tantrum on sets and stormed off to her make-up room leaving behind a dazed crew. Not knowing any of this, I blithely walked to her room at the appointed interview time. I knocked on the door and opened it; along with strains of ‘Chaiyyan chaiyyan’ (her favourite song at the time, she had it on a non-stop loop) and her talking to “Ajju” on her phone, I received a torrent of “who are you?” and “what interview?” that blasted me off my feet and outta that room so quick that all I remember are blazing green eyes in a very dark face. I tottered my way to Anil Kapoor’s make-up room, where a shell shocked AK and SK (Satish Kaushik) were mopping their brows and debating on how and what to tell the gentlemanly Rama Naidu for the stalled shooting, since the duo had absolutely no idea what led to madam’s fiery outburst. Although she remains loud and talkative, she has calmed down a lot since her marriage to Ajay Devgn, a no-nonsense guy of limited words. Apparently, rumours circulating regarding Ajay’s extra-curricular activities (!) have led to Kajol taking herself in hand to lose weight and improve on her dress sense; this is one actress who came in for her fair share of criticism for her wardrobe, which is a combination of zero sense of haute couture and zero interest, in spite of having well-dressed best friends like Karan Johar and Shahrukh Khan.

Quite unabashedly, I confess to Kareena Kapoor (now Khan) being my favourite baby-turned-diva. Well, not strictly a baby, as I used to bump into her when she was a schoolgirl and accompanying elder sister Lolo (Karisma) on her outdoor shooting schedules. I remember well one such shooting of ‘Jaanwar’ directed by Suneel Darshan and being shot in Hyderabad, with Akshay Kumar opposite Karisma. Kareena (Bebo) was folded into one of those plastic chairs…scrunched-up hair, some puppy fat on the cheeks and waist, those brilliant eyes hidden behind spectacles, braces on her teeth, ostensibly studying for a test, but with her full concentration on the scene being shot in front of her. Mother Babita who usually accompanied Lolo on her outdoors, had one beady eye on her and the other on Bebo; “Study” she would hiss at Bebo and, without missing a beat, she’d  turn to look at the set, hardly breathing as her attention was tensely fixed on Lolo and how the shot was being handled. Once Suneel shouted “Cut,” more than anyone it was Babita who’d let her breath out in a long sigh. Bebo would quickly lower her gaze to her books, where only moments before she’d been feasting hungrily on the scene unfolding before her, avidly following the camera movements. Babita truly did a fantastic job of bringing up her girls, making sure they turned out into glamorous, poised, well behaved young ladies, reflective of the Kapoor khandaan lineage. Even then, it is Lolo who is the more decorous one, while Bebo is more fiery and has gotten into some scraps with her contemporaries. Watching her then, it was easy to tell she would be joining the ranks of her illustrious family in Bollywood very soon, but no one could predict that she would have such a phenomenal rise to become the Kareena Kapoor.

*Article written for Masala magazine

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