Shekhar – The Man with the Golden Tongue
When I was a little boy of eleven, I was living with my people at Meerut and in our locality we had none of the modern amenities like electricity. One day a neighbor brought home a battery radio set and there was great excitement among the young and old alike. We would often troop in to his house to listen to the radio, and when one evening we heard that the great R. R. Choudhary was going to sing, we went in a big party for a real musical feast. Suddenly, in the middle of the programme, while everyone was listening in hushed silence, I turned to my elder sister and said. “Some day you will all be sitting round a radio just like today, but listening to me.”
“Crazy chap,” said my sister indulgently, and there the matter ended. Just before I embarked upon my acting career in Bombay, one of the first things I did was to broadcast my poems over A.I.R., Delhi,and my family sat round the radio and listened to my poems—just as I had said.
In 1947, I was in Bombay living with my brother, who was in the Navy. I was struggling hard to make a success of my career. One day I was waiting for a bus at the Regal Cinema with a friend, when one of those streamlined Buicks that had just arrived in India drove up. The owner offered a lift to two girls and others in the queue who were going his way. I, too, stepped forward, but before I could get to the car, it drove away. The urge to brag once again rose in me, and turning to my friend I said: “Next year I, too, will have a black Buick.” Sure enough, within a year and a half, I was well set in my new career and one of the first things I did was to buy a black Buick!
Even before I ever thought of joining films, I was an ardent film fan. I used to see a great many films, but when I saw “Radhikaa,” I was captivated by the petite and doll-like Nalini Jaywant who at the time must have been about fourteen years old! I was crazy about my favourite star just as today hundreds of young men are crazy about Nimmi, Meena Kumari or Nargis. Then I began to think of a screen career and often said to myself: “I wish I could act opposite Nalini Jaywant.”
Well, even that wish came true. In my very first film, “Ankhen,” my co-star was Nalini Jaywant.
“Aankhen” had just gone on the floor and three young hopefuls—Devendra Godel, Madan Mohan and myself—were eager to make good. I realized I hadn’t had a date with a girl for what seemed a century. There had never been enough money for food and clothes, let alone taking a girl out.
One day, I told my pals, “Now that things are looking better, I must find myself a girl friend in the next three or four days.”
Believe it or not, on the fourth day, when I was travelling by local train, a young college girl came up to me with some tickets she was selling for a charity show. We started chatting and became quite friendly. Then we met frequently. I also met her father, a successful business man, who thought I was wasting my time in films instead of getting a good job elsewhere.
I was not firmly set on my feet and certainly had no cause to brag because I did not know what the fate would be of my first film. But brag I did. I told the old man, “You made good in your time and I have my entire future before me. You will see that in a few years I, too, will be a big shot like you.”
He laughed at me. But he did not laugh when we met a couple of years later at the Cricket Club of India where both of us were members. As I rolled up in my car, he was sporting enough to say, “I am glad to know that you have done so well.”
The first time I met Kamini Kaushal was at a party soon after she returned to the screen in “Poonam” after an absence of three years. We were introduced, and she graciously said to me, “I’ve heard so much about you, but have not yet seen any of your films.” I replied that the misfortune was entirely mine, and then on an impulse I said to her, confident as ever, “Who knows, we may be working together soon!” With polite condescension Kamini said, “Sure, sure.”
Some time later, we were co-starred in Goel’s picture “Aas “. Of course, I had a hand in the casting of the film and I suggested that Kamini be selected for the leading role. But this only shows that since I had “forecast” something on an impulse, I was doing my best to make it come true.
Once at a reception given in Delhi in my honour, I had to make a speech. Members of the press were present, and since there were also a number of distributors, I said something about the problems of distribution, although at the time I had nothing whatever to do with the distribution field. Then, turning to the pressmen, I said: “Maybe some day I shall have a distribution office in Delhi and thus have a means of direct contact with the Delhi press.”
The newspapermen inundated me with questions about “my Delhi office” and I could hardly reply to them.
When I was working in “Bindiya” I met Shaheed Lateef, who was directing the picture in the absence of the official director. When Shaheed started complaining that business was slack, I said to him (almost challenged): “Come, you make a picture and I’ll distribute it.” So “Darwaza” was made and I bought the distribution rights for Delhi and U. P. Two months later I opened my distribution office in Delhi.
I think every actor dreams of becoming a producer some day. I was no exception. I used to build castles in the air and talk about the things I’d do as a producer. One day, on the sets of “Shikar,” I was chatting with Nimmi. I asked her casually, “Nimmi, if I produce a picture will you work with me?” She giggled and said, “Why, of course, Shekhar. You just make a picture and I’ll be there when you want me.”
The more I thought of producing a picture, the more I liked the idea. “If only I could get a lakh of rupees to start with,” I said to myself over and over again.
Then one day, in Delhi, I met L. S. Agarwal, whom I had known for some time. A successful business man, he was quite taken up with my glowing accounts of picture making as a business proposition.
Within three days of our talk I returned to Bombay with a lakh of rupees in cash! Myfilm “ChhoteBabu” went on the floor and, ofcourse, Nimmi was signed to play the heroine.
And now let me tell you about an amusing incident which happened recently when our unit went to Igatpuri for location shooting.
We took a bungalow there. We had calculated that our work would keep us at Igatpuri for three days, but on the second day, it looked as if our plans would be upset, for we were informed that a party of members of the Cinematographers’ Association had reserved the bungalow from that day and would arrive any minute.
The members of our unit were alarmed at the prospect of vacating the bungalow before our work was completed. I tried to calm them by suggesting that we could-request the new arrivals to let us stay, considering that we would be outdoors most of the day. But the caretaker insisted that was not possible since he was expecting a large party.
Then, instinctively, I said: “Oh, it doesn’t matter. They won’t come anyway.” Every one was aghast. The caretaker said, “Look, Mr. Shekhar, they are definitely coming. I have bought eggs, milk and all the other supplies.” But I stuck to my guns: “Never mind. We’ll eat them.”
Each time a car rolled up, my colleagues would moan: “There they come!” But those were only false alarms.
It had been you pouring all day and soon it came down in torrents. Well, to cut a long story short, the party did not turn up, and we polished off “the eggs, milk and all the other supplies!”
There have been so many other little incidents like these which have made me self- conscious of my luck or whatever you would like to call it. I am not a regular race-goer, but when I do go, I bag six consecutive win – picked entirely at random. I am not very fond cards either. One day, my wife Santosh had been losing heavily during an afternoon session. Suddenly I told her, “Let me pick up your cards this time. I bet there will be two Jokers.” Sure enough, to everyone’s amazement (as well as mine) there were two Joker’s!
I have always been a great optimist and never a worrier. I consider myself extra lucky, but I don’t rely on luck alone. From the above incidents you will have gathered that luck was always on my side. But, let me tell you that there was also an earnestness behind my wishing and my bragging which made my dreams come true (This Interview was conducted in 1956).