NEW YORK – The New York-based Raaj Grover, who was the production-in-charge of the prestigious Ajanta Arts in Mumbai, which was owned by Sunil Dutt, and dabbled with filmmaking himself, has come up with a book called ‘The Legends of Bollywood’ (published by Jaico Publishing House), replete with memorable anecdotes of top Bollywood artists and directors, whom he knew from his decades-long work in the industry.
Grover, who is now in his 80s, and is as witty as ever – with a trademark charismatic smile, termed his book of ‘zara zara memories’ as one of ‘tales of madness, mischief and mayhem.’ The book is available in English, Hindi and Urdu, with the English one translated by Suchitra Iyer, and a foreword by Priya Dutt.
Grover’s book of revelations is as refreshing as holding a bouquet of roses in hand, versus the plastic flowers manufactured by some biographers who churn out narratives on India’s film history and its iconic stars through sheer research, without sometimes even getting to know the person they write about.
‘The Legends of Bollywood’ is mostly demarcated into chapters on individual stars. It begins with Amitabh Bachchan’s foray into Bollywood, his first four days trying to garner an audition and a role in a film. Grover was the one, who at the behest of his close family friends Sunil Dutt and Nargis, who guided Bachchan those four days, taking him around Mumbai, including to meet Rajesh Khanna and Manoj Kumar, and several directors and producers like Tarachand Barjatya and Mohan Sehgal, who rejected him. There is also the moment when Bachchan later on signed a film written and to be produced by Grover, but it never came to be because of distributors pulling out.
A delicious tit bit from the chapter on Dharmendra, with whom Grover shared a close rapport, is the time when he and his family used to live in a building called Woodland in Bandra on rent. Dharmendra had then hired a Bengali guy called Bikram Chowdhury to take care of household work, his children, and as a masseur. Later, when Dharmendra moved to another place, Chowdhury went his own way.
Grover describes meeting that household help years later, in America:
“Time is so transient and things seem unbelievable at times. Once, I went to a yoga centre in Los Angeles, and ran into none other than Bikram Chowdhury. He would travel by buses or local trains while in Bombay. And here in Los Angeles, he had a huge bungalow and a massive building as his yoga centre, plus more than twenty luxury limos and cars including a Mercedes, MBW, Lexus and a couple of Rolls Royces. He didn’t know I was there. When we were stopped at the gate, we had to meet his secretary. When he was informed about us, he came and stood in front of us. I was Dharmendra’s friend. When he saw me, he touched my feet and embraced me…what an irony that the person who used to give Dharmendra massages had famous Hollywood actors coming to his yoga centre now to learn from him! Even Richard Nixon learnt yoga from Bikram Chowdhury.”
Grover doesn’t delve into details of the underbelly of Bollywood, the nefarious practice of ‘couch casting’, which many writers have alluded to, but in a section on the talented and beautiful Dimple Kapadia, he deals with it in a forthright manner: “I have also learnt and observed that any young and beautiful girl who becomes an overnight sensation in the film industry should necessarily have the complete support of her parents. Or else she will be prone to becoming a victim of opportunists in no time. While there are many small and harmless birds around in this world, there is no shortage of cunning vultures as well. And Dimple’s beauty was of the kind that attracted everyone.”
In the section on Shashi Kapoor, Grover narrates an incident when he accidentally slept over at the actor and his wife Jennifer’s bedroom in their new apartment on Altamount Road, after a roaring party. In the morning when he woke up, he noticed sheepishly that Kapoor was sleeping on the floor in the living room, and Jennifer was lying down on the sofa. Later he was served breakfast with the couple laughing at him, and Jennifer saying: “Don’t worry. Until you get married, consider this your home. And when you marry, do call us over. We will repay the loan by sleeping on your bed on your first night together with your wife.”
Iconic Indian film producer Suresh Jindal is yet another notable personality whose book is being featured in New York, this week, reviving interest in the works of Satyajit Ray. ‘My Adventures with Satyajit Ray – The Making of Shatranj Ke Khilari’ (The Chess Player) was unveiled at the Sundaram Tagore gallery, in Manhattan.
Interestingly, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is screening ‘The Chess Player’, the Bengali auteur’s most lavish and expensive movie—and his only film in Hindi/Urdu, set in 1850s India, at the Phyllis Wattis Theater, this coming weekend.
Jindal’s book quotes extensively from unpublished letters Ray sent him, illustrating the passion, dedication and detail the acclaimed director brought to the film.
Some other films Jindal produced include Basu Chatterji’s ‘Rajnigandha’, Richard Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’, Mani Kaul’s ‘Naukar Ki Kameej’, and Sai Paranjpe’s ‘Katha’. He was also Executive Producer of ‘Vara: A Blessing’, a romance set in Tamil Nadu, directed by the monk Khyentse Norbu. His films have won three national awards, in India, and eight Oscars for Gandhi.
Earlier this year, the New York-based writer Aseem Chhabra released a biography on Priyanka Chopra, ‘Priyanka Chopra: The Incredible Story of a Global Bollywood Star’. Chopra’s claim to fame now has surpassed her laurels in Bollywood, after her debut as a pop singer and a lead actress in ABC’s drama series ‘Quantico.’
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)