Some memories of my growing up have stayed with me not because they were fantastic but because they formed the keystones of my life’s philosophies and ways I chose to live it. Their influence was so strong that even today, I inadvertently replay those images in split seconds before following them with my actions. Most of these memories came from my meeting some very illustrious people. Illustrious not because they were just famous but because they carried a distinct character within their soul that was untouched by the fame and notoriety that can so easily corrupt this inherent jewel – Character.
My mother was a very prolific journalist in her time and did so for 30 years. In those 30 years she brought us face-to-face in conversation with people from all walks of life that took the time out from the work on hand to make meaningful conversation with me. Conversations that were to shape my future. This, of course, did not come to me because I was very willingly receptive to such experiences.
I was a typical teenager who had no time for anything else but ME. Me in a very superficial avatar. Me that was living in the now with no regard for the me in the future. As a budding teenager, I was beginning to show interest in my own evolution as a human being both less mentally and more physically. Experimenting with my life by first playing out many scenarios I wanted to put myself into – with thought, contemplation and then action.
Just like you, I too succumbed to the default – choosing the superficial over the spiritual change. I cared more about the fact of how I looked to others, what others thought of me… especially girls. My hair (which sadly I don’t have much of now), my walk, my talk. I was by default a selfish growing teenager. It was all about ME. Why am I telling you this? Read on.
What would irritate me the most was to be called upon to offer escort to my mother when she went off on her interviewing sprees at all odd times of the day, to obscure places and for no apparent common good of mankind… meaning ME. I was forced and went along reluctantly. Why was I subject to this? Why can’t people leave me alone? Why do you get into things you cannot do yourself. Why go any place you cannot go by yourself? The typical rebel in me surfaced and manifested… but I still went.
In hindsight, I am glad I went to all the places instead of spending more time staring at my first crush or myself in the mirror in the days. Had it not been for my mom and dad’s insistence, I would have languished in the superficial world of growing up and not reaped the benefits of the exchange of ideas with thought leaders of my time, during those impressionable years. Those exchanges were like putting money in the bank for use during rainy days.
I had the opportunity to meet some real deep creative people. People like Pran, Ashok Kumar, Sorab Modi, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Protima Bedi among other non bollywood movers and shakers of their time. I was an aspiring actor myself and was making serious attempts of defecting to the tinsel world. Went for a few screen tests (passed and got signed incidentally) but fate and life had other plans and kept me away from it.
It was during the most serious years of this ambition that I bumped into the people I mentioned earlier. Dev Anand was one of them. During that one interaction, I called him DEV UNCLE. Of course I grew up hearing about the girly teenage version of how he was the perfect man from my then not so teenage mother and her sisters and friends. I watched a lot of his movies only because in those days, nothing else would play on the Black & White transmission of Doordarshan. Frankly, had it not been for that, I many never have been exposed to so many classic movies from the days of yore.
So here I am traveling to Bandra on the BEST double Decker bus with the wind blowing my hair from the front window seat on the top. This always made me feel like a star as my association with wind blown hair was with the scenes I remembered from Dev Anand movies. Now I am on my way to meet him.
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The only thoughts racing in my mind were about how I can ask him to get me IN. Will he discover me as I sit there witnessing the interview? How should I behave in front of him? What should I say? I never, for once focused on anything but how to become a bollywood insider. Got off the bus and walked a few 100 yards to the lobby of the Sea Rock hotel. This hotel was in its prime as the premium spot for star gazing and spotting. This one piece of property created an image of a Vegas like hotel where all things good, bad and ugly happened. It represented everything decadence of the time meant and was. An oasis for celebrity, law, gangsters and the sex trade congregated and thrived.
Dev uncle was a little over 50 by this time and we waited in anticipation. He was little late for the appointment and it was interesting to watch all the people come and go through that lobby. I could feel my mom’s excitement and eager anticipation to come face to face with her teen year crush while I shared the same intense feeling of anticipation but for a totally selfish goal… will this be my big doorway into bollywood?
Finally he arrives and apologizes like a gentleman would and this does not help any with my mom who gushed even more at the impeccable apology. She followed him like a lamb to his office as he waved us to do so, which happened to be a room on the 5th floor or so in the hotel. I was not far behind. Him 50+, mom 30+ and me 15 or so, we could feel the energy in Dev unlce’s stride. He was brisk, sure and unapologetic about it.
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We stopped at the elevator door waiting for it and to our surprise were chided by Dev uncle as being too old. As soon as he said that, he began his sprint up the stairs and never looked back. A little embarrassed and very inspired, mom and I recklessly followed him up the 5 flight of stairs. On top we were greeted by him with a wide boyish smile and asked to be comfortable while he took care of a few pending chores.
On the face of it, what I just described was a picture of what the physical space and scene looked like but why I chose to bring this up as a landmark situation in my life is that it was here that the three things stuck to me and settled itself as one of the cornerstones of my life’s philosophies.
1. APOLOGIZE like a gentleman,
2. His brisk walking
3. Never afraid to climb stairs, physically and metaphorically.
Even to this day, when I have an opportunity to tender a heartfelt apology, images of Dev uncle apologizing to my mother and I, flash past me. It reminded me about how we so quickly forgave him. This apology was a great template for me and every time I use it, the results are dramatic. Of course over time I have developed my own style of incorporating the nuances of this apology that it now sits well into my own individuality. What was amazing about this visual was that it never left me and in spite of my having my own style, I still flashback as if to pay my respects before invoking my own.
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What Dev uncle’s brisk walk stood for was of a man who was sure of where he was going, even if the reality was to the contrary. It stood for a man who was proud of his fitness. Stood for a man who needed to get to places quickly so he can derive as much out of where he was going only so he could move on to the next great flower of life that he could suck the honey of experience out of. Sort of like the purpose and intent of a bee.
The influence this had on my life to this day is as impactful. I structured my thoughts, my outlook, my intent and my purpose to mimic all the attributes that flashed past me when I watched Dev uncle so effortlessly exuded. This was not achieved overnight. It was constant work on my part to have all these characteristics synchronize into the rhythm of my life I had to be self-aware and course correct till it all felt natural to my being.
I was experiencing a new sense of selfish self-obsession as I had during my teenage years but this time more substantial, meaningful and long lasting. When I catch myself or notice my pace which otherwise goes relatively unnoticed, I cannot help but remember Dev uncle. If this was not a strong influence then what else could be? Not a rhetorical question but a segue way into what else there was that Dev uncle offered as inspiration.
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At 50 this man never thought twice to attack stairs to get to where he wanted. An envious physical task that was accomplished on the face of it but the impact this had on how I see and approach life is uncanny. I juxtaposed Dev uncle’s professional life to this never say die attitude, he will be fondly remembered for, to his relentless pursuit of taking the hard road up. He did it with the attitude of an adventurer who took the hard road not for anything else but to challenge the physical and mental spirit that resides within us and the joy of it. Of course, when I saw him dart up the stairs, I quietly said to myself “when I grow up I want to be like him”.
By this I meant his fitness levels at the age of 50 and now as I am closing in on that number, I find myself on a fitness trail as if to deliver to myself the promise I made that once there (at 50) I too shall have the mental and physical ability to scale mountainous stairways to goals. This just did not end at inspiring me to climb stairs. What this represented for me was that of self-reliance to go after my goals with the resources within my control. It taught me to be able to get to goals with one sure step after another. This taught me to respect the steps going up as much as those that would gently break my fall coming down.
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It taught to me to pace my life out and not rush into spaces before it was time for me to be there. This sense of timing gave me the comfort of knowing that I will be forever occupied with a rhythm in life with no moments of emptiness. Yes, all this from just watching Dev uncle sprint up a flight of stairs. Till today, I have a special affinity for stairs and I owe it all to this one man. I have a five-floor rule and climb every time I have a chance. I have scaled large mountains using the stairs rather than the roads so temptingly beckoning my presence on them. I still harbor that desire to live life not with what it throws my way but to climb if necessary to it… to get what I want.
You must be wondering about how my quest for a place in bollywood turned out. Well this did not turn out as profoundly an account as described above. I did patiently listen to the interview my mother did for her article in the Deccan Herald on the ‘Stars of yester-years (which is now reproduced in the coffee table book she published on her memorable journey as a journalist called ‘Pen Drive‘). We did indulge in light chatter about things here and there. I was a bit uneasy about how to come out and ask for my BIG break into the Bollywood world.
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I awkwardly tried to find the right moment and before I could think I could hear my mom resonating loudly in my head and to my disbelief she just blurted to Dev uncle that I wanted to get into acting. At the end of the day, there was no other way to do this but directly and this I understand now – “poochne mein kya jata hain” or “the only stupid question is the one you did not ask directly.”
I was 15 then and what transpired was even more dramatic and earth shattering. I was looking for a place to hide or just dissolve. What he said was to blow my dreams into smithereens. My whole world came crumbling down and I thought there is no point in pretending to live. All dramatic I know but try building a world around what can be and see what happens when it is NOT. Big lesson learned. Temper your expectations with caution it does not become a need.
Dev uncle began his monologue on how the film industry is so bad and that no one should get into it. Only those that have no other option should even attempt. He went on to tell me how compromising one has to become with ethics and other principles of life had to take back seat just to get ahead. “Beta, padhai pe dhyan do and apne maa baap ke sapne pure karo” was what he said. This was the time he was launching his son into films and gave me an example of how in spite of being his son, the boy was having a tough time making it.
It was at this point my 15 year old’s arrogance surfaced. I thought this was a conspiracy against my entering the business only to protect the chances of his son. I saw Dev uncle for the first time as the villain. I looked at him with suspicious intent with a single point agenda to snuff out competition for his son. I wanted to tell him to stuff his advice or give it to someone else.
I began to see the hypocrisy in the entire monologue about how I should stay away. I decided not to give up the ambition and politely thanked him for his advice while all I wanted to tell him was that the only reason his son did not make it was because he was a loser. Unfair personal comment, I know, but at 15 all I cared was about ME and my feelings. Would I want to be 15 again? Would I have changed the course of my life and erased the chance to meet Dev Anand again? No. Bollywood or no Bollywood, what he did for me was far more priceless than had he given me my BREAK into Bollywood. He gave me my grounding. Upon which now stands my whole life.
By Anil Srivatsa
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