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'Badhiya Insaan Tha'
Shashi Kapoor | May 26, 2005 19:01 IST
Shashi Kapoor has a lifetime of memories to share about his filmmaker friend, Ismail Merchant.
This, says Lata Khubchandani, is just a glimpse:
I have known him for 45 years. I met him in 1961. He had gatecrashed a press conference of mine for the film, Chardiwari.
He had come there with a German lady called Belgano, a representative of some movie magazine in Germany.
I knew her.
Ismail said to me, 'I want you to do my film.'
I looked at him and laughed. I asked him if he had made any film. I was sceptical about his knowledge of filmmaking.
The next day, he came with (partner) Jim Ivory, so I realised they were serious about making a film.
The film was Devgad, with Saira Banu. It never materialised.
Then, after a few months, he came again with another idea.
He gave me this English novel to read. It was The Householder, by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. I read it and liked it very much. So we started working on it.
The Householder was among my first batch of films -- probably my fourth or fifth film. Ismail had made two negatives -- one for Hindi and one for English.
I grew to like and admire Ismail, and understand his method of working without any money (working on a tight budget). He completed the film in Rs 6 lakh (Rs 600,000).
Ismail had a different attitude towards making a film. He worked even when he never had money.
I remember once, we had completed half of The Householder, but Ismail hadn't paid me a penny. The film was being shot at one go in Delhi.
I used to come and go to Bombay (now Mumbai), as I was working in other films, too.
I put my foot down, and told him, 'If you don't pay me now, I will not come from Bombay for the next shooting day.'
He promised to pay. I knew he didn't have the money.
But he paid me. And I said, 'Arre!'
I started working. I was happy, but later realised he had borrowed the money from my wife. Jennifer (Jennifer Kendall) had always been very soft with him. Most times, she used to buy lunch for the entire unit.
So I went and showed her the money very proudly, and said, 'Here's the money. Ismail paid me.'
And she said, 'That's very good.'
Aisi harkatein badmash karta tha (He would be up to all these tricks, the rogue).
But the ultimate reason was good.
He wasn't buying things for himself -- cars, clothes or whatever. He was making a film, a good film. Everyone liked him for it.
He paid me in ways I can never never forget. When my wife was very very ill in London, I was down in every way, including finances.
I had a film that was ready but was sitting for a year-and-a-half, waiting to release: Utsav.
Ismail came to the hospital to give me money. Badhiya insaan tha. He was a gem of a person. It wasn't as if he was doing it as a favour. He just did it.
He might have been strict as a producer, but he was very soft. When you were facing bad times, he was very good.
After my wife's demise, he was very concerned about how I was going to manage.
He had seen how Jennifer had looked after me. He had seen our romance, our life together. I had known Jennifer five years before I met Ismail. He used to call up my kids and ask about me without my knowledge.
We had such a good friendship. We had similar tastes in our likes and dislikes. If we didn't like anything, we would tear it to bits, both of us.
He was a very good friend, very understanding.
Big stars worked with him -- Paul Newman, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, so many others.
I did films like The Householder, Bombay Talkie, Shakespearewalla, Heat And Dust, The Deceivers, Muhafiz (In Custody) with him.
He directed me in Muhafiz (1992). I was a bit apprehensive initially, and called up Jim in New York.
We were to shoot in Bhopal. I asked Jim whether Ismail would be able to direct.
Jim told me, 'Don't worry. He will do it.'
Jim was hardly with us for a week.
We shot for 12 weeks in Bhopal. He was good as a director, and made a very nice film.
His most outstanding quality was his love for making films. He started talking about films very early in life. Even before he had completed his MBA in America.
You know, he was a student and an usher at the UN. He would tell you he was a part of the UN. But he never told you what he did there.
When he went to meet Paul Newman, he said, 'I'm a merchant from India making films.'
He was a very good cook and created his own dishes. He wrote more than two, three books on cooking.
He had six sisters and a lot of nephews. One of his sisters is dead.
I remember once, I was unaware he was very ill. I knew he had ulcers -- you get ulcers when you are in the film business, but I didn't think it was serious.
He said, 'I'm going to have this little operation.'
And I said, 'Yes okay.'
He was asked to go home the second day after the operation. But then he started this internal bleeding and had to be hospitalised again.
When I first heard about his death last night, I thought someone was crying over the phone at the news of Sunil Dutt's demise. I had been there all day.
When I understood, I couldn't believe it.
He wanted to be buried here (in Mumbai). It will be at the same place where (Sunil Dutt's wife) Nargis was buried (the Khoja cemetry in Marine Lines, south Mumbai).
Jim Ivory rang me this morning.
They have been together for so long. Their partnership is the longest ever. It is mentioned in The Guinness Book of Records, too (for independent films).