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'Who up there is writing this script?'

By ROSHMILA BHATTACHARYA
April 13, 2022 11:55 IST
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'How can so many misfortunes fall on one beautiful family?'

IMAGE: Shiv Subrahmanyam in 2 States.

On Monday, April 11, Shiv Subrahmanyam bid the world goodbye.

The talented actor-writer was just 62 when he was diagnosed with the final stage of cancer.

He didn't stay back to fight.

Maybe the fight had gone out of him when he lost his only child Jahaan, just short of his 16th birthday, two months ago.

Shiv leaves behind a vacuum that will never be filled and several friends grieve his loss. Among them is writer-actor-director Amole Gupte, his friend of 40 years, and who directed him in Stanley Ka Dabba.

Amole tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattachary, "Gentle isn't an exaggeration or an epitaph. It's the word everyone who was touched by Shiv will always associate with this bro of mine."

Last year, on March 26, drummer, composer, musician and video maker Stewart Copeland of the Police tweeted: '#Onthisday Our only India concert was in 1980, hosted by the ladies of the Time and Talent Club at the Rang Bhavan, Bombay (aka Mumbai). And the folks sang "YO!" just like Milwaukee.'

Stewart appended the post with a picture of himself with band members Sting and Andy Summers.

I met Shiv for the first time at this fundraiser when, like me, he was trying to sneak in without buying a ticket.

If my memory serves me right, the police, who were policing the Police concert, caught him trying to jump the wall and he got a lathi on his leg.

It was quite ironical because that hot evening, we were all running to hear Walking On The Moon, a song written by Sting, whose lines go, Giant steps are what you take, Walking on the moon, I hope my leg don't break, Walking on the moon...

Well, thank God, Shiv didn't break his leg trying to walk on the moon with Sting!

Music and theatre connected us...

I must have been around 18 at the time. Today, I have turned 60, so it was a 40-year friendship with a gentle man.

Gentle isn't an exaggeration or an epitaph. It's the word everyone, who was touched by Shiv, will always associate with this bro of mine.

In the news with The Eight Column Affair

IMAGE: Shiv Subrahmanyam in The Eight Column Affair.

We were together at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune.

And once you are on campus, from Tarkovsky to Fellini and other film-makers, one is never short of subjects to discuss.

Shiv featured in Sriram Raghavan's brilliant 1987 graduation film, The Eight Column Affair, which explores the journey of news coming alive when an athlete, featured in a photograph on the front page of the newspaper, falls in love with a tennis starlet in a photograph on the last page and dashes off to rescue her.

It is literally a race against time and en route, he encounters several headlines, not all of them congenial, as he fights to get to the girl before midnight when the next edition will come out and all this news will be dead and buried.

Shiv played a marathon runner while one of the top models of the time, Rachel Reuben, was the tennis player, a sport she had never played in her life.

Edited by Rajkumar Hirani, The Eight Column Affair bagged the National Award for Best Short Fiction Film.

On the write track with Parinda

IMAGE: Anil Kapoor and Shiv Subrahmanyam in Parinda.

Shiv was writing the screenplay of Parinda at the time for Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

As the film featured Nana Patekar as the psychopath villain Anna, he was able to convince the actor to do a cameo in Sriram's film, with Nana attacking him with a knife while he is on the way.

Choreographer Fali Mistry and actress Shyama's son Faroukh, a New York-based choreographer, and I, along with a few others, went to watch Parinda when it released in November 1989.

It was Shiv's big-ticket film as a writer and also featured him in a key role, as Francis, a shooter from Anna's gang, who accompanies Kishan when he is sent on a hit job.

After the film, I spent the night at Faroukh's house and we discussed the film in great detail.

Parinda wasn't just Marlon Brando's On The Waterfront, it had a lot of Bombay spunk.

It was strong, commercial, with strength of character, a path-breaking film and one of the few I love.

So was Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Sudhir Mishra's 2003 film whose story and screenplay Shiv wrote along with Sudhir and Ruchi Narain.

Sudhir had co-written the 1983 cult comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, and Saaed Mirza, Kundan Shah and he were a group.

Shiv, being close to Sudhir, was part of this group.

Maybe at some point, Sudhir and Shiv sat together somewhere, went into fifth gear, and created this masterpiece which I couldn't stop gushing over.

Hazaaron was set against the backdrop of the Emergency, yet inspired by the French New Wave. It was so beautiful and poetic.

Sudhir and Shiv created a different world, in a different time, with Shiney Ahuja making a swashbuckling entry and Kay Kay Menon coming up with an unforgettable performance.

An actor with a difference

IMAGE: Shiv Subrahmanyam and Abhimanyu Dassani in Meenakshi Sundareshwar.

As an actor what set Shiv apart was a certain therav.

He could command a scene without commanding it as actor, whether he was playing Shiv Swaminathan, the girl's father in 2 States or Thatha in the more recent Meenakshi Sundareshwar.

One of his most under-rated films was the 2016 slice-of-life Tu Hai Mera Sunday with him as Ranganathan, Shahana Goswami's father.

Shiv and I acted together in Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey.

I played the politician Sunil Bhope aka Bhope Bhau, Sweety's brother, while he was Lobo, the corrupt cop.

We joined everyone else in the climax, the only day we spent together in Hyderabad's Ramoji Rao Film City where Sameer Chanda had created a fabulous set of a South Mumbai chawl.

Shiv floated easily into the characters he played, using that baritone effortlessly without making it sound like he was giving a voiceover for a shampoo ad, as is usually the case.

 

Stanley Ka Dabba and Saturday fun

IMAGE: Shiv Subrahmanyam with the Tu Hai Mera Sunday cast.

I am ashamed to admit that I under-utilised him in my film Stanley Ka Dabba in which he played a Maths teacher, talking of the magic of number 9.

He bonds with Stanley over the paneer he brings in his dabba, telling him it's the best cottage cheese he has eaten in his life. The boy shares that his mother had gone to Khar that morning to buy it from (a restaurant) Punjab Sind.

Shiv's wife Divya Jagdale, who played Mrs Iyer, the science teacher, was the real casting.

The sport that he was, Shiv instantly said, 'Kar lenge' when I offered him the role.

For him, it was a chance to sit together and chat, eat vada pav and drink chai, make these Saturdays worth our while.

Stanley Ka Dabba was born from four hour-long cinema and theatre workshops that I hosted for children at my former alma mater, Holy Family High School in Andheri, on Saturdays for over a year-and-a-half.

Divya couldn't leave Jahaan home alone, so she brought their four-year-old son along and our bond grew stronger.

Saina and an endearing memory

IMAGE: Amole Gupte.

We would keep talking about each other's films, our last good conversation happened just before Saina released.

The film played in the theatres briefly before the lockdown was enforced again, but since Jahaan, who was battling cancer, couldn't step out, I sent them a private link of my sports drama to watch in the comfort of their home.

Shiv said some really nice things about Saina, which will remain an endearing memory.

Shiv appreciated Saina, he said it was an honest film, a critique I took home with me, coming as it did from him.

A date with Irani Café

IMAGE: Divya and Shiv with their son Jahaan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Shiv Subrahmanyam/Facebook

Shiv himself has a fabulous body of work in theatre, as an actor, playwright and director.

Around a decade-and-a-half ago, before Stanley Ka Dabba, he was directing this lovely film, Irani Café.

He gave almost three-four years of his life to the film, had completed the shooting and moved into post-production when it got dumped.

No one, not even I, got to see it.

Shiv was a Mumbai boy in the true sense, who loved Irani chai and vada pav, knew every street and was accessible to everyone.

On February 11, Divya and he had lost their son Jahaan after a seven-and-a-half-year battle with cancer.

Two months later, on the night of April 10, we lost Shiv to the disease too.

Both father and son were cremated on the 11th -- February 11 and April 11 -- respectively.

My heart breaks for Divya.

I find myself asking, 'Who up there is writing this script? How can so many misfortunes fall on one beautiful family?'

It's so unfair!

For me, it's the end of a friendship that lasted over four decades.

One day, I plan to sit with Divya and some of our friends, find out what is the status of Irani Café and see if there's any way that we can revive this film and show it to the world.

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ROSHMILA BHATTACHARYA