Sukanya Verma

Oh hero, my hero!

Hero: a champion, a model, a brave man.

That's how the dictionary defines him. For me it simply means Sunil Shetty.

Bollywood's leading action star and I go a long way back. The first time we met was when I had just entered my teens.

Cable television was the in-thing then and I watched a lot of good, bad and ugly films. Balwaan, Sunil's debut vehicle, was one of the lot.

Brawny, bulky and wooden. My initial reaction was far from favourable. Teenage is a time when you don't believe in giving anyone a second chance. I was no different.

Waqt Hamara Hai and Hum Hain Bemisaal followed, co-starring another hunk, Akshay Kumar. I don't know what exactly changed my mind, but after Dilwale, wherein Sunil played a strong, emotional supporting role, I began to sorta like the guy.

He had cut his hair short and that made him look smart and cool. Being a great action buff, I always looked forward to some skull-banging and muscle-crunching from him.

Next thing I know, I was publicly declaring my admiration for him at school! And I was the only one. The rest were all members of the Khan brigade.

But that didn't faze me -- I collected Sunil's pictures from magazines and newspapers and even bullied a friend into getting me his autographed photograph!

Now, wait a minute... does all this make you think I had a crush on him?

No way! I never thought of him in those terms at all! There was no dancing around trees with him in my dreams. For those, I strictly relied on Tom Cruise and Chris Cairns.

No Superman or Batman for me. Shettyman was more like it. Like, when I was in junior college, I had to board a train from Vile Parle station. To enter a compartment from there during peak hours is like travelling to hell and back. Trust me, nothing can prepare you for it.

But if you know the Shetty mantra, things can be relatively comfortable. What I used to do was shriek "Jai Sunil Shetty". The entire battalion of women would be baffled for a moment, taking advantage of which I quickly jump in.

Being Sunil's fan is pretty hard on the bones, I must admit.

I had near-fatal experiences twice trying to ape him. Remember Mohra? No, not the mast-mast bit, but the one where Sunil gets down from a moving bus. Simple it looked, right? But it isn't, believe me.

Once, as the bus I was travelling in neared my stop, I saw my male friends doing the same stunt. Tempted and confident, I too went for it.

Thud! I was down, rubbing noses with the dirty ground. My pink skirt was a nice shade of brown. And I saw stars, though not the filmi kind.

No, I still had not learnt my lesson. The second time around, a train replaced the bus. I had mistakenly got into a fast, which didn't stop where I wanted to get down. But when it approached my station it reduced speed.

"Aww, c'mon Sukanya, where is your spirit of adventure? After all, you are a Shetty fan!" said I to myself. And jumped.

Suffice to say that I limped home in torn jeans and loads of bruises.

A few years on, I graduated into the field of movie journalism. And soon my dream of interviewing my hero came true.

Unlike many people who come away disappointed after meeting their favourites, I was more than pleased. Sunil lived up to my expectations all right.

Dressed in black, he was politeness personified. That was a time he was riding high, but he didn't put on any airs with a raw newcomer. He had given me 20 minutes; we ended up speaking for two hours.

Later, as I was wrapping up the interview, he asked me whether I was still in college. Was this a part-time job?

When he learnt I had finished my studies and was a full-timer, he was both amused and pleased.

"Should I tell him that he has always been my hero?" I wondered. "Nah, that won't be nice..."

It was as if he read my mind. While seeing me to the door, he patted my head and wished me the very best in life and a great future as a journalist.

Wow, thought I, is that really the stuff heroes are made of?

Sukanya Verma is having the time of her life following he-men around Bollywood.

Illustration and page design: Lynette Menezes

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