As a film journalist, you learn to like the chase. It's a practical joke worth wasting your time on. Bollywood personalities, unlike those from the South cinema, tend to have an uplifted view about themselves. Due to which, it's difficult for them to be punctual or admit that they were mistaken about something. In my 3+ years on the field, i encountered quite a lot of amusing incidents, peculiarly while interviewing them. Sharing a few of those memories here...
- When you are a rookie, you don't understand whom to call or when. Javed Akhtar happened to be one of the first filmwallahs i spoke to. So, i dailed his number for a quote and introduced myself. The thing about being with mid-day is people usually pay attention to you. But not him. He sounded grumpy and told me to call him later as he was having his afternoon nap.
- Some directors won't ignore their phone but will ignore you. Pradeep Sarkar (director of Parineeta (2005) kept delaying my request for a phone interview by saying “Ami abhi bohot busy oy...tum boddmein phone karo!” only to say the same thing again when you called the next day. Had to give up.
- You can always bet on the foreign desis to be different. Mira Nair was getting late for her flight and yet she decided to call me up for the pre-scheduled interview. Since it was delayed, i assumed it won't happen and i had already left for home. My phone started buzzing when i was at the railway station. With nowhere left to go, i took a phone interview amid the platform rush.
- Sneha Khanwalkar was apparently very media-shy but i still wanted to try my luck. Back in 2012, she was the only active female music composer (I think she still is) in the Hindi film industry. She picked up my call the first time i rang her, asked me to fix a date for interview and then never got back. Stopped picking up calls. Stopped replying to my messages.
- I chased Goutam Ghose for weeks before he finally agreed to speak. The interview made the cover of entertainment section. Before that happened, he was polite enough to keep saying “next week, sure thing” again and again and again and again.
- I was one of the last journos to talk to Mrinal Sen and Farooq Shaikh. Both took their own sweet time to get hold of on phone. And both of them were extremely cordial and frank in their replies. I still have their numbers on my phone.
- King Khan is reachable only during the promotions of his films! I waited in the lobby of Mannat for over three hours to get a fantastic chat out of SRK. It was nearing midnight and he looked tired but his weariness didn't get in the way of his charming answers.
- In a lot of cases, media is to be blamed for journalistic excesses. Anurag Kashyap used to be very approachable. Always the one to pick up phone or reply to texts. One fine night (he was at Sundance Film Festival), he even replied to my long email of questionnaire. But the way his answers got edited in the final cut got his goat. He angrily messaged me saying he'll never talk to me again. Thankfully, he didn't keep his word.
- It's funny how you go to a fancy hotel and wait in the joint near the lobby. And then after an hour or so, Shekhar Kapur walks to your table, looking all snoozy and apologizing for the delay. To his credit, he was gung-ho once the interview picked up speed.
- I kept chasing the acclaimed cinematographer Santosh Sivan (Roja, Dil Se, Thuppakki) for days, which turned into weeks, before finally giving up on him.
- It's only when a celebrity confesses or clarifies to you that you fully realize the reach of your profession. There was a buzz that Lootera was going to be beautiful thanks to Mahendra J. Shetty's cinematography and Vikramaditya Motwane's vision. But there was something else too in the air. The rumour that Amit Trivedi has committed the irredeemable act of plagiarism. After pulling some strings with a friendly PR, i got my 20 minutes with him. And a truly candid interview.
- What can you ask an Indian filmmaker who makes one movie every five years? Well, a LOT. When i finally got hold of Raju Hirani, i bombarded him questions that were mostly ad-libbed. Being the gentle soul that he is, he made the wait worth it.
- I was on my way to attend a press screening of some English film when i got a call from Katrina Kaif. I remember saying “Ma'am, i'm in a bus. I'm on my way to... blah blah...can i call you tomorrow morning at 11?” All she said during that call was “Hello, am i speaking to Shakti?” and “Sure” in English accent. She picked up the phone the following day at 11.30am.
- One would expect the wife of one of India's richest businessmen to be reeking of uppity. At least i expected Yasmeen Premji to be like that. Don't ask me why. But she proved me wrong as she patiently answered all my questions related to her book (which took her more than 20 years to complete) as well as stuff not related to it. At the end of the interview, she expressed her surprise that young men STILL laughed like me. I generally did that to overcome nervousness.
- Something similar happened with Sudha Murthy too. I met her in a book store as she was busy signing some copies. When she finally noticed me, she asked "Are you going to ask any questions now?" before multi-tasking answers with autographs.
- One of my favourite Indian filmmakers, Jahnu Barua was supposed to call me at 7.30pm so i was well-prepared for the same. He called at 8-ish, explaining that there was power issue in his building. Later, he spoke for at least 25 minutes. By the end of interview, he told me he is in his apartment in Sanpada. Had i known this earlier, i wouldn't have stayed in office for the interview. It's much easier to talk in person, especially when the person is staying just 5 minutes away from your house. Also, when i got home, there was no power at my place.
Last year, this time around, i was working for mid-day and had no clue that i'd be moving to north India. Now that i'm away from that paper-filling jamboree of print media, i keep going back to my days as a scribe. Which can tell why i couldn't keep myself from dropping names here. I guess there are many more to drop. Some other time maybe.