first person A carefully orchestrated meeting with Joy Mukherjee over fifty years ago is the stuff of jubilant memories for a group of senior citizens today.
The death of Joy Mukherjee came as a sad reminder of the transitory nature of youthful exuberance and fame. College boys in the early 1960s gelled well with him as he was of the same age as us. When “Love in Simla” was making waves one went to see the picture nearly every week and came back invigorated for college romances, which were often boring and tedious, since the object of desire was not as forthcoming as Sadhana in the movie. But it did give fresh hope to disheartened Romeos and at least made them attend classes more regularly, if not for the lectures, for the presence of the attractive girls. It did give a feeling of closeness, sitting just one or two seats away and trying to smell the perfume which they had dabbed themselves with before catching a rickshaw to the alma mater.
Some of us came to know that the actor was going to stop in Delhi on his way back to Bombay, and a group of three girls and four boys caught the morning train from Raja-Ki-Mandi station, arriving at New Delhi in the forenoon. We learnt that he was staying at the Imperial Hotel in Janpath and made our way thither. Nobody would allow us into his room so we waited under the palm trees till, by sheer luck, Joy emerged and we boldly rushed forward. The girls, Sitara, Rajni and Rosalie, were in the forefront as our bulwark against any meddling johnnies in charge of hotel security. Somebody pinched Sitara, who was the prettiest of the three, and she flared up at fat Masood, thinking that he was the one who had tried to take liberties with her. But the group leader silenced her, saying it was he who wanted her to take the lead and break the ice with the approaching actor.
Sitara did not demur and presented her autograph book to him. The others trooped around her and Joy did look amused at the way the eager faces were looking up to him, with hero-worship oozing from their eyes as it were. He asked Sitara her name and wrote a few words in the proffered book. Then Rajni and Rosalie sought his autograph and after that the boys started pestering him with questions. What did he eat? How much did he exercise? Had he fallen in love with any of his heroines? What were the chances of other young men entering the film industry? Joy Mukherjee answered these questions with great composure and sincerely advised aspirants to filmdom to first complete their studies and then think if they had the aptitude to make their dream come true. He stressed that one either needed great good luck or a godfather to reach the first rung of the ladder to stardom. Everybody shook their heads, particularly the boys, as the girls had just come to see the hero in person and were hardly interested in aspiring for slots that would make them Bollywood heroines.
Sitara however asked him if after “Love in Simla” and “Love in Tokyo”, he would act in a film entitled “Love in Paris” or “Evening in Paris”. Joy shook his head and said making films and giving them titles was not his job. There were others who decided these things. But even so, Rajni did not hesitate to present him a bottle of the scent, Evening in Paris, then quite a craze with college girls. Joy accepted it with some reluctance. We shook hands and left the actor to board the car waiting for him. That day is still etched in the memory even after 50 years. Sitara, Rajni and Rosalie must be grandmothers now, but his death must have grieved them and the boys who accompanied them to Delhi. It was only later that one learnt that Ashok Kumar and Kishore Kumar were his mamus and Kajol, Rani Mukerji and Tanisha his nieces. Joy Mukherjee had later made way for Rajesh Khanna as the romantic hero. Rajesh was then upstaged by Amitabh Bachchan, who still hogs the limelight. But Joy Mukherjee, no doubt the quintessential middle class hero, cast in the boy-next-door image, will continue to remain so for those quite ripe for the age (as the Bard described it) “of the lean and slippered pantaloon.”
r. v. smith
(The writer is a senior journalist and author)