I love the Mumbai traffic...It’s the only time I get to be by myself

Essentially you are a Delhi boy in Mumbai…

Ab to 50:50 ho gaya hai. I was 25 when I came to Mumbai and now I am 50. I say this in Hindi film terms: Ek ne tujhko janam diya, ek ne tujhko paala, kisko kahega tu maiyya (reference to a popular Hindi film song). So I have been born in Delhi and I have been brought up by Mumbai. They are both my hometowns. My parents are from Delhi and my kids are from Mumbai and I am stuck right there in the middle.

But they are very different worlds, aren’t they?

Delhi is beautiful, has a different culture. It is the political centre, has wider roads and greener pastures. The one nice thing about Delhi is that you feel like living in that city. Now it’s a lot more crowded but it still has a comfort zone, big gardens and parks. The standard of living is more in tune with the demands and needs of growing up. You can just pick up a ball, go out and there are five parks to play in. I come from a lower middle class family but still there was Manavsthali grounds for me, and another and another. In Mumbai it is difficult.

But there is a flipside. I remember I was in Chowpatty buying vada-pav. In Delhi when you go out to buy something and ask questions like is it good, is it fresh, is it priced fine, the shopkeeper might tell you to let it be, don’t buy, have tea, at least have some Coke. It’s a lot more laidback, relaxed, it’s all about a “business at leisure” attitude. When I asked the same questions in Mumbai the vada-pav guy said he’ll eat it. If you want to buy fine or else just go away. There’s that no-nonsense attitude — I eat it, if it’s good enough for me it would be good enough for you too. Here it’s all about let’s do business fast and move on.

I want to know about the God particle. I want to know about Rihanna’s new song.

My life in Delhi felt a lot more laidback — the evenings, the fog, the lights becoming yellower. In Delhi you can leave your house for leisure. In Mumbai you leave your house for work. I like that. I really enjoy it. I am not a very social person. I may have to do a lot of social appearances because of my work but I am extremely shy, reclusive and I don’t like being out. It’s not as though I’ll go out on a stroll to the market. I don’t go to New York and hang around in the streets either.

You can’t…

Even if I could I wouldn’t do it. There are lot of people asking me if I miss it. I would have never done it. I like to get out and work. I like to wear shoes in the morning and take them off at night. It’s in my DNA. Sorry I should not be mentioning DNA to The Hindu. I will say Mumbai suits my way of life. I like to work. I am a workaholic. So I really like the no nonsense city. You wanna work you be in Mumbai, you wanna work at leisure and have a lifestyle which is more laidback then there’s Delhi for you.

So you don’t miss Delhi at all?

I am not attached to or detached from any city. They have this saying: Mullah ki daud masjid tak (The priest’s only destination is the mosque). For me it’s the studio. I wake up and go to the studio and then I come back home. In the middle I don’t even realise which road I have passed or which hoarding I missed. It’s the same when I go abroad, and I have been nearly everywhere except China and Russia. But if you ask me don’t you love Morocco streets well I don’t remember them. I shot there, they were beautiful, I was happy but I just went from the hotel to where I was supposed to work and got back. In the evenings I don’t go out. My unit goes out but I eat in the hotel. I have been to every city in the world but I don’t know about any city in the world. And I have been to the most exotic and beautiful ones. If you left me in the middle of one and asked me which one it is chances are I won’t be able to tell.

So you are not a traveller…

I hate travelling and for someone who hates travelling I travel every third day, all around the world, at times in a private jet. I was supposed to be in Vatican today or yesterday. I just went to Edinburgh for a day and came back. I will be going to Dubai or London in a day or two. I was supposed to be in Cairo. I just came back from Delhi two days ago.

Anything you dislike about Mumbai?

I know people complain a lot about traffic but I am ok even with that. It’s the only time I get to do my email and other stuff. To be honest I love the traffic. It’s the only time I get to be with myself. My line of work requires me to be always surrounded by people. A hundred of them any given time. Be it shooting or public appearances. I like the quiet of the traffic in Mumbai, how it slows things.

I love the rains. I love the sea. One of my earliest memories of Mumbai is of being somewhere in the town, I don’t remember names of places even now. I can get lost. I remember studios but I won’t know Turner Road. I think I was by the Taj and I was walking with (producer/friend) Vivek Vaswani. I turned a corner and suddenly there was this huge expanse of sea in front of me. For a Delhi boy it was a sight, the huge sea soon after this small lane out of Taj. That’s why I always wanted a house by the sea. The sea reminds you of your own smallness. I like going out once in a way to the terrace to wave out to the people, to take my little one out just to look at the sea. Coming from a landlocked area it means a lot though I still don’t know how to eat a fish.

You’d have lived in a lot of places all over Mumbai in your initial days of struggle…

I mostly stayed on this road. When I came here I lived in (producer-director) Aziz Mirza’s house which is close by and then I rented a place bang behind this building, a one bedroom house. That was just after I got married and then we shifted to Carter Road which is an extension of this road itself. It was the corner house in Bandstand. And then I came here to Mannat. So I have never really gone beyond Bandstand and Carter Road in Mumbai. I have always been a Bandra boy though I did live for a while in town with Vivek Vaswani. I would come from Delhi, shoot and fly back to Delhi at that time. I did that for a year and a half. I didn’t live in Mumbai till I got married and settled here.

I am not attached to or detached from any city. They have this saying: Mullah ki daud masjid tak. For me it’s the studio.

The way you compare Mumbai and Delhi… Do you have similar strong impressions of other cities as well — Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai — or have they just passed you by like the cities abroad you had mentioned earlier?

In Kolkata I have spent a lot of time on the roads. At least from the Taj hotel to the stadium and it’s quite a big patch. Bangalore I was brought up in. My extended family is from Hyderabad and we lived in Bangalore. I know Bangalore inside out too. It’s strange how I have been in all the cities. I was born in Delhi, my mom is from Hyderabad, dad from Peshawar, I work in Mumbai, I have a team in Kolkata and I have a house in Bangalore. So I am all over the place. I have spent time in all these cities. Bangalore has now changed a lot. It used to be beautiful, used to be called the airconditioned city. Lately when I went to see my own house there I found it has become commercialised. This aspect of cities you’ve lived in shocks you. Delhi shocks me. There are so many flyovers now and houses have turned into shops. This Defence Colony street was so beautiful, now it’s all shops there. In so far as some cities in India are concerned there’s a difference that has crept up which I can feel when I am there. Cities I have lived in I can feel the change. But I wouldn’t know the difference between Indore and Baroda. Now I will be shooting in Ahmedabad so I may get to know it. I will be shooting for Raees in Surat, Ahmedabad and Kutchh.

So Mumbai is home now?

Mumbai is where my kids have been growing up. And they speak Marathi.

There must be some fave haunts in Mumbai back then, some now…

I have never been to a mall here (other than for promotions). I go to just one or two restaurants. I go to Olive at times. They often take me to a Spanish restaurant in Marriott because I can sit outside. This would be barely twice in a year. I do like going out with friends, to a nightclub, but I like getting back home fast because it gets a little difficult for me to be outside in public places for long.

Even when you were younger, 25 years ago, you didn’t hang out anywhere in particular…

Actually I have never been young. I am going to be young now. My parents died when I was very young so the age when I should have been having fun, I was working. I don’t say it with sadness because then I wouldn’t be what I am, who I am. My father died when I was 15 and I was helping my mother and studying. It wasn’t that I was helping some big business woman, it was about helping get by, day to day. I remember the Bijwasan buses, doing the (kerosene) oil booking, dirty it was, then coming back and studying and playing as well. By the time I was 25 my parents were dead and I had an unwell sister. So I have only been working. I have only worked the last 25 years. Now that I have worked enough, I have enough money, I have enough fame, I have enough films to feel nice about, I can be young. So I play at the Playstation, I am into board games. Now I am going to paint the town red.

One film that represents Mumbai for you…

Because I had worked a little on it I’d say Mira’s (Nair) Salaam Bombay. I’d say my own Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. There are little moments and comments in it which are very sweet. Like I say in the film “ Bombay mein jagah hi nahin milti hai pyaar karne ki”. This character takes his girl to the car showroom, acts as though he is checking out the car when he actually wants to kiss her. All because there is no place in Mumbai where you can kiss in peace. He is angry at something and throwing around his resume in Bandstand and there are couples coming out of the rocks. He apologises and asks them to keep at it. There is no place to romance in Mumbai and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman captures that. In Delhi you can always go to Jawaharlal Nehru University.

My father used to tell me that your education should be such that you … understand every page of the newspaper.

They say that Delhi is the city where people are politically aware and Mumbai is where they are more financially inclined. And you are a good mix of the two. You have a political sensibility and are a businessman as well…

My mom was a social worker, my dad was a freedom fighter. Most of the senior leaders of today are my parents’ age, the age my parents would have been now were they alive. I have known them through my parents, as regular people. My father did talk a lot about the things, made us read a lot of books, letters of Nehru, he would tell us political stories very interestingly. You heard of some of the people who are leaders now. You knew about Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai. You knew about Mr. Vajpayee, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. You had heard all these names. One then becomes aware of it in a personal way. I am not interested in politics. I am quite apolitical by thought. All the parties and leaders are cool. I don’t know the agendas. But I have a yearning for learning. I like to spend time on television to know what’s happening and not just the (Peter and Indrani) Mukherjea case. I like to sit down to know what happened in Bihar and in Delhi elections, how are things turning out now. What made the BJP win the general elections. I want to know everything. I want to know about God Particle also. I want to know Rihanna’s new song. I want to know how Jay Z (American rapper and record producer) does his business. When my kids talk about people I don’t know… Like yesterday they were talking about Hardwell and I didn’t know who the hell Hardwell was but now I have found out about him. I know that he is a DJ, a mixer, a producer. I just need to find out. I need to know business. So if I read a tweet of Mr (Anand) Mahindra about something I don’t understand I try and find out about it. What association is he talking about there? If I don’t know something it irks me. I google it. I read up on people. If I do a newspaper summit or something for television and there are other speakers and politicians I just don’t go and say hi who is this guy. I want to know what he or she has done. I like to be aware.

Since you say you like knowing a lot how many newspapers do you read?

Till last year I was reading four papers a day but to be honest now I have stopped reading them. As I wake up I have two cups of coffee and four newspapers are by my side — HT, TOI, Statesman because my father used to read it, then Midday strangely comes in the morning. Then there’s a business paper also but I don’t read it. I find it boring.

Why did you stop reading papers?

One reason is that AbRam (his toddler) comes on the bed and spoils them. Papers are cumbersome. I still haven’t learnt how to fold a paper back. Also, my father used to tell me that your education should be such that you should be able to understand every page of the paper. You should understand the front page, politics and otherwise, world news. You should understand the sports page, the economic section, business page, entertainment, the city section. If you can read a paper and understand it then you are educated—that’s what we were brought up with. But now I find all the pages the same. I don’t find any difference. I don’t find papers interesting any more.

I also think information is flying too fast. If I had to find out about say Malaysian airline crash I would have googled it, seen live videos, watched it on TV. The only reason I would read a newspaper is if I assume, rightly or wrongly, that it would give me more detailed information because it has 24 hours for its journalists to have found out more. I find that a lot of times what Bollywood is blamed for—commerce, entertainment, no thought, over the top narratives, two songs and item numbers—newspapers have become like that. I call it the Bollywoodisation of newspapers. It’s just entertainment. I don’t need a fixed supplement about the city where all I can see are people who have paid to be on the front page. And I am not cynical. God bless them. I am too fortunate not to have to pay to be on the front page. Even if it was gossip earlier one wanted to read it, it’s no longer gossip now. It’s also some paid article, advertorial or whatever. I’d rather check things out on the Net. You can get updates on your phone.

In the new technological world films have survived but people have been sounding the death knell for print…

Films have survived but they have a different platform now. They have gone digital. Till yesterday movies came in cans as celluloid reels. They come in a little disc now. From my house I can beam a film anywhere in the country right now by just unscrambling the code. Similarly print will not die, the platform will change. I read in Time a while ago that newspaper will become a transparent file like thing. Like a screen that can be rolled up. You would be able to fold it and keep in your pocket. You will unfold, tap it and go to your own favourite sections. Like we are beaming movies, newspapers will also be beamed on the file than get printed. The delivery system will have to change. That romaticised kid on the bicycle throwing the paper in your balcony. That will go.

Also as a journalist if you’ve written a piece about a happening. In a couple of hours there’s a change in that then you can update it. So like Kindle if there’s black on white or white on black news then a red part will pop up which will be the update to your story that you would have put up. For you as a journalist it will become even more interesting. You will be on news real time. I’d be abreast of the news much better, you will be writing the news much better. Everybody will be on their toes. The star system will also increase. Journalism has to have its stars like TV anchors.

I will disagree with you there. I am old school, I believe in the anonymity of a by-line

You can’t be anonymous in today’s world. If I put your name out there on the Net there’ll be pictures of you that even you may not have seen yourself. When I joined films I was told you aren’t enigmatic. You are spreading yourself too thin. Nowadays I speak to journalists only when my film is releasing but I know of other stars who are talking every 10 days because of the need to be in the news. They are doing shoots, are in shows. People now need to be seen, heard, looked at, talked about. Anonymity and enigma are no longer good qualities. Greta Garbo would have been very depressed in today’s world.


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Printable version | Oct 9, 2021 11:15:52 PM |

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