A Young Aghajani Kashmeri Travels From Lucknow to Rangoon to Calcutta

We begin of course in Lucknow, Aghajani Kashmeri’s

Just before aghajani kashmeri ran away to join bollywood posing at a friend's home in wazir gunj

Just before he ran away to become a Bollywood hero (CLICK to enlarge)

birthplace, the city in Northern India that raised him, the city where he imbibed Urdu poetry and literature,

rubbing shoulders with the most famous Urdu writers and poets, being taken on as the pupil (shagird, in Urdu) of Arzoo Lucknowi, the giant among poets in those days. No wonder that he decided in his late teens that his classroom would not be in front of a blackboard.

A rare still photo from the film zamindar starring aghajani kashmiri and Begum Akhtar

Rare still of Aghajani in Zamindar with Begum Akhtar

Arzoo’s most famous quatrain is about his first sexual encounter, first night, after reading a heavy tome on love. The whole experience is like a blizzard and the book is lost in translation. As the blizzard continues, the book wonders whatever happened to the logic it had imparted to its reader! Babba’s life was like a blizzard, to the end. Both his own autobiography, Sahar Hone Tak, and the documentary bear witness to this.

But given the finite nature of books and the superficiality of timing in a documentary, there is a lot of interesting but extraneous material that is left out. I am going to try and recreate some of that here, in the hope that a bell goes off in the mind of somebody out there. And a comment or many comments appear on the post like the magic of day and night, the seasons, love. Continue reading

Aghajani Kashmeri’s Scrapbook Contains Gems from Bollywood’s Early History

Life they say is full of pleasant surprises. For me, one of them came when I was in the middle of translating my father’s autobiography, Sahar Hone Tak, and making notes for a documentary proposal I was going to make to OMNI-TV for a one-hour TV show on Babba.

I was rummaging through a large box containing the personal possessions of my father.

program booklet for Kali Film's Ameena 1934

More on this 1934 film in the next installment of scrapbook…

My wife Carlotta Cattani had already dived into some other boxes and discovered several rare photographs of my dad during his early bid to become a Bollywood hero in Calcutta (Kolkatta). To my pleasant surprise, I found that Adda my mother (Khursheed Kashmeri, nee Khursheed Kabiruddin Kazi) had kept a scrapbook which contained even more gems, everything from Babba’s filmography to the reviews of his movies, little pamphlets of rare films that I had no idea he had written or in which he had acted. It even included invitations to the premiere of several of his movies.

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Bollywood icon Shammi Kapoor passes away

Shammi Kapoor in a scene from The Golden PenThe crew of The Golden Pen offer their condolences to Shammi Kapoor’s wife Neela Devi, our gracious host when we filmed him; and to his children Aditya Raj and Kanchan Desai.

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It is hard to believe that the most flamboyant star of Bollywood, an actor who lived life to the fullest, driving the fanciest cars and drinking the finest Scotch whiskies, has passed away, just nine months after being interviewed by me for The Golden Pen, a documentary on the life of my father, Aghajani Kashmeri, being produced in Canada with funding from OMNI-TV.

How can I or anyone else from my generation forget the most famous song, better known as the Yahoo song, in his best known hit, Junglee, written by my father. More on that later in this post. Watch just the song and you’ll understand why he was also called the Elvis Presley of India. Continue reading

Production Journal: Mumbai

 

If shooting “THE GOLDEN PEN — Following the Footsteps of a Bollywood Scriptwriter” in the city of Lucknow was like a romp through fantasyland, filming in Mumbai was like stepping back in time, despite the vibrancy of a metropolis that I and everyone I know still call Bombay.

 

As we walked up Cumballa Hill Road, the street where Babba, my father, moved to after he wrote hit after hit, and rented a flat in a building called Keki Court, it did not seem like anything had changed.

The tiny cigarette shop at the foot of the Lane was still there and I could have sworn that the bidiwala had aged chronologically backwards. But no, it was his son Suresh.

The only difference: with globalism and liberalization of trade, Lucky Strike and Marlborough could now be purchased at more reasonable prices. Talk of marketing death with panache. Continue reading

Production Journal: Lucknow

LUCKNOW, INDIA – The residents of Wazir Gunj, an old ‘mohalla’ or neighbourhood, rose up to lend a helping hand in the digital rebirth of the late Bollywood scriptwriter, Aghajani Kashmeri. And it was quite an experience, talking to the children and grandchildren of the friends my Babba played with. (SEE SLIDESHOW BELOW AND LISTEN TO THE MELODIOUS VOICE OF LUCKNOW’S LEGENDARY GHAZAL SINGER, THE LATE BEGUM AKHTAR)

After all, he was one of their own, who rose to capture the No. 1 spot in the world’s largest movie industry as a screenplay, dialogue and storywriter. And here we were, myself, Howard Bernstein (my co-producer and co-writer), his wife Lani Selick (our director), Tony Wannamaker (the director of photography), assisted by Samal Prashant from New Delhi, recreating the early life of Babba.

Filming the Aghajani Kashmeri documentary in Lucknow, India - The Golden Pen team

The Golden Pen documentary team in Lucknow’s Sarovar Portico

He was born at 9 Wazir Gunj. The original home still stands, an open courtyard surrounded by living quarters, a terrace up top running all the way around. All the houses connect to each other through the terrace. You could in fact, jump from one terrace to another and make your way around the old mohalla. Babba did, he writes in his autobiography, Sahar Honé Tak.

SLIDESHOW OF THE LUCKNOW SHOOTING

On one occasion, as a youngster, he and some friends found an opening in the roof of a nearby home from where they peeped at a newlywed couple enjoying their first night. Babba told me years later that he never forgot the nuptial conversation! And would reproduce those dialogues in one of his movies, with crfitics acclaiming the scene as one of the most realistic pieces of scriptwriting. Continue reading