Why I Think About Amrita Singh, When I Think About Smoking

Yudhishthir Agrawal writes on handy tips he’s picked up over the years to survive in the City of Dreams

Now, now don’t pretend. You know Amrita Singh –the Hindi film actress, ex-wife of Saif Ali Khan, Best Supporting Actress Filmfare 1994 (Aaina), star of legendary films like Betaab, Mard and my personal favourite – Chameli ki Shaadi. This story involves her. Somewhat.

It was summer vacation of Class 5, and I was in Bombay for the first time. And as all tourists from Delhi do, I had only one request: “Shooting!” My uncle, our reluctant host, somehow managed to arrange a viewing at Mehboob Studio the next afternoon. “Mehboob” I thought? That’s a funny sound. “Haan, Mahboob”, said my driver. “Mah jaise mard, aur Boob jaise, arre boob”. As you can probably imagine, this was my poetic introduction to basic anatomy.(I was a late bloomer).

But that said, this magical male bosomed studio was something else. There were crowds, there were vanity vans, there were strobe lights. I’d never seen anything like it. Word from my driver was that Jaggu Jackie was entering. I saw him in a black SUV, wearing a bandana, Ray Bans, carrying the then 3-year-old Tiger Shroff on his shoulder. Man, that kid had six packs even then I tell you.

But I wasn’t interested in Jackie Shroff. I was staring at Amrita Singh. And when I say staring, I mean staring like a 10-year old does, at a proximity of 2 feet, separated only by a thin rope of sorts. Now in most cases, an established actress would be quite used to little boys staring at her rather intently. But this was slightly tricky. I wasn’t staring at her in awe, I was staring because Amrita Singh was sitting on a chair, smoking. Like a boss.

I’d never seen a woman smoke before. I remember screaming out loudly to my Mother – “Mummy! Amrita Singh cigarette peeti hain!” Oh, the horror. I pity her children. Because what followed was the coldest, meanest, cleanest stare I have ever received from a woman, leave alone a well-respected actress. Amrita Singh traded a look with my mother. The kind that clearly said: get this pesky kid out of my face or else. But I didn’t care. I just gaped, googly eyed. I’d never seen anything like this before. A woman could smoke? Who knew?

Nothing was the same after that. I went back to Delhi after the break and life continued, but my mind and heart stayed in Bombay. What the hell was going in that part of the world? It was like I’d had briefly tasted wonderland.

My uncle soon left Bombay, and that was the end of my physical visits to the promised bosom land. But, I continued to visit in my mind. And with age, the themes remained the same, only the characters changed. By Class 9, my new fascination was Channel V and MTV. And the VJs – Nonie, Sophie, Nikhil, Shehnaz. And their clothes. And their accents. They just looked cool. Far cooler than anyone I’d met in my city. So naturally, I wanted to know where all this action happened. And to my pubescent mind, the answer was simple. A magical place called PO BOX No. 4, Tulsiwadi Tardeo -the postal address at the end of every show.

mehboob studios

And I’m not being cute. In my mind, Tulsiwadi Tardeo was Hollywood. It was New York. It was where stuff happened. My city was just black and brown and dull greys. But this place –Tulsiwadi was fluorescent green, and shocking pink and bright neon. People spoke differently here. They walked differently here. We were just mere consumers in our Lutyen living rooms. But these guys, these Tulsiwadians, they were creators. Man, I was hooked and booked.

Now, the logical flow to this story would be to talk of my utter disappointment on actually visiting Tulsiwadi, and realizing that it is much more a collection of old buildings and rusted studios than the epicenter of show business. But the truth is, I still haven’t been there. I’ve been living in Bombay for six years, but I haven’t gone. Even out of curiosity. In fact, I’m not even sure where it exactly is on the map.

Why you ask? Despite all this innocent nostalgia? Well, I’ve just been busy. You know, complaining about the city. The roads, the traffic, the people, the pace. “This city consumes you!” “I can’t live like this anymore.” And all this angst just got me thinking. This city, much like it’s economy, only works when it’s conceptual. You need to buy into the ‘idea’ of Bombay, and not so much it’s actual real estate.

That’s the only way to make sense of it. It’s not great to live in. It doesn’t offer much in terms of standard of life, but almost everyone I know, especially those in a creative field, are here because at some point in their life, they bought into the ‘idea’ of the city. Maybe it was Jackie Shroff, maybe it was Simpu Singh, maybe it was Buniyad or Antakshari. It doesn’t matter. This idea fuels the pace. This idea fuels the traffic. It gives the stubbornness to live here. Unfortunately, the more you stay in the city, the more you forget why it was special in the first place.

For my end, I’m just trying to remember ‘that thing’ that got me here. You know, for the times I see a big rat blissfully strolling along the footpath, or when I dodge an overflowing gutter spilling into my drive way, or for that time I mistakenly stepped over a homeless man after a drunken evening at Bonobo. Bombay is not always a wonderland. But in my head, it could still be one. That’s the magic. And that’s my plan to exist here. Not to crib and curse, but maybe to just remember. To remember the sounds and shapes that made it distinctly special. They might be idealistic. They might not all be true. But who cares. To me, they are still welcome antidotes for the times I feel a little low, those peculiar whimsical days of Mehboob-Amrita-Tardeo.

(A disclaimer: As with most things in the city, some facts in this article may have been distorted for literary punch and commercial effect. I don’t actually think about Amrita Singh when I think about smoking. That would be creepy. I’m also not very sure how old I was when I was first came to Bombay, but I would imagine a bespectacled lanky boy in Class 5 makes for a compelling protagonist. And did I really step over a homeless man outside Bonobo? Well, I’m not an animal. Shame on you for believing that. )

About the author:

Yudhishthir Agrawal, much like his mythical namesake believes in the power of truth, honesty and fairness. But he works in Advertising. So he frowns a lot.

You can reach him at www.shortsillystories.com

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