Memories of Movies: My Bollywood Family

Dev Anand’s shirt, Sadhana’s fringe, a chance meeting with R.D. Burman — for most of us, cinema is woven into our everyday lives
Memories of Movies: My Bollywood Family
Memories of Movies: My Bollywood Family

My father, Mayur Vachharajani, is the eldest brother among six siblings and “Baba” to everyone in the family. Growing up in a small town in Gujarat, it was cricket, radio and Hindi cinema that put the jam in Jamnagar for him. There’s a family legend that goes something like this – Baba was ambling down the popular Talao ni pal of Lakhota Lake with his friends when something stopped him cold in his tracks. It was his younger brother, Naishad, hanging out with his friends, but… but… but… he was wearing a new shirt!

More specifically, he was wearing Baba’s new shirt. The fathership strode up to Naishad and demanded the return of the shirt.

“I will, once I’m home, Baba. Please,” pleaded Naishad Kaka.

“Now,” demanded my father, then aged 16 (he’s now 78).

No one says no to the patriarch of the family, as films starring Amitabh Bachchan have taught us. The next thing Naishad Kaka knew, Baba had wrestled the shirt off his back, folded it neatly, and continued ambling along the lakefront, leaving his younger brother shirtless and shivering by Talao ni pal. 

The reason for this swift and punishing shirt retrieval? Bollywood. “It was full sleeve, like one of Dev Anand’s shirts. A big collar, silkish material, and cream in colour,” said my father, remembering the shirt he wouldn’t share some 56 years after the incident first took place.

If you slice open our veins with a butter knife – sorry, Ranveer Singh – our family’s blood type is, without exception, Bollywood positive. Generations of us have grown up on a steady diet of homemade salted popcorn, Hindi cinema and stories of encounters with popular Hindi cinema that have been passed on like oral folktales or mythology. It should come as no surprise that a mandated family trip was taken to Switzerland, which included visiting Yash Chopra’s statue, signing up the nephew for the same chocolate-making class that Ranveer Singh took in Interlaken, and filming my sister running across the Eurorail platform (much to the horror of my brother-in-law). (OK, that last one never happened, cough-cough.) The family’s legion of Bollywood lovers includes an uncle who attended every film celebrity’s funeral and paid his respects. Family gatherings are still spent in a haze of dhokla and patavdi sessions of singing, followed by all sorts of film trivia; our very own Binaca Geetmala, sans Amin Sayani. 

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An extended family

One such memory is pressed into a black-and-white album: My father with Dev Anand. In 1967, he had visited Yusmarg in Kashmir with some bank colleagues. As ajab ittefaq would have it, his screen idol was shooting the song ‘Duriyan Nazdikyan’ with Vyajanthimala for the film Duniya (1968). “I went up to him and shook hands and said that I am his fan and can I take a photo,” Baba recalled. Dev Anand pointed at Vyjayanthimala and asked, “You don’t want one with her?” 

“No,” Baba insisted, “I will take a photo with you only.” Fifty-six years later, a shy smile tugs at his face, the moment forever captured in his Bollywood dil. Today, he keeps a photograph of Dev Anand and him in the briefcase that’s home to most of his most important documents.   

It wasn’t just my father. My mother, Jayshree Vachharajani, and her youngest sister Darshana Majmudar saved up to get their sarees embroidered just like the ones Sadhana wore in her films. Their brothers were entrusted with ferrying the sisters back and forth from movie premieres – a privilege they enjoyed because my grandfather worked with Air India and got passes as he supervised the transport of precious film reels safely to different cities. “Sadhana is special,” my mother said, with a smile, remembering the fringe that the actor made famous. “That hair, we could never ask our parents if we could cut our hair like hers. But we did pretend a lot in the mirror.” 

My father has been known to bunk college, and later even pull down the shutters of the bank he was in charge of, to catch a show of the latest Dev Anand or Dilip Kumar or Raj Kapoor movie. In the days of his youth, this meant hopping onto his best friend’s scooter to zoom off from Jamnagar to Rajkot. “It was three hours to Rajkot. We would leave in the morning, eat lunch at Taj – not your fancy Taj, it was a regular hotel OK? Watch the 3pm to 6pm show, and return by night,” he told me. 

Years later, my father repaid his BFF by gifting him an original signed audio cassette of Munimji (1955). It was given to Baba by Pancham Da, or R.D. Burman. You can imagine my father’s delight when Pancham Da turned out to be a customer at the bank where he was posted. “I was flabbergasted,” Baba remembered. “My branch! My branch! RD, one of the greats. His father, even greater.” When Pancham Da — of course, we refer to Burman by his nickname. His music makes him extended family — visited our home during a dinner party, the adults almost fell over themselves while attempting to seem nonchalant about the legendary music director being in their midst. 

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Together in Bollywood land

Looking back, it was perhaps the escapism that Hindi films offered that drew my father to cinema. As a teenager, he was thrust into adulthood when our grandfather died suddenly. He took up a day job at a bank and studied nights. Those scooter rides with his best friend, the dark screen and movie stars like Dev Sa’ab offered a reprieve from the concerns of the real world. The songs from film soundtracks spun a cocoon around the listener, untethering them from the everyday. My youngest uncle, Narendra Vachharajani, said, “Baba would listen to Binaca on the radio at full volume, and none of us dared lower the volume. It was his own personal time.” 

Money was of course tight, but cinema was a necessary luxury. Ten paisa coins had to be showered at the screen, when Dev Anand stylishly told Pran, “Johnny, mera naam.” Or, more prudently, bottle caps. Makes the same sound, after all. Sometimes, my uncle and his two friends would pool money and take turns to watch a film. Then the lucky cinemagoer would tell the other two the entire story, complete with a recap of the song-and-dance sequences. When there was absolutely no money for tickets, there was Plan B: “We would visit the theatre foyer – you were allowed in then. I would look at the A4 sized photos of the films that were going on. And the next day, I would boast in class that I saw this movie. There was a massive boost to your image if you said you saw a movie, first day-first show,” remembered Naren Kaka.

For my father and my uncle, their love for Hindi cinema is woven into their love for Mumbai. When my father came to the city in 1988, his priority was to make a pilgrimage to Iris Park, Dev Anand’s residence in Juhu. My uncle arrived in Bombay on a hot, muggy afternoon in 1973 to join a new job. “I was on my own, with a tin trunk and my destiny. Raj Kapoor’s super hit movie Bobby was playing at Metro,” he recalled. My uncle was in the thronging crowd that came to Metro to see Raj Kapoor. He remembers seeing Kapoor standing at the cinema’s steps, waving at the gathered crowd that made my newcomer uncle feel less of a stranger to this big city. Years later, when he’d become a local, Sunday mornings would often mean drives to town and he would tell us how Jaikishan (one half of the musical duo Shankar-Jaikishan) had a fixed table at Gaylord restaurant in Churchgate. 

In 2017, my parents visited Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur and walked around the marble structure, retracing Sadhana  Sunil Dutt’s steps from Mera Saaya (1966), while humming “Naino Main Badra Chhaye”. Remembering the film as we talked, my mother began texting her sibling and I was abandoned in favour of the nobler pursuit of figuring out in which film Sadhana wore that yellow saree with the circular pattern. As they walked down memory lane, Mom giggled, as did her sister, the two ostensibly in two different countries, but in actuality, together in the land that is Bollywood. 

Years later, history would repeat itself when my sister and brother-in-law walked around Udaivilas Palace with a staff member who pointed out the exact locations where Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) was shot. “Here, Deepika and Ranbir sat with their legs dangling in the water,” they were told. Disappointingly, my sister and brother in-law didn’t roll up their trousers and do the same. 

Then again, not everyone was bitten by this Bollywood bug. My then 75-year-old grandmother was sitting cross-legged at my father’s office in Santacruz in 1993. Next to her was another customer and my grandmother’s gaze kept going back to the other woman sitting beside her. “Ben, tamne kyaank joyaa che (Sister, I have seen you somewhere),” said my grandmother, wondering which social gathering they might have both attended. The other woman burst out laughing. She was Asha Parekh. 

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