| Vivek Oberoi rides pillion as Ajay Devgan speeds a motorcycle down Vidyasagar Setu, two days before the mishap on the sets of Mani Ratnam’s film. Picture by Pabitra Das
TAKE ONE: Two bikes speed along rain-washed Vidyasagar Setu. A man jumps in front of one of them. Both man on road and man on bike take more than a tumble, shoes flung wide across the broad tarmac.
TAKE TWO: Another man, Abhishek Bachhan, who was chasing Vivek Oberoi from another direction, enters the scene. Lifting up Oberoi, writhing in pain on the Setu floor, he puts him into a car that speeds off towards a hospital.
For the average Bollywood potboiler, this would have been a run-of-the-mill action sequence. But for Mani Ratnam’s yet-to-be-titled Hindi film, it was a horrible deviation from a script that actually envisaged the man on the road jumping over the man on bike, instead of the two colliding.
But the script that went awry could have been radically different had one of the country’s most celebrated directors listened to some unsolicited advice from a man (Vidyasagar Setu outpost officer-in-charge Swapan Chakraborty), whose relation with films till date had been limited to seeing the odd Amitabh Bachchan-starrer.
“Just a couple of days ago, when the Mani Ratnam-directed crew was well into its stride, I went up to the man and asked him why he had chosen July to shoot on Vidyasagar Setu,” Chakraborty recounted on Wednesday, a few hours after Oberoi and Mani Ratnam had been admitted to different hospitals, the first with a broken leg and the second following a sudden blackout on the sets.
The policeman explained to the director that July was a month for mishaps on the Setu. “The smooth surface, with sharp inclines at places, has caused several mishaps, especially after a spell of rain,” Chakraborty explained.
Hours after his worst fears came true, the policeman recounted how Mani Ratnam had refused to pay heed to them. “He told me it had been a dream to shoot the Hooghly, with the bridge spanning it washed by a monsoon shower,” Chakraborty said on Wednesday.
Before that, however, the 100-man crew — with a train of 25-odd cars waiting on it — got a taste of the action that wasn’t meant to be. Oberoi slipped on the wet Setu slope and landed in the path of one of the bikes. The two-wheeler ran over his left leg, before turning turtle. Several crew members rushed in to help Abhishek get Oberoi back on his feet. Many others shut their eyes, fearing something much worse than a broken leg.
“Shoes flying in the air, a bike ramming into a man and then turning turtle even as its wheels are spinning — I have seen all this on screen,” said constable Prabhas Chakraborty, on duty on the bridge since 12.30 pm till the end of shooting on Wednesday.
“But seeing it happening in front of my eyes was a strange feeling... The eerie effect was enhanced because what happened for real was supposed to happen on reel,” he explained.
The effect was not lost on hospital staff, where Oberoi went for admission, either. The purple shirt — splattered with liberal dollops of ketchup — hinted of much worse than what had taken place (a broken leg), said a member of the medical team attending on the star at Calcutta Medical Research Institute. “The first impression, created by the ‘blood’-splattered shirt, was that Oberoi had met with a near-fatal mishap,” he said.
By Wednesday evening, the Setu site of the Mani Ratnam film wore a deserted look, with only a few policemen on duty wondering whether the stars would be back on Thursday.