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Kajol, Tanu and Shomu

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BHARATHI S. PRADHAN   |   Published 13.04.08, 12:00 AM

Call it just lousy timing. On Wednesday evening at Cinemax, the swank multiplex in Andheri, Mumbai, host Ajay Devgan (with a Fu Manchu mouche that he won’t shave off until his film is released) arrived early to cheerfully receive each and every guest. It was his first big personal trial show of U Me Aur Hum, the film with which he makes his debut as director. Only the actors and close crew members of the film and a few journalists had been invited to the impeccably hosted, sneak preview of U Me Aur Hum, held at The Red Lounge (the best screen in the multiplex). As snacks and mocktails circulated, Kajol too played host and was seen organising chai without sugar for one male critic.

It was a big, special day for the Devgan couple as their romantic film was to hit the theatres two days later.

But next morning, that’s Thursday around 8.30 am, a completely different mood prevailed when Kajol’s dad, filmmaker Shomu Mukherjee, suddenly died of a huge heart attack. Shomu had been ailing for a while, he’d even been hospitalised at Lilavati Hospital, but he had recovered and come back home when the attack came without warning.

Soon, TV vans and curious stargazers were parked outside Grotto Villa, the Mukherjee bungalow. Son-in-law Ajay had thoughtfully posted his men outside the gate to bring visitors in and friends like actor Vatsal Sheth (remember him in Tarzan The Wonder Car?) rallied around to escort people upstairs where Shomu Mukherjee lay on his bed with his full family around him. Daughters Kajol and Tanishaa were at the bedside while (ex-boyfriend?) Uday Chopra and all the Mukherjee brothers, Rono (who runs legendary father, S. Mukherjee’s Filmalaya Studios), actor Deb Mukherjee and producer Shubir Mukherjee sobbed. Inconsolable was actress Sharbani Mukherjee (Suniel Shetty’s bride in Border), Shomu’s niece.

Tanuja was on her way to Lonavla when she got the call that Shomu had passed away. She did a U-turn and was soon headed for Grotto Villa.

His death threw an unfortunate cloud over the Devgan couple’s celebratory mood. The film itself will have reviewers giving their take on it. But there is a rather coincidental scene in it. In U Me Aur Hum, Kajol makes a fleeting reference to estranged parents and talks of how she misses her dad who passed away. Within hours of seeing the film, the scene was being replayed in real life. Kajol’s parents separated years ago and Shomu lived with his brothers and their families in Grotto Villa (although in recent years the huge rambling bungalow was broken up with each brother building his own private space on the premises). Only Shomu’s older brother, Joy Mukherjee, had moved away to another suburb.

Kajol and Tanishaa were brought up by Tanuja in Usha Kiran, one of Mumbai’s oldest and most upmarket skyscrapers. But neither the feisty Tanuja nor her film-maker-husband Shomu remarried, and Kajol-Tanishaa had a close, easy relationship with their father. In fact, Shomu was the chief reason for Kajol’s continued visits to Grotto Villa, especially during Durga Puja which the Mukherjees have always celebrated very traditionally. One is certain that, like the heroine of the film, the fond star daughter will miss her dad in the years to come.

Luckily, Shomu and Tanuja also kept their communication lines open and when he was hospitalised, she was often by his side. But characteristically, Tanuja has remained fiercely individualistic and she continues to live in her own apartment. Amusingly, even when they were man and wife and lived together, Tanu never failed to exhibit her independence. Years ago, when Kajol was still a tot, at an outdoor shooting in Goa for Chhaila Babu, a Rajesh Khanna-Zeenat Aman film that Shomu Mukherjee produced and directed, Tanuja had dropped in for a few days. At the breakfast table, while everybody else signed their bills (the producer was footing it of course), Tanu took out her bag and paid in cash for her juice and eggs. “Why should the producer (Shomu) pay for my stay? I can pay my own bills!” she’d stated tartly.

Tanuja has lived her life on her own terms. Except — she’ll kill me for this — when she was expecting her first child. She’d told everybody that she believed in positive thinking and she was positive that she’d have a son (the Mukherjee family was dominated by male children). Out came the chatty, bratty but lovable and bright Kajol, followed soon by Tanishaa!

Bharathi S. Pradhan is managing editor of Movie Mag International

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