It was a week of contrasts. The third instalment of the frivolous and completely fictional Fukrey franchise was released in theatres alongside the dead serious, real story of The Vaccine War.
The dissimilar moods prevailed off-screen too.
It was a prayer meeting at Mehboob Studio when Dilip Kumar’s sister, the gentle and well-spoken Saeeda, passed away last week. The evening brought together the two powerful film families of thespian Dilip Kumar and Mehboob Khan, the maker of cult films like Mother India. The legendary Mehboob Studio still stands as a sprawling landmark at the Bandra turning before one heads for Sea Link.
There’s much interconnection between the two Muslim families of Bandra. Saeeda was married to Iqbal, one of Mehboob Khan’s many sons. Hence the prayer meeting at the studio, a family property. Saira Banu, who sat in prayer for her late sister-in-law, also has a Mehboob Khan connection. Another of his sons was married to a beautiful woman named Rahat, who later married Saira’s brother Sultan.
At the prayer meeting with her mother was also Nagma, once a multi-lingual actress, now a politician with the Congress. The daughter of industrialist Arvind Morarjee, Nagma was christened Nandita. She was a little girl when mother Seema (also known as Shama) left Morarjee and later married filmmaker Chander Sadanah, who adopted her. Seema lived for a long time opposite Mehboob Studio. Nagma, who made her debut with Salman Khan in Baaghi (1990), could have a whole book written on her life. After entanglements with an underworld figure and then with Raj Kapoor’s youngest son Rajeev (Chimpu) Kapoor, Nagma moved to the South, where she got involved with married actor Sarath Kumar. Later, Bhojpuri films brought her into close proximity with actors Ravi Kishen and Manoj Tiwari. Calcutta will remember Nagma for her controversial relationship with amader nijeder Sourav Ganguly.
With dinner served and warm hospita- lity by Saeeda’s children Ilham and Saqib, the evening was like a wake. At another table was Nagma’s cousin Kamal Sadanah. His father Brij Sadanah had made big-time fun films like Victoria No. 203 back in 1972, pathbreaking for Saira Banu playing a male Victoria (tonga) driver in it. Google Brij Sadanah for the tragic tale of a superhit filmmaker who shot dead his own wife and daughter before killing himself in 1990. Kamal is the sole survivor.
There was thus a story, a legend hovering over every corner of Mehboob Studio. A controversial piece of property worth an incalculable figure but lies unsold with many heirs, many claims and too many legal knots.
In contrast to the last millennium legends of Mehboob Studio was the young and energetic cast-and-crew show of Fukrey 3 at Farhan Akhtar’s impressive multi-storey Excel Entertainment office, a premium location just off Linking Road in Bandra, with a theatre on the second floor and a cosy cafeteria. Only Pankaj Tripathi was missing as the lively cast of Richa Chaddha with husband Ali Fazal, Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma and Manjot Singh whistled and enjoyed the screening, indicating the fun times they had shooting the film.
Ali successfully straddles an acting career in the West and Hindi films and OTT shows, and has just returned from New York. The actor who made a fleeting appearance in Furious 7 (2015) and had a prominent lead role in the Judi Dench-starrer Victoria & Abdul (2017) play-ed an important part in Death On The Nile (2022) based on Agatha Christie’s novel.
It is Anton Chekov who has drawn Ali to NY now. After a long spell, he’s doing theatre again. This time, no less than Broadway beckons him. Back in Mumbai after many weeks of rehearsals, he will head to the US in March 2024, when Chekov’s play The Seagull will be staged all through the month. “We’re calling it The Seagull Experience,” disclosed Ali for whom working with a potpourri of actors and crew from different parts of the world is going to be a novel experience indeed.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author