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regular-article-logo Sunday, 14 April 2024

Father’s house rules

If only bungalows could talk, they would tell the tale of compulsions and changing times

Bharathi S. Pradhan Published 26.06.22, 03:38 AM
BR Chopra

BR Chopra File Picture

If only bungalows could talk. When reports come in that the iconic BR House on the road leading to Juhu beach has been demolished to make way for the new, there’s a wistful remembrance of shootings and parties with a special parathewali patting fresh rotis and serving it with dollops of butter. The sprawling house was the ultimate success statement of a refugee who came to Bombay with only a pocketful of dreams.

If only bungalows could talk. This was the house BR had built with his staunchest ally, his wife Prakash. Much before their bungalow days, Prakash had served the only meal they had to a guest when little son Ravi was hungry inside. People talk of equality today. But decades ago, at the end of a day of fasting for her husband’s long life on Karwa Chauth, Prakash questioned the custom of touching her spouse’s feet. “Why?” she argued and proceeded to shake hands with him all through their long and happy marriage. But BR House was also where the legendary filmmaker mourned the sudden passing of his wife, he in a wheelchair, waiting for his turn, which came at age 94.

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If only bungalows could talk. Yash Chopra had parted ways with him rather acrimoniously after his marriage to Pam, giving BR a heart wrench. Reconciliation also happened years later, when Yash would drop in every single day to share moments with the brother who was a father figure to him. One can’t say they shared a drink because both brothers didn’t touch a drop of alcohol all their lives. No cigarettes either. One evening at BR House, the celebrated Yash Chopra even said to me, “If my brother directs a film, I’ll become his assistant director again.” That didn’t happen as BR had handed the reins to son Ravi way back in the 80s, when they made Mahabharat for Doordarshan.

From the President of India to CMs by the dozen, from Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar to Amitabh Bachchan, Salman and Shah Rukh, BR House was always bursting with life. The compound also housed a theatre where multi-generational stars dropped in to dub. And one can’t count how many movies one has seen in that theatre. This was also where Ravi, the heir to BR’s throne, fell ill and deteriorated over five years ago before passing on. Fifty years of stories whirl around BR House. But pragmatism and the need to upgrade the family lifestyle make more sense than clinging to impractical nostalgia.

Rishi Kapoor had agreed with his brothers to sell RK Studios to Godrej while retaining their parents’ bungalow a short distance away. Wrapped within that landmark property in Chembur were a myriad tales of filmmaking, matchmaking and lovemaking. The making of journalists too. While still a collegian, I’d stepped into RK Studios, my first ever into the film world, to write about Raj Kapoor, Rishi and Dimple, who were shooting for Bobby.

Most families have transformed the properties inherited from illustrious self-made filmmakers to suit growing families and the need for individual space. S. Mukerji’s Grotto Villa in Khar-Santa Cruz still stands. “Memories of my father and mother are all over the house, so we maintain it,” said son Deb Mukerji. It was an understanding with their father that while Grotto Villa would remain, the compound where they could play football made room for spacious houses for three brothers. Two others stayed on in the bungalow. But, like the Kapoors, most of Filmalaya, their studio in Andheri, has gone to a builder.

Shakti Samanta’s son Ashim is clear that in his lifetime his father’s bungalow won’t ever be sold. In Juhu, Ramanand Sagar’s large family turned Sagar Villa into beautiful apartments for each of them. But like the Kapoors and Mukerjis, builders have taken over most of Natraj Studio, once a hub of filmmaking activity that was jointly owned by Shakti Samanta, Ramanand Sagar, Pramod Chakraborty, F.C. Mehra and Atmaram.

If only bungalows could talk, they would tell the tale of compulsions and changing times.

Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author

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