Anil Zankar, Antonioni, Bergman, Chaplin, Danny Denzongpa, Fellini, Jaya Bhaduri, John Shankarmangalam, Kurosawa, Mainak Trivedi, Nadeem Khan, Nirad Mohapatra, NVK Murthy, Ozu, Pankaj Parashar, Raman Kumar, Ramesh Paul, Ray, Roshan Taneja, Saghir Ahmed, Satish Bahadur, Shatrughan Sinha, Siddharth Kak, Suresh Oberoi
[For a while I considered calling this longer-than-expected, 3-part memoir simply as Professor Gulshan Kapoor. But every time I saw the title in print, it felt like a tame round hat for Kapoor sahib’s perfectly square head! The man was just too easy-going for his grandiose designation and so much more than a mere academic. Rather, to all of us his friends in the Institute, he was a great time-pass, a friend of friends, and therefore Yaaron ka yaar.
Kapoor sahib joined the Institute the same year that I did, in 1974. But being older, he retired much sooner, which would be sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. Thereafter he moved with his wife, old mother and an ailing, divorced daughter (and her daughter), to his own small apartment in Pune’s Viman Nagar. Where he died in January 2006.
Somehow I have very few of his photographs and just as a teaser use none in this opening part. This should for a while give us the opportunity to remember the man in the abstract. Over the next two weeks others may like to send his photos over (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I would compile all at the end of this series.]
“How does one dress up to join as Assistant Professor of Film Acting in the great Film and Television Institute of India,” Gulshan Kapoor regaled us years later recalling his first visit and look at the Institute. “After all Jaya Bhaduri, Shatrughan Sinha, Danny Denzongpa had been taught here!” Unable to decide, he had ended up bringing five sets of dresses to choose from as he came from Delhi. Asked what these were, he counted just two, tie and suit, and kurta-pajama. When prodded, he added one more, bush-shirt and pants.
“But that’s still three, Kapoor sahib!”
“To yaar, teen kam hain kya? Ek naukri hi to join kar raha tha? Aur woh bhi UPSC se select ho ke, kisi ki sifarish se to nahin!?” He chided us wide eyed. (Are three any less? All I was doing was joining a job! And one secured through a regular UPSC interview, not from some shady recommendation!)
So which of the dresses did he finally wear?
“The national dress is usually the safest under all circumstances,” he said wisely, “kurta-pajama!”
Then resumed, “But past the security-men at the main gate when I walked up along the majestic banyan trees, I did a double take. Had I come to a wrong place? Was it the Film Institute or the orthopedic ward of a public hospital!” As we burst out laughing, he went on to elaborate, “Sitting under the wisdom tree were all kinds of characters. Bearded, un-bathed, un-buttoned; a couple of them looking sky-wards, unblinking; two with their legs in plaster. Actually in plaster, I’m not joking!”
Gulshan Kapoor would always exaggerate for effect, then say he wasn’t joking when he invariably was. Combined with his large frame, potbelly and theatre voice, his was one uncanny sense of humor that made you tag along with him. Whenever you were bored, his office doors were wide open. He was never short of subjects. Or tea. Or visitors, for that matter.
“Kapoor sahib!” All you had to do was just announce yourself at the door.
“Haan-ji!” would be his ready response.
“Baithe ho?” I would say by way of a filler, entering. (You there, sitting?)
“Nahin, khalo janda haan!” he would say, actually making as if to rise. (No, I can stand if you prefer!)
A blast of laughter—mainly mine, he contributing with a grudging smile—then initiated you into a session of banalities or profundities with equal ease.
For the first few years Kapoor sahib didn’t have his family with him; he lived in the hostel. He had the warden’s unit on the top floor overseeing his empire while Nirad Mohapatra and I shared a room lower down in the same add-on TV hostel building at the rear. Raman Kumar, Pankaj Parasher and “The” Mainak Trivedi were his favorite victims. They for their part called him udta teer, implying that he had this habit of coming in the way of a flying arrow—wrong end first!—that was never even intended for him. Nadeem Khan was another mischievous wit of the times. Together with some Sound students, these boys had started a radio broadcast that could be caught until about a kilometer around the hostel. A cassette once came my way and I was amazed that non-descript characters from across departments had accounted for such varied brilliance. Juicily produced late into the nights, this was called Radio MC—mother-f****r—and was dished out, incorporating all kinds of turns and twists of film vocabulary and common abuse, in the manner of radio jingles. Of course this was breach of any number of clauses of the Indian Telegraph Act that Kapoor sahib could tell you, but the offense became impossible to ignore during emergency. The Director—liberal, leftist NVK Murthy—was a worried man but not so his hands-on, active warden. Gulshan Kapoor spread word that Deccan Gymkhana police had recorded the broadcast and had it examined by their ‘analysis wing’. Voices had been identified and that they could come any time for making arrests. “Tab saale bhaagte phire idhar udhar! Koi garare kar ke gala kharaab kar raha hai, koi awaaz badalne ki rehearsal kar raha hai! Ek to ghar hi bhag gaya ticket kata ke!” he would head off the hilarious narration. (That was releasing the cat among pigeons! Somebody was gargling to get a bad throat, somebody rehearsing change of voice! One actually ran away home!)
When his family joined from Delhi, Gulshan Kapoor had to leave the hostel and rent outside. One evening he and I left office together and walked down to his new place just beside the Institute in the first lane. This was the famous Shubhecha Lodge offering small dwelling units where many others from the Institute were also staying. Ramteke and Saigaonkar, then junior teachers in Sound, were there, as were Saghir Ahmed and John Shankarmangalam, my colleagues in Screenplay Writing and Direction. Even Ramesh Paul, the divorced, errant and erratic Professor of Screenplay Writing, who was somehow always moving places, had a room in Shubhecha.
To my surprise, Kapoor sahib lived in just one room (a corner one on the ground floor) with his family of six! That evening we sat drinking tea outside—“in the garden”—as his three lovely daughters, son, mother and wife, all jovial, went in and out doing errands. Later as the family settled I learnt that the children had divided their time to a tidy schedule of absence, only converging at night to sleep in a multi-tiered arrangement.
Much to his head of department Roshan Taneja’s chagrin, he was more at home with us in direction and film appreciation. Even his office was next to Professor Bahadur’s and mine in the professors’ wing (although Taneja sahib too occupied one of the offices a little farther away in the same row). Acting department was then in a state of war with the rest of the Institute and Kapoor sahib wasn’t trusted with too much inside information. That perfectly suited his love for intellectual pursuits. He would regularly attend evening screenings to be able to discuss them next day with Professor Bahadur, John, Saghir, me and whoever else stopped by his office to listen, even a straying Acting student occasionally. (Suresh Oberoi was one loner I remember who had a fascination for his ideas, and he for his voice.) I found Kapoor sahib’s views firmly grounded, duly ‘soiled’ with rigors of life, and refreshingly uncluttered with jargon of film technique, which we the blue-blooded FTII-ians always tend to get bogged down with. I invited him—“jugal-bandi”—to my own Direction classes and he would come keener than the students. I had never been a mouth-frothing, chalk-dusting professor myself and found Kapoor sahib’s interjections a great relief from the sound of my own voice. Along with Anil Zankar who was strong on facts and figures (and always a great company), the three of us often combined to go to distant places teaching film appreciation courses. Travelling in old style railway coupes while your attendant came ordinary in the next compartment, carrying heavy black trunks holding celluloid copies of Ray, Chaplin, Kurosawa, Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini, Ozu…, and discussing high cinema for the benefit of fellow passengers who had seen nothing but Bollywood, we felt real distinguished. It was over one of these trips that I once met the easy-going Siddharth Kak travelling to Delhi before his Surabhi days.
Coming from Delhi’s ‘babu’ culture, Kapoor sahib enjoyed ordering chaprasis…
[To be continued]