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the-south-asian.com                         December 2000

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Sunil Dutt

sunil_dutt2.jpg (12384 bytes)

"...those who wallow in the past also learn how to hate and never move ahead or progress."

Early 50s in Bombay - College & Film journalism

We settled down in district Ambala, near Yamunanagar, where we were allotted land in compensation for what we had lost. But I asked my mother for her permission to go to Bombay where I could both work and study for a higher degree. She agreed and counselled me that I should try to forget the nightmare of the partition, to put it behind me and think of the present as a new life – a rebirth. She said that those who wallow in the past also learn how to hate and never move ahead or progress. She also reminded me that there are good people like Yaqub in this world. Her words have lived with me throughout.

Our history has taught us that human beings are not bad – it is the politicians and the religious heads that sow the seed of hatred within our minds and numb our thinking through this slow poison of hatred.

I came to Bombay, got a job and also joined Jai Hind College as an undergraduate. While at college, I wrote plays, acted in them and became Secretary of the Cultural Society. It was during one of my performances in a play that somebody from an advertising company, in search of a voice, spotted me. This company was looking for someone to interview film stars for the radio. I was picked up for the job. It was a British company called Keymers. I was thrilled by their offer – because where I was working at the time brought me only hundred rupees a month – this would bring me added income.

The first person I interviewed for the programme was Nimmi. She used to live in the same lane where our college was and so did Mr. Mukri. The radio programme was called ‘Lipton ki Mehfil’ and it became an overnight success. I also interviewed Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar among others. These programmes were recorded on discs – there were no tapes then – and had the added limitation that you could not re-record on them – if you made a mistake the entire process of recording would have to be repeated. The recorded disc would then go by air to Ceylon – only Radio Ceylon was commercial at the time – and back here we’d hope and pray that the disc did not break on the way or get damaged. The tape was a revolution in the broadcast industry.

The first time we used the tape was when we covered the premiere of ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ – starring Balraj Sahni. I was asked by Keymers to cover the premiere. I was very nervous and did not go alone to interview all those big stars – my immediate boss Mr. Chandran was with me. That was the first time I saw Nargis ji (whom I later married) at close quarters. She was already a movie star and I was still a student.

Keymers then put me on a new programme called ‘Filmi Khabrein’ – also on Radio Ceylon. That programme brought me in close contact with producers and directors. I would, for this programme, interview not just stars but also report the making of a film, describing the sets, and Directors’ call for ‘cuts’ etc – this too became a very popular programme. Once I was on the sets of a film being directed by Ramesh Sehgal. He was making a film called ‘Shikast’ with Dilip Kumar and Nalini Jaywant. Ramesh sahib asked me, out of the blue, whether I had thought of acting in films. I was still in my third year of college and jokingly replied "Yes, I would be interested, but only as a hero". Ramesh Sahib’s reply to that was "Fine, let us turn you into a hero – let’s do a camera-test on you". A day was set for the test. That again made me very nervous but my boss Mr. Chandran seemed very enthusiastic about it. He used to watch a lot of English films and brought me a felt hat and together we went over the gait of different English actors, which I tried to emulate.

The day of the test arrived. I was made to wear a pair of trousers and a jacket belonging to Dilip Sahib. The trousers came up to my ankles, the sleeves of the jacket were way above my wrists – and in this comical state I faced the camera, delivered my lines, ran back to the make-up room, removed my make-up and ran out of the studio. I did not get in touch with Ramesh Sehgal for a couple of months. Then, one day, Mr. Sehgal’s Assistant Director came looking for me in the college and told me that the camera test had been perfect and that Mr. Sehgal wanted to meet me. So the following day I met Sehgal sahib who wanted me to sign a film contract with him. I hesitated and said, ""Thank you, but I have promised my mother that I will complete my studies -– I am sorry but I cannot accept your offer right away". To my surprise, Sehgal sahib got up and embraced me (such a gesture today would be considered emotional drama) and said, "I want such young people in my films – I will wait another year for you". I was dazed at his reaction.

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