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Ba La La 32!

“Anticipate your Director and Act Accordingly”, my first boss Sudesh Iyer had briefed me when he took a rookie like me as his Chief and only assistant director. (I wish I have that kind courage to pick on an AD now.) My stint with advertising lasted only two years but the “mantra” that Mani (As we fondly called Sudesh) gave me, remained with me forever.

Sanjay Upadhyay

It stood me good when I assisted actress Kavita Choudhary on her debut series, Udaan and I thought it should be good enough when I walked in to assist Govind Nihalani(GN).

Govind ji was one of the reasons why I wanted to be a film maker. The intensity of Aakrosh, Aaghat and Ardh Satya weighing heavily on my mind. I was prepared to answer all his questions with the depth of my understanding of Hindi parallel cinema. I met him at a video studio on Marine Drive for an opportunity to assist him. Govind ji was alone with an editor doing some ‘Super’ on a TVC. Back in those days the ‘Supers’ as the captions were called had to be pinned and aligned for a camera to capture and superimpose. Balancing the super card right and left was a skill only best of the assistants had and that saved lot of money during post production.

Even before I could introduce myself to GN, the editor, Jyoti who knew me got me engaged with the supers. GN assumed that I was an editing assistant and engaged with me like any other professional. So I technically started working for him without even an introduction. Only after the job was done and he settled for a cup of filter coffee for his regular dose of update from Jyoti on the South film Industry, that I introduced myself to him. Govind Nihalani

Editor Sutanu Gupta had recommended me to GN. He was taken aback and that was the first time I heard his roaring laughter only a close coterie knows of. Jyoti added a word of appreciation and left the two of us alone. Now, I was ready with my intellectual cap on. A debate on why I was the best option for the Director with whom the whole of my generation wanted to work with. He finished the coffee and asked If I was comfortable handling infants and dogs? I didn’t know what to say and must have fumbled a yes. Next thing he did was to hand me over his cheque book and asked me to settle the bill for scanning of the ‘super’ and ensure that the coffee and snacks were paid for.

When I returned he was ready holding the Low band U-Matic tapes, which I took from him handing the cheque book back. As soon as we were down the building he asked me to look for his white Fiat 118NE parked somewhere. I left without asking the registration number and soon returned with the car. He seemed curious how did I figure? I smiled. “I Anticipated!” What he didn’t know of course was that his car was a much discussed topic between Sutanu and me. In his several funny anecdotes about the car and its famous owner, Sutanu always referred it to by its numeric, just as the funny North Indian driver who drove it did, ‘Ba La La 32’! It went on to become a code amongst many who worked with GN in the years to come.

As for me, next day I was at Juhu Beach assisting Govind ji on a LIC ad film with a dog and an infant in it!

That day was the first day of my eight years of assisting GN and since that day to the last I never wore my intellectual cap even once. Being nice to the vulnerable was enough.

To be continued…

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