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Movie memories-4: Shyam Benegal’s Junoon & Sharad Raj's trip to the movies that took 4 hours!!!

Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi & Jennifer Kendal on the set of Junoon.

The year was 1977 and my father, Dr. Raj Kumar’s closest friends, late Mr. Suresh Nigam, lovingly knows as Lovey uncle was the Managing Director of UP Chalchitra Nigam (a state level film body) and an established documentary filmmaker in his own right. Producer Shashi Kapoor and director Shyam Benegal’s film unit was parked in Lucknow, the state capital of the northern province of Uttar Pradesh, shooting for Junoon starring Shabana Azmi, Jennifer Kendal, Shashi Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah along with Ismat Chugtai, Nafisa Ali and Deepti Naval, a newcomer then.

Deepti had flown in from New York with some shirts for my father from one his closest friends who is a close relative of Deepti. She had invited us on the set of Junoon in Malhihabad, the Dassehri mango capital of Uttar Pradesh, 30 kms north of Lucknow. Film buffs that we were, we embarked on a journey to Malhihabad to see the shooting and collect the shirts as well from Deepti Naval. A scene with Jalal Agha, Shabana and Shashi was underway. We watched the shoot with great interest and a sense of awe. I was 12 and my sister was 8. Before this we had been on the sets of films like Sholay, Rajesh Khanna’s Prem Kahani and Jeetendra’s Bidaai, but it was the first time on a film shoot in our hometown.

A few days later Lovey uncle hosted a party in the honor of the Junoon unit at Lucknow’s prestigious Carlton Hotel in Hazratganj, where Lovey uncle introduced us to Shabana Azmi, Jennifer, Nafisa Ali and of course Shashi Kapoor who was standing under the Banyan grove of the Hotel lawns and was changing his plate with every new dish that was served to him. “Change my plate” was his refrain. And then he asked my sister Varsha something and she replied, "haan" and Shashi Kapoor immediately corrected her, "jee boltey hein jee,' reminisces Varsha today. It was an elegant small-town evening with all well-known people of the city of Lucknow on the guest list.

Banyan grove in the lawn of Carlton Hotel, Lucknow.

Months passed and we waited impatiently to see the movie we had seen the shooting of and met the cast at the party! Junoon was released in Mayfair cinema in Lucknow in 1978. A trip to the movies on every Saturday evening was a ritual for us. It was usually the night show but for some reason that weekend it was the evening, 6PM show we had booked for (those were the days of, ‘daily 4 shows: 12.30, 3.30, 6.30 and 9.30 PM’). My father who had recently started his private practice had graduated from a Lambretta scooter to a secondhand Fiat 1100, the one in which the doors opened from the front! And we, a family of four embarked on ‘mission Junoon’ from our Railway Colony bungalow to Mayfair Cinema which was a 45-minute drive. But the car refused to start. Then we took help, got the car pushed and drove for about 5 minutes when the car stopped again. The whole ride to Mayfair to watch Junoon went into ‘start-stop-push-start-stop-push’, loop! The 45-minute drives took about 4 hours!!!

The Fiat 1100 model that betrayed us that evening. Reference image from the internet..

There were several cat calls enroute with people telling us to exchange the car for a bicycle etc. and some enthusiast took the trouble of buying fairytale booklet with a car and quietly slipped it onto the backseat, while we were struggling to put the car in motion.

When we entered the movie hall the end credits of Junoon were rolling. The evening and our enthusiasm to see a movie had gone for a toss and we were in a rather foul mood that was partially salvaged by a nice non-vegetarian meal at Royal Café. Dad soon sold the car for 9,500/-INR and we enjoyed Junoon on some other day. And we later joked about it for years.

But it was that evening in our Fiat 1100 that remains entrenched in our minds even today.

Junoon was Shashi Kapoor’s debut as a producer and was based on Ruskin Bond’s story, ‘ A Flight of Pigeons.’ It won 3 National and 6 Filmfare Awards.

Sharad Raj is a Mumbai based independent filmmaker, Senior Faculty at Whistling Woods International and the Editor of Just Cinema.

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