Raj Sahab’s obsession apart from his work and drink was food. It was a major obsession because food is something that he really liked and there are innumerable stories to tell. He was the foodie of RK and he turned us all into one as well. He had an eating routine which he followed every evening. He would leave from the studio at 6 p.m. sharp and go to Chembur Station. There was a pani-puri wala outside from where he would to eat pani-puri.

Next to that was a South Indian restaurant, where he would go and have a dosa and a medhu vada. They used to make and serve the medhu vada only in the mornings but because Raj Kapoor used to come every day, they made it especially for him in the evenings as well. Then he used to go to a third restaurant nearby to have a filter coffee.

There was no way this routine could be broken or altered. In fact, if he had to meet people and it would have to be at that particular time, he wouldn’t give up this evening routine but would ask them to join him. Imagine you’ve come to meet Raj Kapoor and you’re standing on the street eating pani-puri while talking to him.

‘A meal for kings’

The meals at RK, which used to be laid out in the studio, were a huge affair. It could be called a meal for the kings because it literally was. Let me elaborate on the spread – there used to be one chicken dish, one mutton, one fish and over and above that we used to have a crab or a prawn and something else in chicken, like liver or kebab. Plus, there would be various types of dals, vegetables and three meethas.

We would all sit together with him and all eat the same food. We, at RK, were the only unit who used to be served high tea at 6 p.m. This was very nice of Raj Sahab because when you’re working all day, you obviously feel hungry. The high tea was a very elaborate meal by itself!

Raj Sahab called it a ‘tiffin’ which included a dosa, a vada, sambar, sandwiches, rolls, a jalebi or some meetha every day. This was during the shooting days, on editing days this meal would be even more elaborate. During the final editing and up to the negative cutting of the film, Raj Sahab would turn vegetarian and wouldn’t drink. This was when we had to start putting in longer hours. We would start working by 9.30 a.m. and would go on till whatever time he wanted to go on. And he would be the first to reach in the morning.

Another interesting thing about these editing days was that before we commenced work, we would all assemble in the projection room with a paper and pad to decide the menu for the day – all three meals and an evening high tea. Practically an hour and a half was spent collecting everybody’s views on the menu for the day. Someone would suggest, ‘Sir, Ghatkopar mein ek restaurant hai jismein dal badi acchi milti hai.’ Raj Sahab would say, ‘Likho.’ Someone else would say, ‘Achha, Thane mein ek restaurant hai jahan mutton bohot sahi milta hai.’ That would be written down too, and it would go on and on until the whole menu was decided for the day.

Experiments with food

He used to love the biryani from a restaurant called Coronation at Grant Road, next to Novelty Cinema. That would definitely make it to our list and then the list used to be divided, spread across lunch, evening tea and dinner.

We’d also decide what to eat for breakfast the next day. Just eggs for breakfast wasn’t enough and the spread could rival any one of the fancy 5-star breakfast buffets today. Arrangements were made to assign cars that would go to various locations at varying times to pick up the food so that we all had ‘hot food’ to eat.

Raj Sahab was also very particular about the snacks that were laid out in the evening with tea. It was a ritual that RK had started and then it spread over the whole industry. The entire day would be spent working and eating delicious food, and to have a foodie as a boss meant that apart from learning the ropes of filmmaking, I also turned into a foodie and my waist showed it!

Raj Sahab loved experimenting with food as well. I have seen him take a pav, put butter in the centre, pick up a jalebi and turn this concoction into a sweet jalebi sandwich! I was flabbergasted at seeing this and said, ‘Sir, how can you eat a jalebi sandwich with pav and butter?’ He looked at me, nodded his head in agreement and dipped the sweet sandwich into tomato ketchup and ate it up!

Excerpted with permission from Raj Kapoor The Master at Work, Rahul Rawail, Bloomsbury India.