Playing Spa Sisters with Mira Nair

Being part of the extended team of the noted international film personality, I was, in a way, making cinematic history. And then if I wanted to, I could have enjoyed a mani-pedi session with the Kamasutra Director. Truly stuff that dreams are made of!

So, here we were with a Hollywood A-lister like Mira Nair approaching us to shoot at our hotel. I made a convincing case to the General Manager. Now I just had one mountain to scale. That of getting a go-ahead from Biki Oberoi!

It was a task not for the weak-kneed or weak-willed.

It required agile brainwork because Mr Oberoi is a very sharp man and absolutely nothing escapes his eagle eye. The footwork between my office; that of the General Manager’s and then Mr Oberoi’s had to be nimble, inventive and ingenious. And yes, one had to be extremely perseverant.

Mira was assertive and forceful on her part too. “Yes, the hotel would be shown in a good light.” No, they would not inconvenience the guests.

“Yes, due credits would be given to the hotel,” Mira Nair assuaged me since this was more my concern than Mr Oberoi’s.

No, they would not take too long.

Finally, we received Mr Oberoi’s consent to our utter relief and rejoicing.

I had a lengthy sit-down with Mira on how her crew would go about shooting. Mira had planned to shoot one scene, or maybe two at The Oberoi.

On D-day, the scene started out in Silhouette, the Oberoi salon in the basement. The bride and the girls were to be shown engaging in a lot of teasing and light-hearted banter while getting ready.

The part of the scene that played out in Silhouette was shot on a shoulder propped, handheld, compact camera.

The bride and her girls were dressed up in elaborate wedding finery.

The abounding of emotions, the joyousness, the boisterousness, the excesses, the heightened drama and the overwhelming sentiments beset in a big fat Indian wedding had to be caught on camera through the tossing of highlighted tresses, the jangling of the kaleeras, the mesmerising effect of mehndi-tattooed hands, the opulence of the haute couture lehengas and cholis worn by the bevy of beauties, the glitter and glamour of sequins, Swarovski crystals, emeralds, rubies and diamonds and the chirpy, loud cackle of bedecked women drunk on excitement and exuberance.

And then the bride and the bridesmaids were to be filmed running about playfully through the Arcade, onto the lobby and finally out of the main doors into the porch.

The scene was a lead up to a high point, a sort of crescendo of the ‘monsoon wedding’ before the plot was to drop into a trough of fear, shame, secrets and revelations.

For this portion, Mira had a mini track laid out straight in the middle of the lobby. The track, placed just short of the picture-perfect lobby fountain, ran from where the reception desk started and ended where the elevators began. It was a smallish camera dolly mounted on the tracks from which Mira and Declan Quinn, her Cinematographer, operated.

Monsoon Wedding turned out to be one of Nair’s most popular films and was shot in a record 30 days, one or two of which were filmed at The Oberoi.

Sanju Said ‘I Love You’ To Me

As Sanjay proclaimed his love for me on paper, he asked me, “Would you not like to take my address? Would you not like to write to me?” He was quite befuddled when I said no.

Jostling amongst the milling crowd we overheard that the guests had been taken to the theatre owner’s lavishly-appointed office. In the midst of the ‘mad-about-the-movies’ masses running hither-thither, Maa instructed me to head up the stairs in the direction of the owner’s office.

I managed a toe-in into the theatre boss’s den. Not many girls had made past the melee of people clambering over each other to get close to the film star. As a matter of fact, I was the only female face around and was ushered in by the minders.

I inched closer to the centre of the office and got to stand at a vantage point from where I could see Sanjay Dutt clearly.

Dressed in a blue suede blazer and stonewashed blue Jeans, the latest boy-man sensation was truly sexy. Radiant complexion with pink undertones, a green, 5 o’clock shadow and those dreamy, deep-set eyes made him even more luscious.

I don’t know how I got to be the only girl in the theatre owner’s chamber amongst a swelling group of local boys, but I caught Dutt’s eye. He beckoned me and engaged me in a light-hearted conversation.

“So, what do you do?”

“I go to college. I am also a newspaper stringer,” I told Dutt. “Do you like movies? And my films?” he wanted to know.

“I’ve quite liked your films,” I white-lied having only seen Vidhaata until then. No, not even Rocky!

“What are your interests?” The sexy stud was quite the conversationalist.

When he and Grover were asked to be seated, Sanjay Dutt asked me to sit with them.

It was comical to see the kind of excessive fawning happening around the actors; especially Dutt. Miraculously, giant marigold garlands appeared from nowhere and lanky, star-struck boys elbowed each other out to put the garlands around their latest deities from tinsel town.

Overly pleased with all the adulation, Sanjay beamed and smiled his characteristic Nargis-like smile with the semi pursed lips; and looked around bemusedly with his hooded eyes. The smile and the eyes went onto become his emblematic features.

We now know, by his own admission, that he has had 308 girlfriends and then some. Even then, I noted his slightly flirtatious ways. He was all gentlemanly but he knew how to shower a girl with attention.

Sanjay made me feel special.

But he was naughty as hell. Not indiscreet or improper. Not rowdy or perverse. Sanjay was impish and mischievous. Playful and wicked!

I whipped out my new autograph book that, until then, only had the treasured signature of India’s Iron lady, the inimitable Mrs Indira Gandhi.

Sanjay signed my autograph book with his distinctive flair and large-heartedness, the facets he has come to be recognised with over time. He wrote “Love you too much,” and passed the book to Grover who signed off with a tamer message.

After a while, I excused myself and told Sanjay that I must be setting off.

Sanjay held my hand to wish me goodbye. He asked me, teasingly, if I didn’t want his address. “Would you not want to write to me,” he prodded.

When I refused to take his address, Sanjay was somewhat startled. “I prefer giving you mine,” I said with my usual spunk.

He let the most soft-hearted smile escape; he held my slightly shaking hand again, this time in promise and said he understood me well.

That day, I found first hand why he was indeed the Deadly Dutt. If I were to meet him again, I will certainly remind him about his promise to write to me.

Having come out of his personal hell, in one piece and stronger than before, this time I think he will!

Excerpted with permission from Hotel Adventures with the Stars, L Aruna Dhir, Vishwakarma Publications.