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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Aamir, Nasir, Tahir, Tariq, Mansoor, Amjad: Movies, Masti, Modernity, Flashback 5

Aamir, Nasir, Tahir, Tariq, Mansoor, Amjad: Movies, Masti, Modernity, Flashback 5

To remind you, Aamir is indeed Aamir Khan, Amjad is definitely Gabbar Singh, and the triple M above is to acknowledge that it was Akshay Manwani’s biographical book on the cinema of Nasir Hussain that got me delving into the period of about 15 years, when I interacted with the Hussain Khans (first five) and the bare Khan (last, but the most imposing personality). Actually, Mansoor did not use his middle name, so he can be called a ‘Khan’ too! Tahir stands for Nasir’s (younger) brother, Tahir Hussain.

Nasir Hussain (1931-2002) was already a in my favourites list much before I met him. Now, the story of my interactions with him is picked-up from the last paragraph of Flashback No. 4.

“I need not remind you that in the film, young Tariq was played by a child called Aamir Khan, Tariq’s cousin, and son of Nasir Hussain’s younger brother, Tahir Hussain, who had already produced Caravan and was now planning Anamika.”

That is Hindi for nameless. Tahir Hussain was making a film based on a Hindi novel by Surendra Parkash, his first under the independent banner of TV Films. (Caravan, which he had produced earlier, was a Nasir Hussain vehicle to launch kid brother Tahir). Raghunath Jhalani was directing Anamika, R.D. Burman has been retained for the music score and the stars were Sanjeev Kumar, a very fresh Jaya Bhaduri, Asrani, and, in a debut of sorts, a 20-going-on-21 Siraj Syed.

Thanks to nephew Tariq, Tahir knew me as the boy who had helped in giving a novel look the marathon song dance number in Yaadon Ki Baaraat, which was a golden jubilee (50 weeks’ run in cinemas, a rare landmark, even in the 70s). Some of the boys and girls seen on the screen for the first time in YKB were students of my (and Tariq’s) alma mater, National College, Bandra West, Bombay. We had a campus with a driveway, and the opening scene of Anamika was to be shot in the driveway of a college campus.

The scene went like this: Renowned writer Devendra Dutt (Sanjeev) is invited to our college Hindi Association’s function as the Chief Guest. He comes with his Secretary (Asrani), who is hard of hearing, and this fact is the basis of some comedy in the story. The Principal (played by a Junior Artiste, sometimes unfairly referred to as an ‘extra’) and the Secretary of the Hindi Association, Lakshman Singh, are out there to receive the author. Getting impatient, the Principal looks at his watch and grumbles (approximate translation): “You are getting anxious for no reason. No big novelist would arrive right on time.”

Contradicting the old man, Lakshman retorts, “But Sir, it is a well-known fact that Devendrajee is always punctual. In fact, you can set your watch to the correct time, based on his arrival.” “That’s all very well,” counters the Principal, “but look (shows his watch), it’s time already, and ...?” “...and there he is (Lakshman looks at his own watch; car enters the college gate), right on time.” Principal, Lakshman and a few others proceed to receive Dutt, as he gets out of his car. Lakshman garlands him and offers the folded-hands greeting, Namastey. Dutt responds similarly. Secretary watches, clueless

Okay, so you have guessed that I played Lakshman Singh. Being a huge fan of Sanjeev Kumar after seeing two sharply contrasting films called Nishan and Sunghursh, to have him as the star of my first scene was dream come true. To have it shot in my college, with my friends and I literally playing ourselves was the icing on the cake. I was thrilled to bits. There weren’t too many lines, but the next scene was to be shot in a regular auditorium and the film’s opening credit titles were to be superimposed after a freeze, with us seated on the dais. Wow!

Not now. Not yet. Two developments soured my sweet moments. Firstly, the Junior Artiste playing the principal could not get his lines right even after the fifth take, and I was bundle of nerves by then, having got my handful right every time. That too, passed. What I saw on the screen when I was invited a preview days before its release broke my heart. Lakshman Singh was not speaking in my voice! It had been dubbed! Why on earth? Well, the scene was outdoors, and the Mitchell and Arriflex cameras of yore whirred, not to mention ambient sounds and external noises, so outdoor scenes shot in that period had to be dubbed, almost without exception. Get it? But why use another voice to dub mine? Was I not fit to dub my own dialogue? I didn’t get it.

Having worked on the professional stage and in radio for about three years till then, I knew more than the average person about language, dialogue and voicing. What’s more, my friend, producer Shanti Sagar, had established a record of sorts by placing me on one microphone and the late Ajay Chaddha on another, to dub some twenty voices for his film Daraar, which he had shot in Kashmir, with mainly locals, most of them non-actors. Even if they could dub for themselves, the cost of getting them to a Bombay dubbing theatre would have been prohibitive. Thus, in my first ever dubbing assignment, I had modulated my voice to match 10-12 bit players, as had Chaddha, who was 12-15 years my senior, and a veteran in the profession.

What would have been a mere wound to anyone else became salt being rubbed into my wound. You just do not get another person to dub the voice of someone who is a proven dubbing artiste himself. It’s not the ‘done thing’. I was really sore. But honestly, the opportunity (a one-off stroke of my normally bad luck) of working with Sanjeev Kumar was some compensation. (Check it out, if you may).

What’s more, unlike in Yaadon Ki Baaraat, my scene in Anamika was not deleted. It just couldn’t be. When you soot scenes that introduce your hero and insert your credit titles, you make sure that the scenes are retained. Though I was very hurt about someone dubbing my voice (I have dubbed for some 200 characters since, in films, TV and video), many of my acquaintances did not notice the difference. Even if they did, the looks were unmistakable. There are advantages of playing yourself, and never mind the Lakshman Singh bit. Finally, I was in a movie, approximately 14 years after I first faced the camera for Ghunghat Ke Pat Khol (directed by Mehboob Khan’s famed writer, Ali Raza; starring Sunil Dutt, Nimmi, Baby Naaz and a seven year-old debutant, Siraj Syed; never completed).

A girl called Mumtaz was around in the campus shoot, and it turned out that she, too, was a big fan of Sanjeev Kumar. I was not the “May I please have your autograph?” kind; she was. She came up and asked me to get the needful done. I gathered my wits and wet up to Sanjeev, “Mumtaz is a fellow student and a great fan yours. Would you mind giving her an autograph?” Sanjeev smiled, and obliged. Years later, Mumtaz’s daughter Baby Guddu was to become probably the most prodigious and popular child actor of her time. I still bump into Mumtaz, occasionally, while taking a walk on Carter Road.

Tariq did not have a role in Anamika, but he was to act in the two forthcoming films made by his two uncles: Zakhmee (Tahir) and Hum Kiseese Kum Naheen (Nasir). Given that both YKB and Anamika (to a lesser extent) were box office boosters, and that I had also been called to get my ‘crowd’ to appear in films like Bobby and Agent Vinod, would this ‘crowd-puller’ (I am getting indulgent) be far behind? Haven’t you heard the ....song...from Zakhmee, ‘Nothing is impossible?’

Coming-up: Flashback 6

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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