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July 12, 1997



Gulshan Kumar was shot dead on Tuesday morning by gangsters at Andheri in suburban Bombay, allegedly by extortionists. Kumar, a Punjabi refugee, rose from selling fruit juice to ruling an Indian industry, upsetting standards and making successful forays into other areas of business, shocking peers and pundits in the bargain. What was India's foremost music baron like?

You seek him here; you seek him here; but Gulshan Kumar is nothing if not elusive. At his office complex in NOIDA, the secretary says that Gulshanji is still at home. At Greater Kailash, where the Kumar family occupies two huge mansions, servants insist that he has left for NOIDA. At the office, this information takes them by surprise. Well, if he is headed here, they say, he hasn't turned up yet.

Three days of this run-around and you begin to wonder if the elusive Kumar really does exist. Perhaps it is all an elaborate charade starring a paunchy, unshaven, failed actor in the role of a lifetime.

But, the Kumar saga is so incredible that if it hadn't really happened, nobody would dare invent it. Consider the bare bones of the plot. Twenty-three-year-old Gulshan Dua, son of a Punjabi refugee family, moves up from selling fruit juice in a roadside shop when his family acquires a shop selling records and cheap audio cassettes. Excited by the possibilities, he starts producing cassettes himself. There are whispers -- shouts even -- of bootlegging and piracy. No matter. Gulshan proves to be a born businessman. By the time he is 30, he is a millionaire and still doesn't bother to shave everyday.

Then, Master Dua decides that Bombay beckons. Now rechristened Gulshan Kumar (the Dua having been quietly buried along the way), our hero reckons that having risen to the top of the music business, he can do the same in Bollywood.

Strong men laugh and insiders chuckle knowingly but to their horror, he pulls it off. Aashiqui, starring two unknowns, is a hit because Gulshan has packed it with strong tunes. Suddenly, nobody is laughing. Producers discuss collaborations and actors beat a path to his door.

Next, Gulshan decides that he wants to create his own stars. He has already done this in the music business, launching Anuradha Paudwal with whom he denies he is having an affair. So, why can't he do the same in the movies?

Well, perhaps he can, but everybody reckons that hubris has set in when his choice of star material is revealed to be his younger brother, the deeply-uncharismatic Krishan, who looks rather as Gulshan would if he went on a strict diet and wore elevator shoes.

Krishan's debut vehicle fails despite the vast sums that bhaiyya lavishes on its marketing (a free cassette with every copy of Cine Blitz etc). So does his second movie.

The industry finally breathes a sign of relief and jokes fly around about a pair of fruitwallahs from Daryaganj who thought that they understood the movie business. Gulshan is angered by the scorn. He declares that he himself -- no Steven Spielberg -- will direct Krishan's next movie: Bewafa Sanam, More chuckles all round.

And then Bewafa Sanam becomes a super-hit.

End of chuckles.

Gulshan Kumar still hasn't been run to ground. Now, the secretary is beginning to sound a little apologetic -- you know how it is, she says, he has been so busy.

Then, she hears the magic phrase "cover story" and through a miracle of detection, Gulshan's whereabouts are suddenly revealed to his minions. Each time you call, they know exactly where he is. And as for an appointment, well, why not? The Great Man will grant an audience at 1 pm tomorrow.

Fifteen minutes before the appointed time, there is no sign of Gulshan. Crowds gather in a makeshift waiting room partitioned by plywood boards while a harassed secretary, in a magenta ghagra and a flowing dupatta, fields all queries with, "He's on his way".

At 1.30 pm, the Great Man trundles in clad in his trademark off-white polyester. He is followed by a worshipful entourage and greeted by genuflecting minions, anxiously clutching files and folders. They are all, it appears, part of his top management team.

At 1.55 pm, the audience is finally granted. Gulshan sits in a small office, dwarfed by the large desk he is perched behind. On the walls are framed photographs of Vaishno Devi Mata and Shivji. Next to them, with no apparent regard for the incongruity, is a poster of Bewafa Sanam.

Gulshan is in a hurry. Yes, he's so that you had to wait but he now have to leave for the railway station to Calcutta train to Kanpur where Anuradhaji is performing tonight.

The same, he would like to tell you about the box-office performance of Bewafa Sanam. It is a super-hit and music sales are going through the roof.

And how much did the movie cost? Gulshan's eyes glaze over. He has a horror of revealing any figures and all questions about money will be greeted with a perfectly constructed expression of deep befuddlement.

He is still busying himself in trying to look bemused when he realises that the photographer has his camera out.

Suddenly, Gulshan Kumar comes to life. His face takes on an animation that has been absent all day as he stares directly into the lens. Eagerly, he leans towards the camera and starts clapping. Next, he jabs the air repeatedly with his fingers. As the started photographer begins to retreat, Gulshan is now clicking both fingers, his face split in half by a broad grin.

But, the show can't go on. The train and Anuradhaji are both waiting and Gulshanji has miles to go. Could the photographer return the next day at 1 pm?

This time, there are no sudden changes of plan and no unexplained absences. The office confirms that he has returned to Delhi by the Rajdhani and when he wheels in at NOIDA at 1.30 pm, he is only half-an-hour late, which by his standards, probably counts as being early.

"Ask what you like," he says cheerfully, "I am ready to answer all your questions."

Well, perhaps, but there is a problem. For one, he looks as though he has just gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson and it is not a pretty sight. Clearly, he hasn't had much sleep the night before.

And secondly, the tiredness shows. In answer to a question about his devotional music, Gulshan closes his eyes and leans back, seemingly deep in thought.

This is a surprise: the befuddlement routine is usually reserved for questions about money and piracy. Could it be that Gulshan is actually scanning the recesses of his brain for an answer?

No, it couldn't. Thirty seconds later, a single snore emerges from the chair. Another minute and he is into deep sleep while snores punctuate the silence with an alarming frequency.

After a few minutes of embarrassed looking at the floor, the photographer decides to rouse him. Gulshan is abashed. "Very soon," he says, "Last night's show lasted all night. What was your question?"

It is no use. Five minutes later, he is snoring again and is oblivious to attempts to rouse him. When he is finally shaken awake, he says to come back the next day and resumes snoring.

The interviewer and photographer tip-toe out, leaving Gulshan Kumar to sleep the deep, snore-punctuated sleep of the nouveau tycoon.

Kind courtesy: Sunday magazine

Gulshan! continued

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