Suparn Verma


Bombay is a fashionable place where people have really fashionable ideas. One of which is that it is fashionable to be fashionably late. And I'm all for fashion.

So when the invitation card for the 'coconut breaking ceremony' of India's first theme restaurant, India Talkies, read eight pm sharp, I arrived at the venue somewhere after nine. This, after all, was a film 'do' and I do occasionally like using my common sense -- even I know that expecting six stars to land at one venue ON TIME is expecting the impossible. For the restaurant, something on the lines of Planet Bollywood, is backed by Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Govinda, Karisma Kapoor and Mahima Chowdhary.

So, somewhere after nine, my cab pulled up at the entrance of Phoenix Mills, which houses another high-profile nightspot, The Bowling Co. India Talkies is located pretty much inside the compound. The organisers had covered the surrounding mill buildings with black cloth which, as a method of decoration, was predominant at the VIP and press enclosures as well as the bar.

I made my way to the seating enclosure which was filled with many anxious faces, waiting for the event to start. Platters, filled with cold starters, made their umpteenth way down the long rows, but could not take the attention of the audience away from the empty stage and the dominant scaffolding. 'Part of the act,' whispered a smart alec.

Chairs scraped as people shifted irritatedly in their seats. The fact that they were playing songs from Hello Brother ad nauseam did not help much. When one couldn't take any more, which was an excruciating 30 minutes later, an unseen emcee informed us that we were there for the launch of India Talkies.

The stage burst into light, revealing a huge drum kit and a massive diya. But obviously, how could an Indian event start without the diya-lighting ceremony? So diamond merchant and film financier Bharat Shah, producer and Bal Thackeray's daughter-in-law Smita, Sohail Khan and Bunty Walia, a lady with a reaaalllly long last name, and Andre, Viraf and Sabbas of Wizcraft huddled on stage to light the traditional lamp.

Once the diya spluttered bravely against the bright lights, drummer Shivamani came on stage for one of the best parts of the evening -- samples of his wonderful music. Though I did wish the bar was nearby.

Five minutes after Shivamani's exit, the emcee awoke, 'Wasn't that wonderful? Please give a big round of applause for Shivamani.' That left me wondering if there was something I had missed. Then he informed us that the stars were in the vicinity and DID WE WANNA SEE SALMAN? Many of the ladies, at least, seemed to want to do just that!

Then, with bated breath, he informed us that Sanjay Dutt, Karisma and Mahima had also graced us with their presence. Govinda, though, didn't make it to this do. Behind which absence, there lies a history.

Salman's younger brother, Arbaaz, was chucked out of a Govinda film. Some claim this was because Govinda didn't want to risk acting opposite a newcomer. Since when, the Khan and the Virar ka chokra have been fighting a cold war. To the extent that Jackie Shroff's film which originally starred Khan, Govinda and Shroff now stars (Sunil) Shetty, Govinda and Shroff.

But let's forget all that and concentrate on the stars. Their grand entry was preceded by laser displays and music familiar to Sibelius or the more to-date version, John Williams. By the expectancy in the air, you expected Superman, glorious in his red underpants, to fly past.

Nothing happened.

No, I'm not cribbing because Superman didn't show up. The fact is, nobody showed up.

So they played the instrumental version of Taal.

Still nothing happened.

So they sounded the 'Om' chant. I guess they were hoping this, at least, would hurry the stars on to the dias. They even repeated the laser show and the Sibelius-like music.

Suddenly the stars appeared on stage, but most of us could not see them. We had to be satisfied with watching them on giant video screens. So we witnessed Sanjay Dutt and Salman breaking the coconut and walking down an makeshift balcony to access a more visible part of the stage.

Bombay is not really the place to be if you want to watch the general junta scream with joy on spotting their screen idols. The place to do that is Delhi, where the crowd actually goes hysterical whenever they see a star. They even believe each and every 'I love you' that the stars throw at them.

In Bombay they like freebies, so Dutt chucked his jacket at the crowd. Salman looked like he was going to do the same with his cap but, on second thoughts, he too went for his jacket. And it began to look like most of the females in the audience would faint!

Karisma and Mahima, though, did not do anything of the sort. There did not seem anything much left for anyone to do, so an uneasy silence prevailed. Until Sanjay took the mike, 'Thank you all of you for being here.' Salman followed suit, Karima hoped their venture would be successful and Mahima repeated what she said at the initial launch of India Talkies in January 1998, 'We love food and movies.. at India Talkies, you will get both.'

They then made their way to another makeshift stage, chucked some more freebies at the crowd. And left. Just like that. It was over. The end.

The stars disappeared as soon as they stepped off-stage, leaving the makeshift dining area-cum-bar to a few wannabes and various relatives of producers, distributors and financiers. Spotted Preeti Jhangiani (the Yeh Hai Prem girl who has been signed on for Yash Chopra's Mohabbatein) making her way out without attracting any attention to herself....

Suparn Verma claims he is not taken in by the glitter of Bollywood. Photographs: Jewella C Miranda