The glass wall, Satyajit Ray’s Nayak, and meeting Shahrukh Khan!

What a weird assemblage of thoughts! Unconnected? Perhaps not. I happened to see Nayak a few days ago and simply loved the film. Uttam Kumar was charismatic, suave, charming, ruthless, and epitomized a star at the peak of his game. His encounter with the somewhat mousy (though can she ever be that?) editor/writer Sharmila Tagore was the meeting between an ordinary everyday person and a celebrity. She is convinced by a fellow passenger to walk up to him and try to interview him. She starts off by asking for an autograph “Not for me but for my uncle’s daughter!” and he mockingly obliges. Then in a classic scene she is interviewing him, surreptitiously one may add, when the train stops at a station. The crowds on the platform notice the star and begin a melee outside the glass window – the ordinary person begins to get really uncomfortable and star nonchalantly carries on with his chatting. She pulls the shade down, he pulls it up, maybe wanting her to feel what he has to deal with everyday of his life! Only a wall of glass separates them from the prying eyes of countless fans ready to break through. Thus is the life of a star exposed and open to all who chose to pry into his or her affairs.

Nayak moment2

I had heard that the My Name is Khan crew was in California and thought I should try and catch some filming if I can. It proved much harder than I had imagined as they were constantly on the move all over the Bay area, and going as far North as Sonoma county and as far South as Morgan Hill! Finally with the aid of some excellent sleuthing by a friend, I found out that the filming was in Healdsburg. The idea was to take my nephew for the shoot so he could see his favorite star! But the shoot turned out to be a night one – so no nephew, it was just me planning to ask for an autograph “for my brother’s son!”
MNIK set
The shoot was of some memorial service, perhaps a candle-light vigil. Then rumors began to fly that it was the memorial service for the lead man who was dead! For some reason people found that hard to believe and a young girl speculated that he was under that table with the candles piled on top and then at the end of the shoot he would come out of there – because he HAS to go home you know! While the set was being prepared we saw Karan Johar on the phone, no doubt trying to persuade his leading man it was time to arrive on the sets!
MNIK kjo

Standing about in the cold I heard a lot of talk of all kinds. Some interesting stuff from the inhabitants of Healdsburg who had no idea what had hit them and were astonished to see the huge crowd in the Plaza. They think the Indian film industry is confused about 4th of July in the US and thinks it is celebrated with candles instead of fireworks! All the while Kajol hangs on to Mickey Contractor and texts on her phone. Maybe she is chatting with hubby back home. Manish Malhotra is at her side – all the means to make her look good hover around – and look good she does! For some reason it is not difficult to spot her from far away and in a crowd.
MNIK Kajol

People wonder why she is there and no lead man and an old gentleman tells his daughter-in-law that the 40 crores are riding on him and not her. It seems like a sexist comment but unfortunately true for the BW film industry. Then finally Shahrukh shows up in a white kurta – the little girl pipes up that he has become an angel after dying! They go through a scene where the family (SRK, Kajol, and a little boy) walk up and get candles before joining the crowd of extras who are part of the vigil. Many retakes later they break for dinner and the stars promptly disappear – leaving a lot of disappointed people hanging around. Thus far the glass wall is intact and it is not uncomfortable to be on the other side of it.

Then the stars reappear and the scene is shot from the front with a lot of retakes. I do some quick calculations and figure out that this candle-light vigil scene will likely be for 2 minutes in the film – tops 4, and it must have cost about 60k to 80k US$ to film! I am hoping it was worth it and will add value to the product. And that is when we hear the loud ITS A WRAP shout. The crowds are on the ready as we have been told that we will be able to meet Shahrukh, and I have to get that autograph for my nephew. Fortunately I have my pen and paper on the ready and no one even has time to listen to my mumbled “for my nephew”!
SRK MNIK1

But the crowd is getting very loud and the glass wall has definitely shattered. The experience is unsettling and scary and I feel strange. From a distance I could pretend I was merely an onlooker, firmly behind a glass wall – I never felt then that I was part of a rabid crowd. I was watching something I would see on screen anyway – and more important I was watching an interesting process!!! But now suddenly I am part of this crowd, badgering a man who has been working all day, indeed trying to grab a piece of that celebrity – to own it! Yes, he has a smile on his face that sometimes lapses into a harassed look at the huge crowd milling about him on all sides, but deep down inside he, like Uttam Kumar, is really telling us that he lives like a goldfish in a bowl and we are circling around that bowl! At that point I leave because this makes me very uncomfortable and uneasy. And finally I understand the significance of that wonderfully captured moment in Nayak.
SRK MNIK2

(Of course I forgot that Mr. Khan still had my pen and was signing all the autographs with it!)

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9 Responses

  1. Probably Satyajit Ray was seeing you from above watching the movie and loving it, and so he might have thought to make it a real life experience for you. And here you go. Congrats.
    Also you have made me feel the need of watching the movie, Nayak again, first time, I saw, I didn’t appreciate it much, but now having seen more of Ray’s films, I understand him better. Of course, having real life experience just after it makes it just another level of experience. I hope the next time I see Nayak, Satyajit Ray watches and belsses me too. Unfortunately, I had a DVD of Nayak, which isn’t working anymore. So I guess, I need to wait till December.

    • Hey Ankit – thanks for visiting! Do see Nayak again, I find it one of the most accessible of Ray films. And Uttam Kumar’s charm is undeniable.

  2. Pictures take real lot of time to load :( . I am only able to see the first pic :( May be problem is at my end. This apart a very nice write up… Bit busy now a days… Have to catch up other articles on your blog

  3. Thanks Shetty Bhai – nice of you to stop by. Pictures are loading fine at my end – I do not think they are very large. Aapne Shahrukh ko block kiya hai kya apne computer par? ;-)

  4. An Excellent write up here. You have weaved what you saw in the movie Nayak in to your experience on the sets of MNIK quite well. Looks like you had a good time watching the shoot and then harassing SRK for a picture. It also looks like SRK was trying to throw a punch in one of the picture. Hope the target was somebody else :-)

    • Thanks Saks – and I have to thank you particularly for providing me with the location and time. Thanks for visiting – you have been a stranger for a while!!!

  5. [...] most expensive and glossy toilet paper roll! Well, there are better ways to connect the two. Click here to read a post by Gobbledyspook who connects the Nayak with the [...]

  6. a very beautiful piece…i think you captured the essence of nayak from the other side of the glass wall…

  7. Thank you! The whole episode opened my eyes to the dilemma of celebrity – you crave the attention, and yet find it abhorrent at the same time. And then one day you become indifferent to the negative aspect of the attention. Only a genius like Ray could have presented it so beautifully.

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