The dampness in the eyes

The Dampness in the Eyes

Every year as the 13th of December approaches, a kind of emptiness starts to envelop me which makes me uneasy, it reminds me of the immense loss that we have all faced as humans despite knowing that in the end everything and everyone shall pass - nobody gets away with it, yet the question still remains how and why did it happen. Such was the impact that Satguru Jagjit Singh ji had on our lives. Thus this year was no different except for the fact that the emptiness struck early and in a moment of celebration in the midst of the pandemic.

Like every December, every November is the time to celebrate the Prakash of Satguru Jagjit Singh Ji. 2020 was going to be special as it was the first centenary - the 100th year. As always a music concert marked the culmination of the celebrations. Pt Rajan-Sajan Mishra - long time favourites of Satguru ji were singing. Midway through the second bandish Pt Sajan Mishra looked at the picture of Satguru Ji that was kept on the stage and the heart skipped a beat - a lump formed in the throat and the eyes went damp - just like that - the song in the mind changed as memories came rushing back - in that moment the celebration became a personal experience of the little little things, gestures and conversations, bringing me to the crossroad of happiness and grief - but there was no choice and no turning back - such is life that despite what one may try both will always be there.

Truth be told it was hard to fathom on the 13th off December 2012 and has been henceforth. The ideal way to look at it is as Satguru ji would say - the happiness outweighs the sorrow always - there is always something to take strength from - look at the positives and the pain is relatively painless, pun unintended, but hey I don't know, I still feel like a lost child, without His Satguru - looking always for Him even in the wilderness of my dreams, I miss Him and His endearing smile, the way He made me feel, confident and raring to go, nothing was impossible - for I knew that He had my back, always - there!

Perhaps in that lies the answer as well - none of us ever realised it but He was preparing us all for the journey of our lifetimes, where we would be the ones who would walk the path, be the examples that He wanted us to be, responsible and steadfast to the ideals that He stood for - and so ever since that day we have tried - but hey when December approaches - the eyes go damp, a lump forms in the throat and I miss You Satguru ji - my beloved Satguru Jagjit Singh Ji - bless us and may Your divine light continue to shine upon all of us - Dhan Satguru Jagjit Singh Ji 

Vijay Marur SIR - The man with a Smile and a booming voice

It still hasn't sunk in. We all know that life is unpredictable but when you get a call that your mentor who you had just wished a Happy birthday and a long life passed away suddenly, it hits you... and hard.

Vijay Marur - for a lot of people an Adman, Theatre personality, Foodie, Reviewer, Writer, Director, Mentor etc the list is long, but for me, he will remain SIR. My one-stop in life that has made me what I am. I met him as a student of Mass Communication at the University of Hyderabad way back in 1994. He was conducting a workshop on Ad films for us and unlike the teachers, we had at that point he came dressed in T-Shirts and Shorts, riding his Suzuki bike. He spoke the language that mesmerised me and drew me to him. One of the finest 48 hours we spent together as a team. From writing to filming and yes typical of Sir hogging on Biryani late night near Nampally Railway Station. We hit off well from that moment. He became a professional father figure for me and soon more. He got me my first job in Bangalore and then changed my life a year later in 1995 by getting my big break in Mumbai as an editor with Western Outdoor Advertising - which set me on the path of what I do today. Gratitude alone wouldn't be enough to thank him. Every time he came to Mumbai and I introduced him to anyone with the mandatory that he is the reason for me being here, he blushed and would quietly tell me 'Bas Kar ab' you made your life I was just helping Western Outdoor hire, someone. That was his humbleness.

During my first year in Bangalore back in 1994 as was customary in those days, I would call my parents every weekend and then SIR 040-3350524 (the number is etched in memory) and Lata Mam would pick up the phone as always. I'm sure she must have wondered at that point of time why I call him all the time. Mam, my heart goes out to you. I know no words can substantiate your loss. SIR was a big figure and I'm sure the memories and the miss you is an understatement. I pray and wish that God grants you and the family strength.

I couldn't make it to the funeral due to travel (I was on a train) and that has frustrated me even more. On his birthday on the 21st when I tried calling him several times I couldn't get through, a day later he replied back on Whatsapp - little did I realise that was the last message he sent me. And yesterday was a day of emotions - I was back in Mumbai and strangely in town near the old Western Outdoor. I passed by Yazdani Bakery and habitually clicked a picture and was about to forward it to SIR with the message - look where am I? And then it hit me again - this was a ritual every time I passed by or ate at a favourite restaurant of his in town (he had introduced me to all these places) I would WhatsApp and then we would either exchange a call or a few messages.

And Apoorva and Deeksha - the lovely daughters of SIR - although I have never had an opportunity to spend time with them, I used to hear from him about them, particularly  whenever He was in Mumbai; From the days when they were a part of an Advert that we worked on together and then later on in 2010 during a lunch we had at the Mumbai airport - about when Apoorva was travelling to Australia to study. I saw a side of him that I had never seen before - a rare moment of emotion and he spoke about how concerned he was about her travel, wishing the best for her. I have always wondered if he was so inspirational for all of us - how much more he would have meant for both Apoorva and Deeksha. My best wishes and a promise of support for them whenever they need any help in Mumbai.

I could probably go on and on about him - SIR you went away too early - too suddenly and without even a hint - wherever You are I hope you continue to spread the cheer and the love. Some somethings will
remain etched in my mind forever - the conversations, the travel and the Vintage 1956 T-Shirt. Miss you SIR

The Music Diaries | Seasons 1 | 2 | 3 | Raag Ratnavali

‘Raag Ratnavali’ - The Music Diaries explore the history and the technique behind the Gurbani Music compositions of the renowned Musician and Spiritual master of the Namdhari Sikhs - Satguru Jagjit Singh Ji.

Spanning a period of over seven decades each episode focuses on the uniqueness of single composition in terms of its raag, melody, tempo while giving an insight into the life, talent and passion of Satguru Ji.

The narrative includes the interviews of some of the most well known exponents of Indian Classical Music and Dance.

The Relevance Of Telling A Simple Story In The Times Of Edgy Content

‘Story telling over the years has changed’

‘We need contemporary stories, edgy stuff (edgy is a synonym for sex / violence)’

‘We need to have a twist at every turn’

‘History is passé - it is over and buried with’

‘True Stories work, but only when dramatised with a liberal dose of fiction’

Some of the most frequently heard observations when you are navigating the maze of creative film writing today. Story tellers today are trying to adapt to the audience as they would to a client, making full use of their imagination and ideas trying to crack the ultimate code for a Story / Script that works. 

But has story telling really changed over the years ?

For the past couple of months I have been fortunate enough to hear the narration of some of the oldest stories that have been told in Sikhism - the rendition of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life as narrated by Bhai Bala - Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s disciple to Guru Angad Dev Ji, the same having been written by Bhai Santokh Singh Ji as the ‘Suraj Prakash’.

The narrative as one starts to read or hear the rendition grows on you so much so that one really does not want to stop. There comes a point where one feels close to Guru Nanak (the protagonist) in a way that one should with the character of the story. The sheer imaginative way of putting forth the milieu of characters around Guru Nanak, His discussions with them, the exegesis of his teachings, His travels… the simplicity of it all touches one’s emotional chords irrespective of your religious or political leanings. The narrative success in capturing one’s imagination even after hundreds of years since they were written.

While the narrative of the Ramayan and Mahabharata has long since the source of inspiration for several writers, primarily for the sub text, plots and the plethora of characters that provide the necessary drama and move the story forward to its ultimate ‘big scale climax’ - what remains indelible are the characters whose stories are simply narrated without too much sub text - Vidur, Radha, Ghatotkatch, Dushashan, Ashwathama. These characters had the maximum impact and in fact if I dare say some of them were the turning points in the war .

Similarly the Janam Sakhis of the Sikh Gurus and the biographies of Sufi saints narrated in their simple form get the audience react to their ethos collectively - that in turn leads to debates and discussions - which leads to a change in perception that impacts the society at large - for the good or the bad. And if these stories have been able to do that for hundreds of years then there is no reason why the same strategy of telling a story in its simplest form won’t. Simplicity always works.

The fragrance of a flower

Five years is usually a long time. Come to think - its half a decade, enough for the tears to dry, scars to heal and memories to turn sepia. A few days back on the 13th of December a question popped up in the mind. Are we past the  winter that had set in five years back the same day ? The dark, dramatic hues of the evening sky that had given way to the cool hues of the night, the night cold wind had blown across the lonely heart - the question remained - does the heart still pine for the love of its Master or is it now just another fond memory ?

In the following few days we went back to the daily routines of our professional lives, immersing ourselves in work as usual. But as they say love finds its way to the heart. While watching a documentary on a Canadian Concert Tour, the thoughts went back to an evening in Benares sometime in the 1990s - the venue was Tabla maestro Pt Kishan Maharaj’s music hall - Satguru Ji had just finishes singing and the baithak was about to end - and then he started singing another composition culminating in a conversation - and a few moments later Satguru Ji started singing another composition - and so it went on for the next half an hour or so - the visiting Guru Jan were mesmerised by what they heard and saw, with one of them remarking Satguru Ji’s love for music was insatiable. While memories such as these moistened the eyes - several more came back in a flood.

It was sometime in 2006/07 I had had the opportunity to be around and observe Satguru Ji for a couple of days on a tour. A lady had requested regarding her health and Satguru Ji had promised to look up a Doctor for her. Satguru Ji Himself was recovering from a minor stroke and had just landed from a short trip. Over a period of the next 12 hours or so Satguru Ji persistently followed up almost every hour until the recommended doctor was connected to the ailing woman and her treatment commenced. The indelible foot prints of such unconditional love and faith brought a lump in the throat. 

A week of ruminating and refreshing of such memories that date back to several seasons the answer to the question stares back - one can’t take away the fragrance of a flower nor the moistness of the water - no amount of passage of time can stop the Sun from rising and while the cycle of life continues on its journey - the heart continues to pine for its Master - His Holiness Satguru Jagjit Singh Ji 

Unraveling Indian Air Force's best kept secret - The Great Indian Escape - The story behind the story

Then…  22 January, 2014… 1230 hours
Today… 26 January, 2017… 1700 hours
Journey… 1100 days (approx.) thus far

Life has come a full circle. I am at an airport again and the story has me as excited as I was since the first time I set eyes on it 3 years back. The story of 3 brave Indian Air Force Pilots who escaped from a POW camp in Pakistan post the 1971 war. A story that at first intrigued the film maker in me to prod and probe for more. The story of the Great Indian Escape - खुले आसमान की आेर. And today as we get into the last stage of the post production and subsequently the release our film, our journey has been anything but a miracle.

Miracles - Yes! Over the past 3 years we have witnessed several of them.

It was at the Bangalore Airport when I came across the story. What made it stand out was the fact that apart from it being an escape story, the protagonists were Indian and unlike a criminal trying to break prison, here it was the call of duty and demanded high level of patience and perseverance, coupled with the fact that the IAF pilots were POWs in a Pakistan still coming to terms with their partition and the loss of a war with India. The delay in flight had done good. A couple of hours later by the time I landed in Mumbai, the story had found its way to the heart  and resonated with the adventurous super hero comics that one had read as a child. But there was something missing - I wanted to know more about these real super heroes - what did they look like, how did they behave, their aspirations, their determination - why did they do it the way they did it? How did they think up of all those things? What was it like to be in Pakistan? The questions kept coming, the good part was unlike Batman and Superman these were real people so there was a good chance that if I could find out where they lived, I could attempt to meet them. And so the journey began.

Later in the night I goggled… Surely I would find them. Alas, there was no mention of any of them on the internet, nothing about their great escape (as we would end up calling it later), it was surely the Indian Air Force’s best kept secret. So we kept digging and except for a small blog from a neighbour of Flt Lt Dilip Parulkar, the architect of the escape (I would also later learn that he was now a well decorated Group Capt - Retd.) We immediately emailed the gentleman and asked him to help us connect with Mr Parulkar. A couple of days later we were rewarded with his email id and telephone number. A brief exchange of emails led us to meet him at his home in Pune. Excited, I didn't let go of his hand for several moments, after all this was the first time in my life that I was coming across a real super hero - someone who had done something that we only see and hear of in the movies. A coffee, lunch and a couple hours later, I was a happy kid with an autograph of the super hero. I couldn't hide my excitement any more and proposed that we make a movie out of the story - what kind, I wasn't sure - a commercial, a documentary etc., He laughed out aloud, amused at my enthusiasm he asked - ‘it has been almost 45 years, who would be interested in seeing it’. And I answered ‘every Indian’.
with Group Capt Dilip Parulkar (Retd)
A few days and few more conversations later we ended up in Pune again. This time with a camera and crew. The next five days were exhilarating as we documented and recorded Dilip’s life. What emerged was not only the Escape story but the story of an character who was shaped by the events and several other characters who were a part of it. They were all so real, they had their fears, their fallacies, their baggage yet what underlined their lives was their love for their country, their grit, determination, bravery and imagination - to stick together in face of adversity and come out on top.

with Wg Cdr MS Grewal (Retd)
From bombing a Radar Station near Lahore… To the months of solitary planning in the Rawalpindi POW Camp… Scraping a window with a dinner knife, planning the escape route, concocting a compass and other essentials out of nothing, digging their way through the wall - brick by brick, escaping through the Khyber Pass onto Torkham, the Afghan – Pak Border. We surely were uncovering one of Indian Air Force’s best kept secret - The escape, no not just that - the secret of what IAF Fighter Pilots are made up of.

with Wg Cdr DS Jafa (Retd)
Film Production is a full time job and having spent a good part of the past 20 years editing and directing features / commercials / documentaries for myself and others we were not unaware of what we were getting into. Somewhere in the back of the mind we were reassuring ourselves that  the story was so powerful that we would surely find funding for it, little did we realise then that this would be our foray into the world of Independent film making - which while exciting, comes with it’s own share of challenges. But more on that later.  

Armed with our fifty plus hours of material, several volumes of IAF history, books written on the 1971 war as well as the escape along with sleepless nights spent on the internet researching, the next three months went by - writing, narrating, debating - again and again - not necessarily in that order. It was Dilip, me, my wife Bandna (who would later on also become the Producer of the film), my writing team of close friends Asheesh Kapur (he plays the role of Flt Lt Harish Sinhji in the film) and Nimesh Balaji Shinde (he plays the role of Fg Off Vidyadhar Chati) our friend and critique Praveen Dhankar. It was early 2015. We thought that we had the story penned down. The first few narrations amongst ourselves were nothing less than a trial by fire. Several questions would crop up, some needed to be answered by the other Super heroes of the POW camp.
with Air Cmdr JL 'Bro' Bhargava (Retd)

With Dilip’s help we soon connected with several of them. Wing Commander MS Grewal (Retd) - his narration of the digging and planning was pulsating, Group Capt Tejwant Singh (Retd) - his detailed description of the camp, its surroundings and the general environment shaped our production design , Air Commodore JL Bhargava (Retd) - his interaction gave us an insight into the Pakistani psyche, Wing Commander DS Jafa (Retd) - who was ADC to the Chief of Air Staff - Air Chief Marshal PC Lal at the start of the war and himself an articulate writer and speaker - his understanding  of the war explained the dynamics of the war as well as gave an insight into everything India vs Pakistan, Wing Commander Vidyadhar Chati (Retd) - a loyal member of the escape team, his observations added not only to the story but to the sound design of the film as well, the family of Group Capt Harish Sinhji (Retd) - Kaveri Sinhji, Vikram Sinhji Rana and Vidya Sinhji - let us in to the personal world of Flt Lt Harish Sinhji, sharing the intimate letters of their father as well as the Air Force’s communication with the family during the period. In their collection we found the original POW uniforms that the camp inmates had worn contributing immensely to the costume design of the film. 
with Group Capt Tejwant Singh (Retd)

Several of the questions got answered, their screen characters came to life with their subtle nuances, their way of talking, their thought process and their vast knowledge. The diversity and unity of India sprung alive in the POW camp - in enemy territory - wow! While the first round of scripting had given us a tight screenplay. This second round of research also gave us our dialogue.
with Kaveri Sinhji
Each conversation so real and rooted in the earthiness of the character. I am indeed indebted to the several hours each one of above people spent with us, their eyes would light up when they spoke, the subtle hand waves, their smiles and the heaviness of the voice when narrating a particular sensitive moment added up to all the drama. The story had found its soul. And we had slowly but surely unraveled Indian Air Force’s best kept secret. It was a story that needed to be told. It is my story… your story… our story… India’s story - one that we can all be proud of.
with Wg Cdr Vidyadhar Chati (Retd)

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