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A household name at the ripe young age of 79

Monday, 19 May 2014 - 7:00am IST Updated: Sunday, 18 May 2014 - 11:19pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Today let me move the clock forward and talk on the title of the column ‘Life begins at Eighty’. I had touched upon that in my  first couple of articles about my return from Dubai in 2009 at the ripe ‘young’ age of 79, after spending 21 years with a media company, and my retirement plan to pursue my theatre passion which I had left behind in India. In 2012, I receive an offer to act in a TV commercial for Vodafone which overnight made me a celebrity. What next?

Here was Burjor Patel, the actor, the producer, the marketing wizard and now a TV star. I thought I would be inundated with offers and I should be careful in making the right choices. A couple of calls came almost immediately. ”How much will you charge?”, they asked. I thought I was the Shah Rukh Khan of the TV commercial world and quoted accordingly. They never called back! Finally a first time movie director called, insisting on coming home to meet me and explain the role he wanted me to play in his movie. I was to play a Hindu priest in a small village. Imagine a Parsi bawa in a dhoti with a tilak on the forhead, sitting on a paatla and partaking dinner at the village mafia’s home. I couldn’t see myself in the role and declined.

Offers for TV commercials kept coming in. I even reduced my SRK status to that of ordinary mortals. You are invited to a trial audition shoot. The script is given to you moments before the shoot. You need a sharp faculty to quickly get a sense of your role. I was at a trial shoot for the client “Google”. It was about an elderly Indian gentleman reminiscing about his pre-Partition days to his granddaughter, remembering his old friend with whom he used to play cricket and steal goodies from the friends’ family shop. The granddaughter goes to the Google site, traces the friend in Karachi and arranges his visit to India taking the grandfather by surprise. The moment of their meeting was truly touching and I thought I had performed really well. The director actually clapped.. You start dreaming of another iconic commercial and nationwide kudos once more. A few days later the call comes “Sorry, you missed by a whisker”.

Another trial shoot. It was for the product Lenovo. It was a knowledge quiz between two individuals one of whom is Einstein which was to be played by me. First they dress me up in a huge curly wig. When I looked into the mirror for a moment I thought I was the fast bowler Malinga and not Einstein. The script was given moments before the shoot and fortunately there were no dialogues to learn. The director was very pleased with my work. The co-actor was not present so I enquired who was going to play that role. They said Ranbir Kapoor. Wow! Imagine acting opposite the iconic actor. The call comes “You are short-listed “ and they enquired about the availability of my dates, fees etc. Excitement mounts. A few days later the call comes. All excited I pick up the phone “Sorry you just missed it”. 

Just when I started thinking whether I would become a “one commercial wonder”, I finally get selected for a commercial for Cadbury’s Gems. Another one follows, this time it was Lux Cozy with the star Sunny Deol. I enjoyed doing both though neither of them was anywhere close to the iconic Vodafone one. I may not be the toast of the nation any more but I can send a message to all 80 plus men and women that ‘Life also begins at Eighty’.

The author is a well-known stage personality

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