There are those who dream and those who make their dream come true! Although brought in the small town of Bulsar (now Valsaad), I had big dreams of being a great sportsman and a movie star! And indeed I went on to represent my school and college in cricket, table tennis, elocution and theatre, and won many accolades. At the passing out function in college my professor had jocularly remarked: “Here stands a man whose studies are his extra curricular activities”! My movie dream stayed alive right through. I remember as a schoolboy I had once visited a studio where Sohrab Modi, the great film maker, was shooting one of his blockbuster movies. It had given me goosebumps.
Many decades later I got an offer to act in a documentary film. I was so excited that I said ‘yes’ without checking the details. The shooting was to happen outstation. I was all set to start for the airport dreaming of a cute girl as my co-star, when I received a call. The man said “Sorry sir, the shoot has been cancelled. The monkey has run away”. I was shocked to learn that my co-star was no beautiful damsel waiting to be rescued, but a monkey!
A few years later, came another call — this time from the offices of Manmohan Desai, the iconic director of many mega hits — offering me a role of a British officer in a new movie starring Amitabh Bachchan. Desai’s blockbuster movie that immediately came to my mind was Amar, Akbar, Anthony with Amitabh singing My name is Anthony Gonsalves...
I reached the studio. After donning make-up and costume of a British army Major, I was asked to sit on a horse. Having never sat on one before, all I would say is that it was an experience I would not wish even my boss! Sitting four feet off the ground on a shifting, snorting, kicking and defecating steed is punishing for many parts of the human anatomy. I was the ‘bawa’ Britisher, and a real white man, actor Bob Christo, played my junior. Towering over me, Christo with a shining bald pate looked more Major-like than I. Bob jumped on and off his horse between takes like an Afghan, while I needed a stairway and three helpers! After a few lines in angrezi Hindi we wound up for the day. The next shoot was three days away when Bachchan would be joining.
When I reached office the next day, I saw a note from my secretary that read: ‘MD arriving on the day of your next shoot. What do you want me to do?’ I decided that meeting my Big Boss was more important than shooting with Big B and promptly called Desai’s offices requesting for a fresh date. They were very understanding, promptly calling me back to inform me that I had been replaced ! Had I been Dharmendra, it would have been different. So much for honesty!
But I did get a few minutes of fame on celluloid. JBH Wadia, the legendary movie producer, director and founder of Wadia Movietone, was making a Gujarati movie and he invited me and my wife Ruby to play a British couple in the movie. My wife still remembers wearing a long pink and blue gown with a smart hat. While on a tour of Gujarat with our plays, my theatre colleagues joined us at a theatre showing the movie. Our screen debut was over in a blink, but what lasted longer was the queue for autographs and photographs post the movie! My stage actor friends created a hungama to make the crowd believe that we were Hollywood stars! For that one evening Burjor Patel became Burt Reynolds.
The author is a well-known stage personality