SHYAM BENEGAL’S JUNOON & A FOUR HOUR TRIP TO THE MOVIESby Sharad Raj April 24 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 36 secs
Sharad Raj, a filmmaker, shares a funny memory that continues to make him laugh even today, about a trip, in Lucknow, to see the film Junoon, with his family.
The year was 1977 and my father, Dr Raj Kumar’s closest friend, late Mr. Suresh Nigam, lovingly known as Lovey uncle, an established documentary filmmaker in his own right, was the Managing Director of UP Chalchitra Nigam (a state level film body).
Producer Shashi Kapoor and director Shyam Benegal’s film unit was parked in Lucknow, the state capital of the northern province of Uttar Pradesh, shooting for the film Junoon, starring Shabana Azmi, Jennifer Kendal, Shashi Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah, along with Ismat Chugtai, Nafisa Ali and Deepti Naval (she was a newcomer at the time).
Deepti had flown in from New York with shirts she was carrying for my father, which were sent to him by one of his close friends (a relative of Deepti’s). She had invited us to the set of Junoon in Malihabad, the Dussehri mango capital of Uttar Pradesh, 30 kms north of Lucknow. Film buffs that we were, we happily embarked on a journey to Malihabad to collect the shirts. A scene with Jalal Agha, Shabana and Shashi was underway. We watched the shoot with great interest and a sense of awe. I was 12 and my sister was 8. Before this, we had been on the sets of films like Sholay, Rajesh Khanna’s Prem Kahani and Jeetendra’s Bidaai, but for the first time we were at one in our hometown.
A few days later Lovey uncle hosted a party in honour of the Junoon unit at Lucknow’s prestigious Carlton Hotel in Hazratganj, where Lovey uncle introduced us to Shabana Azmi, Jennifer, Nafisa Ali and of course Shashi Kapoor. Shashi Kapoor was standing under the Banyan grove of the Hotel lawns and kept changing his plate with every new dish that was being served to him. “Change my plate,” was his refrain. And then he asked my sister Varsha something to which she said, "Haan". And, Shashi Kapoor immediately corrected her, saying, "jee boltey hein jee,” as reminisces, Varsha today. It was an elegant small-town evening with all the well-known people of the city of Lucknow on the guest list.
Months passed and we waited impatiently to see the film! Junoon was released in Mayfair cinema theatre of Lucknow in 1978. A trip to the movies every Saturday evening was a ritual for us. It was usually the night show, but for some odd reason that weekend, the 6PM show had been booked (those were the days of, ‘daily 4 shows: 12.30, 3.30, 6.30 and 9.30 PM’). My father, who had recently started his private practice, had also graduated from a Lambretta scooter to a second-hand Fiat 1100 - the one in which only the front doors opened backwards! And we, a family of four, embarked on ‘mission Junoon’ from our Railway Colony bungalow to Mayfair Cinema, which was a 45-minute drive. But the car refused to start. We took help, had the car pushed until the ignition took off, and drove for barely 5 more minutes before the car stopped yet again. Thereafter, the whole ride to the Mayfair theatre went through a start-stop-push-start-stop-push-repeat loop! The 45-minute drive took us about 4 hours!!!
There were several cat calls enroute with people telling us to exchange the car for a bicycle etc., and one enthusiast even took the trouble of buying a fairy-tale booklet with a car and quietly slipped it onto the backseat while we struggled to get the car moving. By the time we entered the cinema hall, the end credits of the film were rolling. The evening and our enthusiasm to see the movie had gone for a toss and we were in foul moods, partially salvaged by a nice non-vegetarian meal at Royal Café. Soon Dad sold the car for 9,500 rupees and we went and saw Junoon on another day. We have joked about it for years. But, it is that evening in our Fiat 1100 that remains entrenched in our minds even today.
Junoon was Shashi Kapoor’s debut as a producer and based on Ruskin Bond’s story, ‘A Flight of Pigeons.’ It won 3 National and 6 Filmfare Awards.