Of Love, Death and New Beginnings

Death in the Afternoon

Muddu was rather strong for a nine year old. Children of his age didn’t dare to cross him. Heck, even the adults of Udupi didn’t dare to cross him. But beneath that tough exterior, Muddu was a being of pure light. He enjoyed playing with the kids, and he was kind to them. What the boy didn’t enjoy one bit was studying.

His father was worried about the boy. He didn’t study, he didn’t have any interest in working. What was his future? Back in the past, that was a thing. Everybody was worried about the future. It was the 1940s, and Bombay was the City of Tomorrow. Muddu’s father decided to pack his son off to Bombay, to make a man out of him. Little did he know.

Little Muddu roamed the streets of Bombay looking for food, only to realise the hard way that he had to work for it. One fine morning, hungrier than usual, he found himself in the canteen of the Tata Oil Mill in Sewri, washing the dishes and waiting tables. He was finally earning a living but his heart was set somewhere else.

There’s not a trace of him on the Internet now, but Mendon was a legendary bodybuilder and physical trainer back in the day. Among plenty other things, Hoige Bazaar in Mangalore was famous for its gym, and Mendon was one of its illustrious alumni. This Mendon took a liking to Muddu, who was a strapping young man now, and took him under his wings to teach him boxing and bodybuilding. Muddu Babu was soon having a ball, participating in tournament after tournament, winning medals. He was the undefeated boxing champion of Bombay, while also earning a steady salary of Rs. 75 per month. His father was happy. It had paid off. Again, little did he know.

Actor-director Bhagwan Dada, though now known mostly as a comedian (and as the dancer who inspired the signature Bachchan Step), had done a lot of swashbuckling and fencing on screen. And for the stunts, Dada always collaborated with his friend Baburao Pehelwan, one of the earliest stuntmen and fight instructors in Hindi cinema. The two once happened to be watching Muddu Babu on one of his boxing matches and came away impressed by his skills. Baburao called him to the studio and shot a minor fight scene with the boy. He was handed a bunch of crisp notes, amounting to a princely Rs. 200. Now it was Muddu’s turn to be impressed. He decided to leave everything and join the movies as a “fight master” (stuntman/ action choreographer). He tutored under Shaikh Azim aka Azim Bhai, another esteemed fight master from the 50s.

Soon, Muddu Babu Shetty was composing elaborate fight scenes, also appearing as on-screen stunt doubles of buffed-up actors like Premnath, Pradeep Kumar and Pran. He had an imposing personality and a distinctive look. There’s a bit of a back story there too. M.B. was playing a bald-headed baddie for the film Night in London (1967). Ironically, he was at the same time shooting for the similarly titled An Evening in Paris (1967) where he was supposed to play a goon with…erm, hair. But continuity became such a big mess that director of the latter film, Shakti Samanta, let him shoot with a bald head. While Night in London sank like a piece of rock, An Evening in Paris became a runaway hit and the “look” stayed. Now mostly referred to by his last name Shetty, Muddu Babu went on to become one of the most iconic on-screen henchmen, being roughed up by everyone from Bachchan to Dharam to Jeetu.

Around the late 70s, something happened that sealed the fate of Shetty and his two families. Shetty was shooting for a film called Bombay 405 Miles (1980), starring Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha and directed by Brij Sadanah (Kamal Sadanah’s father). In one of the action scenes, a boy named Mansoor was playing the stunt double for Shatru. A petrol bomb was supposed to explode near him. Unlike today, safety measures were rudimentary and injuries were commonplace. But this got particularly messy. The bomb was flung at Mansoor but before he could jump away, the bomb hit his body and went off. Mansoor died on the spot.

Shetty was pretty close to his coterie of stuntmen and fighters, they were like his sons. He felt responsible and went into mourning. Alcoholism took over and he spent most of his days at the bottom of bottles. The countless broken bones in his body did the rest. On 23rd January 1982, Muddu Babu Shetty aka M.B. Shetty aka Fight Master Shetty passed away, almost penniless.

He had two sons and two daughters by his first wife Vinodini. One of them, Hriday Shetty grew up to be a director, debuting with the Sanjay Dutt-starrer Plan. He also had a son with his other wife Ratna. This son became a massively successful film director, even more successful and popular than his father. Rohit Shetty. And like his father, he works with stuntmen and ensures they are employed (safely) in all his films.

“Hate at first site”

Around the same time, they met. He was the scion of India’s first family of filmdom. She was the granddaughter of the Raja of Amod. They were being launched as the leads on a new film. After Bobby and Love Story, “teenage” love stories were all the rage and this one was packaged as such too. The film was being directed by Rajiv Mehra, who’d later make Chamatkar and Ram Jaane with Shah Rukha Khan and the TV shows Office Office and Zabaan Sambhal Ke.

This film was Ek Jaan Hain Hum, an unofficial (of course!) remake of Endless Love (1981). The American film was significant for a number of reasons. It was Brooke Shields’ first film after the sensational The Blue Lagoon (1980), and it featured a young Tom Cruise, debuting in a minor role. And James Spader in his first major film role. The title song of the film, performed by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross topped the Billboard Charts for weeks.

(L to R) Tom Cruise in his debut, Yes, that’s the same James Spader who stars in Blacklist, the Netflix show. And Brooke Shields. All stills from Endless Love. Ogle!

She absolutely detested him on their first encounter. They met for the first time during the recording of a song. She later said she felt he literally went out of his way to make her uncomfortable. She was inside, and their he was with his friends, peeping through a glass window, jeering and pointing at her as if she were some animal at the zoo. Made her miserable.

At the time, while she had a calm head on her shoulders, he was like a livewire 24/7. During the premiere of the film, the crowd was cheering with ferocity and he was waving back at the masses, equally excited. Well, the crowds were screaming not at him but another young actor who was attending the premiere called Anil Kapoor, whose Woh 7 Din had been a roaring success. He was riding an invisible wave even before the release and his mannerisms showed it. In his head, he was already a star. When they were shooting at Port Blair, the people there assumed he was his superstar uncle who he closely resembled.

Before signing the film, he threw a tantrum that he should be allowed to choose the heroine of the film. She had obviously dazzled him. But she herself was totally unimpressed by him. When she was told his pedigree, she seemed nonplussed and remarked that she never knew his legendary father had a third son too!

Director Rajiv Mehra was worried. He needed chemistry between the two for the pairing to work on screen. Rajiv invited them out to dine out with his wife. There he was even more of a turn-off for her, eating sloppy and making a mess on the table. She couldn’t be less interested in him. But in a strange way, she was. Like the film they were working on, these were the beginnings of a cheesy, filmy romance.

They began chatting on the sets, on and off. Initially she was just being nice but then she realised to her shock how charming he could be. But there was one incident she later spoke about to Filmfare which brought them close. This again was nothing short of a scene from a bad Bollywood love story. While shooting for the song “Asmaan pe likh doon naam tera” it was colder than usual. She was freezing, and after a point it got so unbearable that she lost consciousness by the time she had exited her car. When she woke up, she realised she was in her hotel room. She was told it was he who carried her all the way to the room, and made no stone unturned to make sure she was okay. She – quite literally – had been swept off her feet.

A torrid romance began. They were madly in love, and the same stuff that annoyed her about him, now seemed cute. Two young would-be stars in love….the media was eating from their hands. Throughout the shoot of their debut and after, they were quite an item and the paparazzi (they were not called that back then) had a field day. They signed two more films in quick succession.

But. Something happened. Nobody knows for sure what, but it may have something to do with stardom. Their third film – in which she was the ‘second lead’ opposite him – was a massive success unlike their earlier films, but she got no credit. The praise and the leering applause was reserved for the ‘other lead’ heroine of the film. He was over the moon with joy. But it was short-lived. Not one of his films worked after that, and he hung his boots after eight more films, each more tiring than the previous one. She shared a similar fate, having quit the movies after doing just about a dozen more films. By this time, they had drifted far, far apart.

Divya Rana got married and moved to Dubai. She answers to the name Salma Manekia, and is quite active on Instagram promoting her apparel brand. Chimpu aka Rajiv Kapoor tried his hand at directing with Prem Granth starring his brother Rishi Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. After a link-up with actress Nagma, he got married to architect Aarti Sabharwal and was divorced soon after. Reportedly, he is in a happy live-in relationship right now.

Love’s labour’s….you know how it goes!

If these stories seem interesting to you, and Hindi movie-love means something to you, consider buying my book.

amborish

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *