It was the last quarter of 1996 and the first night show of MAACHIS at Liberty cinema, the still operational single screen theatre in the famous Karol Bagh region in New Delhi. This particular Friday was one of the most awaited ones especially by the Sikh community since many months, as everyone was more than eager to see how Gulzar has depicted the sad state of Punjab and its people in the film with reference to the infamous terrorism, the invisible sufferings and exploitation of the youth ruining numerous families of Punjab in the ugly decade of 80s and early 90s.
The Punjabi community had many hopes from the film mainly because MAACHIS was directed by Gulzar, who with a Sikh background was expected to understand the core issue much better than any other director of Mumbai as a logical deduction. Thankfully the expectations were largely fulfilled for a major part of the audience all over making a solid impact and the hit song “Chappa Chappa Charkha Chaley” played a key role in it unarguably. The track was widely being used for Bhangra performances in colleges, schools or private functions and mind you it was still not the time of DJs coming for every small family party or get-together without an exception.
The song was one of our favourites too and by ‘our’ I mean my group of friends who used to meet every Friday night for the new Hindi film released unconditionally (whatever it takes to be there at the theatre, at any cost). And therefore that night too we were all sitting in the back rows of Liberty cinema, excited enough to watch the film with no information about what was in store for us next offering a surprisingly pleasant gift to be cherished for long.
A few advertisements were running on the screen as usual before the film when suddenly the lights came on again and there was a strange unrest in the hall with whispers all over. After a few moments, the person in our next row said,
“Koi Aa Raha Hai Kya?”
And then the other said, “Hero Kaun Hai Film Mein………Main To Pehchaanta Bhi Nahin!”
To this the first man replied, “Hero To Gulzar Hi Hai, Wohi To Nahin Hai Kahin!”
I was excitingly hearing their conversation and was feeling the goose bumps too with the name of Gulzar coming up in their talks. Was he really coming and am I going to see him in person tonight all of a sudden? The thoughts were fast running in my mind looking at the doors in the front when few people started rushing in hurriedly. And in the group behind were two young boys dressed stylishly (Chandrachur Singh and Jimmy Shergill as I can remember) along with a person in complete white attire who had to be the man I was looking for. As they all stepped on to the small stage in front of the screen, there was a huge roar of applause and I got the first glimpse of the maestro waving towards the crowd and then standing with folded hands on the stage till the compere asked the people to settle down.
Making many repeated requests the compere was unable to control the crowd and in no time big shouts of ‘Bole So Nihaal, Sat Sri Akal’ were all over the theater since almost 70% of the audience were Punjabis and students of Khalsa College situated quite close to the theatre. With the young ones not interested in calming down, the organizers decided to make it short and gave a quick introduction of the stars and then Gulzar Saab, asking him to say a few words. As the mike was passed to him he started addressing the people calmly and in no time I found myself rushing towards the front pushing everyone coming in the way quite rudely. Few of my friends accompanied me and in just a few seconds we were standing right behind the crowd gathered around the director and his cast willing to shake hands with them as their true fans (there were no mobiles at that time to click pictures......making it more beautiful & real).
Noticing the crowd becoming restless inching ahead slowly, the compere asked the cast members and Gulzar Saab to move out and they once again waved to the audience before stepping down. During these few minutes, I didn’t even notice what was being said on the stage as I was only interested in being close to the master once and touch his feet too if possible. With the same intention as they all came off the stairs, I just bent down stretching my hand from within the people standing ahead of me and somehow managed to reach Gulzar’s Saab’s feet feeling the magic touch. The maestro probably realized someone has touched his feet and was willing to see the face for showering his blessings too. But by the time I managed to come up again to make an eye-contact, he had already moved ahead and just turned away not having found the face who touched his feet from within that crazy crowd as a passionate, loving fan. And watching him move out of the door, I found myself standing still like a stone with a big wish fulfilled all of a sudden without even making an eye contact with my beloved magician of words – Gulzar Saab.
Cut to, today after so many years gone by, I decided to share the personal experience here with all friends of BTC because of a loving inspiration coming from Sh. Pavan Jha and I truly hope this honest expression of mine somehow reaches the maestro too as another respectful, pyar bhara Charan-Sparsh after a gap of two long decades since 1996.