No films or even sketchy records survive of Miss Gulab, a delicate beauty from the era of silent cinema. He remembered her though, vividly, recalling a scene in which the heroine was caught in a storm-tossed boat. She nearly drowned. Mercifully, the divine forces save her, leaving her wet, shivering but alive.
There was a Miss Emily, too, in his memory file but Miss Gulab was his first screen sweetheart. Zipping past Marine Drive in his black Mercedes-Benz, he would laugh, “See, there’s high tide in the samundar today. Like me, Miss Gulab was a survivor. Later Raj Kapoor showed Zeenat Aman drenched from head to toe, then he placed Mandakini under a waterfall but those girls were nowhere near as wonderful as my Gulab.”
Maqbool Fida Husain was a virtual film archive. He could flashback non-stop to the hoardings he had painted of Jamuna and Chandramohan, of his infatuation with Ruby Myers and of the scalding summer afternoon when he waited in a three-piece suit outside the Mehboob studio gates. He longed to design a studio set but was told firmly to take a walk. So when he painted a set overnight for one of my films at the same studio, he was even more thrilled than I was. He was like that, completing some of his dreams only when his hair had turned snow white.
Unwaveringly, Husain baba celebrated the zeitgeist of Bollywood cinema. Although baba would walk out of nine films out of ten during the interval, he was fascinated by perky, playful heroines. He behaved as shyly as a teenaged fan when Mumtaz had dropped by to wish him on his 88th birthday.
Sridevi’s solo dance in Chandni enchanted him to such a degree that he was dismissive about her arch-competitor Madhuri Dixit.. till he saw Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! Khallas, a box seat at the Liberty cinema was reserved for the artist whenever he was in the mood to cheer La Dixit. He saw it 70, 80, 90 times over, he lost count.
The obsession resulted in his first feature film Gaja Gamini, a visual fest, which touched upon the topics of woman empowerment and motherhood. No one could quite understand that in Madhuri Dixit, the artist saw an incarnation of his mother, whom he had lost when he was an infant. His mother from Pandharpur, he was told, would be draped in a nine-yard Maharashtrian saree. He presented the actress not only in a similar saree but also in the avatars of Mona Lisa and Menka.
To finance Gaja Gamini, he would paint canvases in the studio’s make-up room by night, and shoot by day. Next: Meenaxi: A Tale Of Three Cities, another ode to womanhood. In Meenaxi..., portrayed by Tabu, he saw the one great love of his life – a Czech tourist guide called Maria – for whom he had nearly renounced everyone else in the world. At the last hour, she had backtracked from the marriage.
For long, baba wished to make a film located in a women’s hostel presided over by a despotic warden. Three girls would be in focus, led by Urmila Matondkar. After he left India, he lost track of the project. Yet he still aspired to make a comedy, the painter’s eyes zeroing in on Amrita Rao, Vidya Balan and Anushka Sharma. Come 2012, he had intended to make this comedy which he had titled DoosriShaadi.Com.
Baba kept in touch with his birthplace, wherever he was, by watching the new Mumbai movies on their first day, first show. Today when he’s gone, you do regret one thing. There will be no one to remind you of Miss Gulab while zipping past Marine Drive.