That's really 'Cho' sweet

Recall

That's really 'Cho' sweet

When I heard of Cho Ramaswamy’s demise, I was reminded of my encounter with someone whom our prime minister described as a ‘multidimensional personality’.

Over 45 years ago, my brother and I were spending our summer vacation with our grandparents in Madras (now Chennai). I was in my mid-teens and crazy about Rajesh Khanna. I had enjoyed his performances in Aradhana, Ittefaq, Do Raaste, Bandhan and Khamoshi, and also watched his older, lesser-known films. I had even met the celebrity. A few months earlier, accompanied by my brother, I had gone to the Delhi hotel where he was staying and knocked on his door. The actor thanked us for braving the cold weather to visit him  and signed our autograph books. There was a photographer present, and Rajesh Khanna posed for a picture with us.

Envied by my peers, I was determined to repeat the feat. Had I lived in Mumbai, I would have been a stalker. Deprived of that opportunity, I kept tabs on Rajesh Khanna’s travels. And, if we happened to be in the same part of the country, I would try to track him down.

In May 1970, I learnt that Chinnappa Devar’s Haathi Mere Saathi was in the process of production at Vauhini Studios, Madras. My grandfather, a cinema buff, agreed to take my brother and me to that exciting location. Catching bus after bus, we arrived at our destination, begrimed and bedraggled.

Rajesh Khanna was not on the sets that day. We were given this news by his costar, Sujit Kumar. That lesser luminary was familiar to us as Rajesh Khanna’s mouth organ-playing companion in Aradhana and, in the absence of the superstar, we were happy to chat with him. Sujit Kumar asked my 10-year-old brother what he wanted to be in the future. “A doctor,” blurted out the latter, who had never given the matter much thought. Sujit Kumar nodded. “Do not become an actor,” he advised, as if the youngster was quitting school to embark on a career in show business.

Shortly after, a young man approached us and asked if we would like to watch the shooting of a Tamil film. Gratefully escaping the scorching sun, we followed him into a dark hall and seated ourselves in a corner. The set was a puja room, and a woman draped in a silk sari was paying obeisance to her household gods. Distracted by a conversation at some distance behind her, she was desperately trying to overhear it. She moved back and forth between deities and interlocutors, her face alight with curiosity.

As take followed take, it seemed to us that the lady was doing exactly the same thing each time, but the scene was still being shot when we left. Our grandfather told my brother and me that the movie in the making was Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. We may not have met Rajesh Khanna, but we were not unduly disappointed. We had seen that dedicated and demanding director — Cho Ramaswamy.

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