A moment uncaptured

In Sanju, the biopic based on the life of Sanjay Dutt, a young man visits Nargis Dutt in hospital. He gets Sunil Dutt, his ailing wife and three children to pose for a group photograph and sets up a camera. Adjusting it to click automatically, he joins them for the snapshot. Watching the portrayal of that incident, which probably occurred in 1981, I recalled my meeting with the selfsame family, a decade earlier.

It took place when I had the privilege of interviewing Sunil Dutt. I must clarify that the conversation was not commissioned by Doordarshan, All India Radio or even a reputed journal. The transcript of our talk appeared in my relatively obscure college magazine. Its editor, Rambha, had asked me for an article and I was eager to oblige. I had just embarked on a BA English Honours course, which Rambha would shortly complete, and that brilliant student was my source of inspiration. She was also accessible, unlike other seniors who ignored us newcomers. Nobody, however, could disregard a fresher named Jasbinder.

Studying John Keats, my classmates and I told our lecturer that the poet must have prophetically envisioned Jasbinder when he declared, “If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.” Poems flowed freely from Jasbinder’s pen, and she had enough of them to fill several yearbooks.

Concerned that I was overshadowed by my flamboyant friend, Rambha caught me alone. “I hear you enjoy Hindi movies,” she said. “Why not write about them?” Remarkable Rambha! Although we had barely known each other two weeks, she was aware of my fondness for films. Somehow, it had never struck me that anything as unscholarly as cinema could feature in Rambha’s compilation of literary contributions. Now, at her suggestion, I foresaw in my imagination (the ‘inward eye’ of Wordsworth) my piece on a great actor/director, published prominently in the Jesus and Mary College journal.

An avid admirer of the stars of the silver screen, I kept track of their trips to Delhi. In July 1971, Sunil Dutt was in the city for the premiere of his production, Reshma Aur Shera. Intending to call on him, I had previously found out where he was staying. Armed with notepads and autograph books, Jasbinder and I landed at the hotel.

When we asked Sunil Dutt if he had time for questions, he nodded smilingly. Seated nearby, Nargis graciously served us cakes and tea. As the session progressed, Sanjay (soon to turn 11) ran happily around the suite with his younger sisters, Namrata and Priya. Why, oh why, did Jasbinder and I not take a camera along to capture those memorable moments? Nearly five decades later, after seeing Sanju, I think regretfully of the picture not clicked.

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A moment uncaptured

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