How many of you will believe me if I told you that I not only saw one of the most beautiful women in the world a foot away from me, but also travelled in her car? Well I did. I used to be a receptionist at the Hotel Blue Diamond in the 1980s. It was, then, the only five-star hotel in Pune and the only one where the rich and the famous stayed if they were in the city. The hotel was abuzz because (then) Sir Richard Attenborough’s unit for the film Gandhi was checking in  and the CEO Arvind Pandit was telling the housekeeping and everyone else to ensure that everything went off smoothly.

I still remember the palpable excitement in the hotel and at the front office where I worked. The chief receptionist and others were filling up the check-in forms in advance. Computers were still some years away. We didn’t want the VIP guests to wait, so all formalities were completed in advance. When the guests arrived, Sir Richard Attenborough and the rest of them got the traditional aarti and tilak welcome and were whisked away to their rooms. If I remember right, Attenborough requested that the best suite be given to Candice Bergen. She was the STAR, back then. She was playing the role of Margaret Bourke-White, the Life magazine photographer.

I was really excited to see Edward Fox. I had read Fredrick Forsyth’s book The Day of the Jackal and Fox had played the role of the assassin, so seeing the Jackal in the flesh was thrilling. If I sound an excited schoolboy, pardon me, because that is how I felt and I am sure most of you would have felt that way too! Saeed Jaffrey was there too, so was Geraldine James, but Ben Kingsley stayed at the Turf Club, I think. He would drop in at the hotel in the evenings to meet Sir Richard and the rest of the unit. The foreign crew members all stayed at the Blue Diamond, while the rest of the Indian crew were scattered around in the other cheaper city hotels.

I also remember that quite a few people working in the hotel got bit roles in the film. One was Sonal, who worked at the hotel reception and she was among the ladies with Kasturba Gandhi when Gandhi decides to burn the pass in South Africa. It was shot on Fergusson College ground and I remember I had gone there too see the shooting from Vaishali! We weren’t allowed to get too close so I lost interest.

There was a gentleman called Graham Ford, who was the location manager and one who I struck up a rapport with because I went out of my way to help him get something. Ford liked his Irish Coffee every evening, but couldn’t find the right quality of cream to make the perfect drink. One evening, when he was telling me about it, I asked around and managed to get someone to deliver it to the hotel especially for him. He was over the moon and invited me up to his room for a drink. Since I am not going to be hauled up, now, for fraternising with the guest, let me admit that after my shift was over, he insisted I come up and made me an Irish Coffee. It was his way of saying thank you.

On another evening, Saeed Jaffrey, lisped his way up to us a little before midnight to ask where he could get some Biryani and Banarasi paan. A bell boy was dispatched pronto to get both. He travelled all the way to Cafe Good Luck by autorickshaw to bring the biryani and the paan. While waiting at the reception, he started to chat with us and someone said “Haan ji” and Jaffrey retorted “Haan ji, nahin Sahab, Ji haan kahiye. Aap hijre hain?” (Don’t say Haan ji sir, say ji haan. Are you a transgender?). I think the next day, he along with some of the Indian unit members went out again for Biryani.

One day a friend asked if I could persuade Ford to let him watch a day’s shooting, since he was an avid film buff. Ford was more than happy to oblige. After all, I had gone that extra inch to get him his cream! So after a night shift at the front office, the friend and I were ready to travel to the location. As we were waiting in the lobby with Graham Ford, Candice Bergen walked up and he asked her if she would mind taking two extra passengers with her in the car. It was the good old Ambassador, so the driver and the two of us could fit comfortably in the front seat while Ms Bergen sat in the back. The driver, of course, had no clue he was in the presence of Hollywood royalty. If Rekha had been in the car, I guess it would have been different for him. But we were stunned into silence, completely overawed by the magnetism and beauty of the woman sitting behind us. This was one of the most beautiful women in the world and WE were travelling in her car! Our day was made.

We watched Sir Richard shooting the famous scene from the film where Mahatma Gandhi is chatting with Bourke-White as she shoots his pictures during his incarceration at the Aga Khan Palace. We watched the shot a number of times and after a while I got bored. As far as I was concerned, I had travelled in the same car with Candice Bergen! Who wanted anything else?

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Comments
  1. Vidya says:

    I too remember the Gandhi shooting, was studying in Fergusson then and used to peep out of the library windows to check the cinema crew who were camping there for a lot of shots. The college bank even had a new sign board proclaiming it was some building in South Africa. It was all so exciting, the very 1st shooting we had ever seen.

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