My friend P.K. Hosh, an illustrious poet and a story writer, once narrated an interesting story to me and wished it to be converted into a film. Eventually, in a tragic road accident, he met his maker at a ripe age. Years passed and I forayed into documentary journalism and during the course I met a variety of people engaged in the film production business. I suddenly thought of the story my friend narrated me years ago. I thought why not to make a film on the story as a parallel cinema. I caught hold of a script writer and was ready with the preliminaries. My next job was to find a financer. I put up a classified ad in the newspaper seeking a financial help for a very unique film. A Delhi businessman got ready to finance. The film exceeded budget and I offered to make him the producer with me as a co-producer with a very small stake. It was in the late nineties.
For the role of the protagonist, only one actor came to my mind and that was Raghuvir Yadav. I enquired about his whereabouts and called him. “I am coming to Delhi next week,” he told me and quickly gave me a Gurgaon address where he was supposed to stay. On the appointed date and time, I went to Gurgaon. Delhi was experiencing the traditional cold wave of December. I found a short statured 'Raghuvir Yadav' wrapped himself in a quilt. “Tell me what's the film all about?” he was inquisitive. It took me about 30 minutes to narrate the story. He immediately stood up. “How much do I have to give you as a professional fee”, that was my immediate question. I was taken aback on when he said, “Rajen, for this film, whatever you pay will be enough for me.” His humility won me and I said to myself “here is an artist, much less an actor.” With great pestering he accepted Rs.5000/- as a signing amount.
I planned the entire shooting in a remote valley in Himachal Pradesh. I went to Mumbai to look for actors, a good Art Director and production staff. Raghuvir told me that for this film you need a good art director. I discovered that 'Sunil Chandra' best suits the film but he was very costly and moreover he was already engaged in high budget films of big producers. Half-heartedly, I decided to meet him and offer him knowing that I am likely to be made a laughing stock with the kind of money I had. I went to Chandra's office. He offered me tea and asked about the film. I introduced him to my credentials as a journalist and a documentary film maker. I narrated the story and told him that Raghu is doing the lead role. He listened to the story with rapt attention. “How much is your budget”, he asked with a quick query as to who will direct the film. I went into thoughts as to tell him or not. I told him politely, “sir, I have only Rs.50,000/- to spare for art direction and I will direct the film. I politely told him with great hesitation. “What,” he nearly jumped from his chair. “I give this amount to my 2nd and 3rd assistants,” he told me annoyingly. I stood up and ready to leave. I turned back and told him “Sunil ji, one doesn't always work for money. There is something like good work to be accomplished as a passion and for that one doesn't have to make chips always.” My departing comments had the better of him and he called me back. “You are so forthright and honest in your commitment and I know a documentary film maker is capable of directing a feature film. I will do your film. Sunil Chandra became the Art Director for my low budget but ambitious film “Ashray'.
Similarly, I arranged other artists, known and unknown, equipment suppliers, cinematographer and assistants and headed for the location in Himachal Pradesh. I even arranged a well known publicist Dale Bhagwagar. The film was complete in a flat 12-day schedule to everybody's and my own satisfaction. Eventually, the film trade journals and the critics hailed the film as the fastest made single-schedule film in the history of Bollywood. Press freely carried features and news. NDTV exclusively interviewed me. The prints were sent to Prasad lab in Chennai. As luck would have it, back in Delhi, the financer developed serious health problems. In order not to bother him, I didn't pursue with him. But we did meet occasionally and talked about completing the processing of the film and its release. The financier went on to have unpleasant family issues as I learnt. The film and my dream continue to be safe-locked in the boxes in the Prasad Lab even to this day.
My brush with the Bollywood has since become a mentionable part of my fond memories. The end to my escapade with Bollywood may not have been as expected but I did rub shoulders with some of best names in the film industry and am happy that they reposed faith in my resolve and with all humility. I am beholden.