Friday, February 01, 2002

The first person I interviewed as a journalist was Rahi Masoom Reza, the scriptwriter of B R Chopra's version of the Mahabharat. I was a rookie sub with a magazine called, Onlooker, published by the Free Press Group.
I was nervous as hell, my palms were sweaty, as I was ushered into a plush room. Rahi Masoom Reza seemed to fill the room, as I sank into a sofa, losing my footing for a minute. He was pretty old, even frail I think, but there was something about him, a force of character, that made me feel very small. Or it may have been my imagination. In the periphery of my vision, I could see B R Chopra sitting in a corner, watching me.
I began nervously shuffling my papers, and mumbling my questions. He asked me to speak a bit louder, making me even more nervous. It was an ordeal, and I vowed never to do an interview again.
As the interview wound to an end, I asked him: "What other mythological epics are you working on?"
He said with a smile: "Ramanand Sagar has already done Ramayan and I have done Mahabharat, so which other epic could I be working on?"
To which, I had no answer.
My second interview was much easier. I was on familiar ground there. Dilip Vengsarkar had just been made captain for the tour of West Indies, and I was interviewing him in the stands of Wankhede Stadium.
Those were controversial times for Indian cricket. Mohinder Amarnath, considered by many as India's best bet against the Windies pacemen, had been dropped from the team. There was talk of a players union and of dissent in the Indian dressing room. Naturally, most of my questions were related to these issues. Along with me was a Sunday Observer journalist, whose questions were a lot tamer and strictly related to cricket.
Many would call Vengsarkar gauche (which is true sometimes even of his cricket). But what he is, is inarticulate (which certainly wasn't true about his batsmanship).
As the interview progressed, I could see he was getting increasingly worked up with my controversial questions. And when I asked him: "Is there dissent in the Indian ranks," he just stormed away, telling me quite categorically that he wasn't interested in talking about anything other than cricket.
The Sunday Observer journalist told me accusatorily: "You spoiled my interview!"
I turned my attention to the action in the middle. And for the first and last time in my life, I caught sight of a very, very young Sachin Tendulkar murdering some Ranji team bowlers, along with Sanjay Manjrekar.
After huddling with Raj Singh Dungarpur, the chairman of selectors, for a while, Vengsarkar called out to the Sunday Observer journalist. I remained seated. Fifteen minutes later, the journalist left, his interview done. Very reluctantly Vengsarkar approached me. He said: "If you have any cricketing questions, I will answer them. Nothing controversial please!"
And that was that.
Some others I enjoyed interviewing:
Kumar Bangarappa: Son of the former Karnataka chief minister and film actor. This was for a column called Out to Lunch for Sunday Mid-Day. I took him to a Chinese restaurant off Bangalore's M G Road, called Shogun (the choice of restaurant influenced by the fact that he was slated to star in an Indo-China or -Hong Kong production). He had absolutely no airs about him, was very polite and completely down-to-earth.
Pramod Mahajan: This was for a newspaper called The Indian Post. He was a non-entity then. And the BJP was not even a force to reckon with. I don't even remember why I interviewed him. What I remember though is that he met me at the unearthly hour of 7 am at his residence, fed me medu-wada sambhar and a lengthy spiel about Hindutva.
Madhuri Dixit: One of my favourite actresses. I met her at her residence, and shorn of make-up, she looked much better in real life than she did in movies. Got very irritated with me when I asked her about her marriage plans. "Do you ask male actors the same question?" I guess not

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