January 17, 2016

Bimal Roy Retrospective At Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan


It’s been a busy winter for film retrospectives of Indian Film Directors of yore.

Not long after Liberty screened a week long retrospective of Shyam Benegal’s classics in December 2015, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan followed up with a retrospective of Bimal Roy’s films that ran between Jan 11-16, 2016.

Organised by Bimal Roy MemorialCommittee (BRMC) in collaboration with Cine Society, the retrospective was held to commemorate the 50th death anniversary of the legendary filmmaker.

Ashutosh Gowarikar and Shabana Azmi inaugurated the retrospective. It ended yesterday with the screening of Bandini (1963), finding little or next to nothing coverage in the mainstream press or online!

Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan’s Auditorium or Bhavan’s Auditorium as it is commonly known is a relative unknown as a hub of cultural events compared to other, better known, venues in this part of Bombay.

The auditorium is within walking distance from Wilson College located across the road from Chowpatty beach toward the Walkeshwar end.

Before the television boom sidelined the primacy of Doordarshan (DD) as the television channel of choice (or compulsion as many would remember it) that stretched well into the 1980s, DD would serve up classics via film retrospectives of its own from time to time.

It was a time before the advent of CDs and when VCRs were not easily affordable to most.

So the venue was your drawing room, and screen space, a small TV occupying a pride of place in the scheme of the room where visitors were entertained.

The scale of a large screen and the community of film goers seated around you were missing, but the import of films that straddled the parallel cinema movement struck a chord among film lovers and those who were on the way to joining them in their love for films.

To the generation from before, the screenings on DD brought nostalgia, renewing sentiments of their origins in the hinterland. To the new generation, the films introduced them to the older generation and the mores from where they came from, and as a consequence, to an India somewhat removed from the realities of drawing rooms in towns evolving toward a homogeneity we see now.  

That’s how I first saw Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen in addition to Ritwik Ghatak’s oeuvre, Ray’s classics and a host of others.

The Bimal Roy Retrospective opened early this week with Do Bigha Zameen, his signature film.

While we hoped to watch them this week, work and other commitments meant we did not find our way to the venue until the fag end of the retrospective, the day they were screening his Parakh.

~


We returned from Chowpatty beach as the Sun began to dip and the first lights came on across the street from the beach in Girgaon.

Traffic streamed both ways on the sea-facing road named after Netaji Subash Chandra Bose – toward Walkeshwar on my left and SOBO on the right. The temperature had dropped by a notch. Policemen gathered on the pavement watching traffic halt on signal turning red.

Café Ideal lay directly across the road while Sukh Sagar Veg Restaurant lay at a diagonal, along the road (Sardar Vallabbhai Patel Road) that branches off the sea facing road we had just crossed, and runs through Khetwadi, Dongri and beyond, ending on P.D. Mello Road that runs along Mumbai Port Trust docks. Beyond that is the sea, again.

With the Eastern Freeway operational, P.D. Mello road has shed its quiet for traffic streaming along the freeway, a route of choice for commuters travelling to the faraway suburbs of Vikhroli, Kanjur Marg, Bhandup and Mulund, and beyond.

~

I was keen on a bite at Sukh Sagar so we crossed the road and found ourselves a seat in the restaurant.

After tucking in a spread of Bombay Pav Bhaji, Vegetable Grilled Sandwich and Nescafe (they don’t serve tea) we stepped out and took the turn that led us down Hughes Road, past the Mercedes Benz showroom. Traffic was light on Hughes Road.


Soon, streamers of glowing light bulbs descending from a building at the corner of K.M. Munshi and Pandit Ramabai Roads announced Bhavan’s Auditorium. The decorations were part of Bimal Roy Retrospective underway at the venue.


A standee placed outside and visible to everyone on the street listed the films scheduled for the duration of the retrospective. Each screening got underway at half past six in the evening.


Up a short flight of steps led past a table at the entrance stacked with copies of Bimal Roy’s biography.


We had landed at the venue half hour after Parakh commenced so we meandered in the hallway looking at displays put up, including those supporting the event, Zee Classic and CMC among others.


Each day, the poster of the film scheduled for screening is put up by the entrance to the auditorium.

On a stand-up board, a sketch of Bimal Roy was accompanied by signatures of Bollywood Dignitaries acknowledging their presence at the retrospective.


“Asha Parekh was present at the start of today’s screening,” a man manning a temporary stall of DVDs of Bimal Roy films set up on a table told us as we lingered by the sketch. Sure enough she had signed in her presence at the bottom.


Apparently, each day of the retrospective was graced by Bollywood figures associated with Bimal Roy. 

I find the designs of posters of yesterday year films charming. They’re uncluttered, expressive without being angst ridden, and project an innocence of a time long past.

Ranged on the table for sale were a mix of films he produced and directed and those he produced.


Of the films he directed, the following were on display – Do Bigha Zamin (1953), Devdas (1955), Sujata (1959), Parakh (1960), and Prem Patra (1962), each priced at 120/-.

Of the films he produced but were directed by others, the following were on display –  Apradhi Kaun? (1957), Parivar (1956), Madhumati (1958), Kabuliwala (1961), Usne Kaha Tha (1960), priced 120/- each.

Also on sale were collections of these titles at different price points.

To those who came of age in the era of his films, the titles on sale would guarantee a trip down the memory lane, reminding of events in their own lives where woven with these films.


We stepped into the hall. The screen flickered with a scene from Parakh. Much of the hall was full and where seats were vacant, toward the back, viewers were boxed tight at the entrance to the rows and unwilling to make space to let latecomers pass.

A cursory look at the audience seemed to suggest that most of them belonged to the generation familiar with the mores of the time Bimal Roy’s films were set in, or at the very least they likely grew up seeing his films.

We stepped out of the screening and made for the DVDs, purchasing Parivar and Benazir.


Benazir because K felt a love story set in Lucknow would make for interesting viewing.  


And, Parivar because I felt it’d be interesting to see how a story of a joint family of five brothers and their families “living and sharing each others’ joys and sorrows” would pan out after “an argument breaks out over a glass of milk, and the entire family is thrown into chaos, and the only resolution seems to be nothing but dividing the entire property amongst the brothers and their respective families.”    


We stepped out into the night, passing a compound home to a cottage standing all by itself, a rare but welcome sight in a city overrun by buildings.



Up ahead we stepped into Westside where K made a quick purchase before we set off toward Gamdevi, settling for dinner at By The Way: The Parsi Kitchen.


That was an experience in itself, a story for another time.



January 16, 2016

Day Out At Khidkiyaan Theatre Festival


We reached Sathaye College in Vile Parle just as the Open Mic session of Day 2 of the theatre festival, Khidkiyaan, kicked off on a small elevated stage overlooking the short passageway leading from the entrance gate to the small auditorium built by the college.

The proceedings on Day 2 of Khidkiyaan Theatre Festival were scheduled to begin with an Open Mic session with Piyush Mishra and Manu Rishi Chadha while Sudhir Mishra, Makarand Deshpande, Richa Chadda and Sushant Singh Rajput graced the event as Guests of Honour for the evening, enough star power to have the place buzzing the far corner of Sathaye College.

The only plays we’ve attended before at the Sathaye College auditorium were those Mujeeb Khan staged of Munshi Premchand’s stories, casting his students learning their craft at his IDEA Theatre Group. Prem Utsav is an annual fixture at Sathaye College in the monsoons and we’re annual fixtures at Prem Utsav.

Khidkiyaan seemed to follow the same script except for the choice of plays, an eclectic mix ranging from Gunno Bai (Director: Chittaranjan Tripathy) and Old Munk (Director: Dheerendra Dwivedi) to Koi Bat Chale (Director: Ramji Bali).

Unlike Khidkiyaan, Prem Utsav hasn’t structured an Open Mic with Star Power component into its scheme of things. Mujeeb Khan has a different idea and ideal.

Organised by Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company, Khidkiyaan 2016 is the first edition of the theatre festival, a welcome addition to the growing theatre scene in Mumbai.


Scheduled to run five days, starting Jan 13, the new kid on the block picked Vile Parle to stage its first avatar, a welcome change from the usual suspects, South Bombay, and Bandra.


Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company has associated with Bombay Times to bring Khidkiyan Theatre Festival to life. Hola Chef is listed as Food Partner though I saw no food of any kind on offer at the venue. 

Khidkiyaan ends tomorrow, Jan 17, with Poetry Reading and Performance by Ayushmann Khurrrana (5 pm), followed by Piyush Mishra (6 pm) before giving way to the Festival Director, Mukesh Chhabra, for his talk “Insight into Casting” (7 pm).

Anurag Kashyap, Nandita Das and Tigmanshu Dhulia will grace the evening as Guests Of Honour before Koi Baat Chale, a play directed by Ramji Bali, and scheduled for 8 pm, brings the curtain down on Khidkiyaan theatre festival.

If what we experienced on Day 2 is any indication, tomorrow will be another cracker of a day at Sathaye College.

~

Each day at Khidkiyaan, with the exception of the last day, sees Open Mic followed by a play staged twice, 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm, with free passes given out at a stall outside the entrance, half-hour before the play kicks off.

A young student at Mukesh Chabra Casting Company volunteering at the stall giving out the Theatre Festival schedules and free passes repeated over the din of the queue growing outside his stall, “Only after people with passes issued prior (via online registrations) have settled in the auditorium will we give out passes for seats that remain vacant.”


“Make two lines, please”, he called out over the jostling crowd of mostly youthful North Indians.

“Those who don’t mind watching the 8:00 pm re-run, please leave the queue as we only have a few passes to give out and most of you won’t get the passes for this show (6:00 pm),” he informed the crowd before repeating, “Most of you in the queue won’t get passes for the 6:00 pm show. Come back for the 8:00 pm show.”

The din in the queue and arguments breaking out over queue break-ins prompted another volunteer into quieting the crowd, “The Open Mic is on, loud chatter here is drowning out voices on the stage,” she berated.

I was squeezed for breath in the queue, holding fast to my footing in face of overt and covert edging by potential claimants to limited entry passes.

Trust Mumbai to throw up demand to overwhelm supply.

Eventually, he gave out 10 passes once he got word from inside the auditorium. I got the last one of the lot. It meant that only one of us could get in to see Shadow Of Othello directed by Ishteyak Arif Khan; it would be K who had just finished with attending Open Mic while I was in the queue for the entry pass.


Shadow Of Othello is a drama set in “a small village in staunch northern rural area of India” where “some unemployed, loafers, half-employed and confusingly employed people, who get inspired by a Hindi feature film ‘Omkara’ to the extent that they start planning to recreate the film. But, soon they realise that to make a film is not their cup of tea and they all decide to make a play.

The drama or “Dramedy” as the brochure categorises it, is how they go about realising their “Omkara” inspiration.

~


Open Mic is open to all and is staged in a small open passage leading in from the entrance gate to one end of the Sathaye College campus.


While waiting for Open Mic to commence, Sudhir Mishra, the maker of Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin (1996), a film I saw years ago, one that introduced me to alternative storytelling and turned me into a Tara Deshpande admirer, floated around quietly with a mug of steaming something, obliging attendees with selfies, barely registering a change in expression the entire time.


He answered patiently the questions a camera crew of two women put to him, something to do with his culinary prowess of the lack of it, and other aspects of his existence.




At the same time that Sudhir Mishra was taking questions from the camera team, Richa Chadda was striking a pose for the rest of the press who had ranged around her, forsaking the gaunt Sudhir Mishra.


Later, every camera on view, including yours truly, gathered around Richa Chadda and Sushant Singh Rajput as they struck the customary pose framed by Khidkiyaan logo.


Mukesh Chhabra wound his way into the mix.

A small band had stationed inside the entrance and every once in a while they would light up with band music, most likely on cue from someone in the organising committee.


And when they did, all heads would turn to the entrance searching for a familiar face from the entertainment world being accorded a welcome.

The music band only stopped their short intense bursts of welcome once Open Mic got underway with Piyush Mishra taking the stage.  


With space barely two cars wide and six car lengths long, the crowd attending Open Mic was parked tight.

From the queue, I could hear Piyush Mishra ease into songs after a brief tête-à-tête with a charming host; his voice rendered the late afternoon melancholic.

The 'feeling of an emotion' is decidedly different from the 'emotion of a feeling' - the audience sensed the former as his poetry brought the latter to the fore, so much so that his occasional bout of coughing failed to break the rhythm the lyrics laid into the approaching evening.

He alternated between songs and poems though it's difficult to distinguish between the two, occasionally relapsing into explanations that drew laughs.    


Streamers ran above. Lights, camera crews, a music band and youthful enthusiasm added to the festival atmosphere.

Theatre and Bollywood enthusiasts, and aspirants decked out smartly, holding their poise and manner, formed the bulk of the attendees.



Smiles abounded as introductions were made, old acquaintances renewed. If I looked hard I might’ve been able to count stars in the eyes of many gathered there.

From the t-shirts sporting the Theatre Festival logo, an outline of a window, it was apparent that students of Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company were a significant presence.


Some were volunteering at the stalls, one of which had on sale Piyush Mishra’s book of poems, Kuch Ishq Kiya, Kuch Kaam Kiya, written over a period of twenty years. Published by Rajkamal Prakashan, it was released at the New Delhi World Book Fair. His other book on sale was Mere Manch Ke Sargaam
~

This was only the second time I was seeing Piyush Mishra on stage. The first was at the Times Literary Festival at Mehboob Studios (Bandra) some years ago.

His demeanour, atleast to my eyes, was unchanged, alternating between direct, dismissive, thoughtful, curt, condescending, casual, bored, and expansive, a mark of someone who only relents to being in the thick of things even as he chaffs at it, a hint at idealism at play in an unforgiving industry wedded to glam sham.

Above all, Piyush Mishra seems to exude restlessness of a restive soul, a peculiar intensity of a North Indian brahmin wedded to the arts.

He was quoted saying Kuch Ishq Kiya, Kuch Kaam Kiya “is a work of restiveness”, from a period “when I was an alcoholic,distraught and wanted to destroy myself.



If his seeming pre-occupation with his phone for much of the evening except when on stage, taking and making calls, receiving and answering messages or merely scrolling through them in the middle of selfies with adoring fans attempting conversations, short interviews in-camera for networks, and customary photo-ops framed by Khidkiyaan logo, were any indication of restlessness or bechaini then his book of poems will make for an interesting reading.

He was curt but never insulting, a persona that goes with sharp edge he brings to his work, one that is refreshing and original. His songs in Gulal is a case in point.  


After he was dragged, reluctantly it seemed, for a short in-camera interview with a duo of bright, pretty, nervously smiling anchors looking for light hearted sound bytes on cooking skills and the like, they asked him what he thought about Khidkiyaan Theatre Festival.

If they expected him to launch into a long monologue, a bullet list of pros a theatre festival of this nature brings to the table, or praise for the organiser, they had asked the wrong person.

“It’s good, has to be good,” he replied with a mildly taken-aback look that seemed to say “it can only be a good thing isn’t it? Why isn’t it obvious to you?”.

By all measures, Khidkiyaan 2016, was a success insofar as the buzz it generated for the event.
~
K messaged me from inside the auditorium that the entry pass hadn’t fetched a seat, likewise for about 50 others.

I remarked to the youth who had heaved a sigh of relief on the queue dissipating that if the first edition is any indication, the next one will need to look for a larger auditorium to accommodate the audience.


Lights had come on and groups of festival attendees had formed by the stalls, the entrance gate, on steps, and the stage as they awaited their turn for the 8 pm re-run of Shadow Of Othello.


Behind me, a youth in red was going on about his experiences answering calls for auditions. His friend with a distinctive hairdo, not a strand out of place, listened in silence, only occasionally interjecting the other’s narration to move it along.

The evening had cooled to Mumbai winter standard and only the urge to visit the washroom interrupted his narrative as they made for the washroom for relief.


I watched as introductions were made, smiles exchanged. Conversations veered around acting, opportunities and entertainment industry gossip.

With Hindi drama serials ruling the roost on the telly, it was not uncommon to spot familiar faces in the mix while teams working behind the scenes were not as easily apparent, Ranpreet being an instance.



Ranmeet sat on the edge of the small stage waiting for the clock to strike 8 pm. She was with friends from the industry when I first heard her raise her voice in mock authority and turn to her friend, laughingly, “Thappad Marungi. Main U.P. Ki Sardarni Hoon.” They dissolved into smiles.

She’s an Assistant Director and has assisted Directors of films and television serials. After we got talking she spoke about the struggle inherent in the entertainment industry, and of the need to be visible all the time to get work.

“If you take a long break, it’s difficult to get back in the things again,” she commented. “Once I build a reputation for being a good Assistant Director, things will get better,” she said, implying that the grapevine is critical to get word of reputation and work ethic around. It cuts both ways.

“But I absolutely love this field,” she said, her eyes outshining the lights blazing down on the patch by the stage.

“When scenes are crafted on the sets, I try and anticipate the Director’s sequencing of the scene for the camera. And when I get it correct, I’m happy as it means I’m learning well to be able to get it right,” she enthused, her eyes lighting up.


From where I sat, I saw no quiet corner. The night buzzed in that low tone that corners lit up by light insulate those they shelter.

Shadows shortened, lengthened and disappeared as attendees moved about, seeking assurance for hopes, aspirations, failures and the like. Only in such gatherings can these assurances play out.

While breaking into Bollywood films remains a tough ask, the opportunities television serials offer means casting companies will continue to see aspirants flock for training, and most importantly placements.

And theatre is where they can hone their skills, and network for opportunities.

~



Combining the business of casting with the business of theatre production, Mukesh Chhabra has hit the sweet spot with Khidkiyaan, ensuring the combination scheduled for the duration of the event remains relevant to the aspirations of the bold and the beautiful while providing a platform that raises visibility for the intersection of the two.

I expect Mukesh Chhabra will touch upon it in his talk tomorrow – Insight Into Casting.


The building of the brand has only just begun and if the response to the first edition of the Khidkiyaan Theatre Festival is anything to go by, it’ll see a long run.


January 05, 2016

Wall of Death at Mahim Fair



I heard the first roar around five in the evening as I walked in from a small stretch of polluted beach toward the Wall of Death rising among stalls and amusement rides in the fairground across the street from St. Michael’s Church and a short distance from the Dargah in Mahim.


The Sun settled on my back, warm and comforting. Walking through a short lane channeling visitors to the small stretch of beach housing a fishing jetty, I emerged by the Wall of Death or Maut Ka Kuaa (Well of Death) as it is better known in India.


Unmistakable sounds of a motorbike revving up floated out from behind the large cylindrical drum held in place by supports painted yellow and topped by a two-tier viewing gallery that ran along the circumference of the well.
~
Behind me the Bandra-Worli sealink stretched a long way, hazy in the Sun bearing down on faces turned seaward.


Fishing boats bobbed in silence ashore, their flags fluttering in the breeze. The sea seemed quiet.

The beach itself was small, cluttered, and filthy from litter and open defecation. Detritus washed ashore included a bone among other things. The atmosphere however was cheerful.   


Vendors were setting up their stalls and one boy was doing back-flips from the sloping ramp of the fishing jetty, landing on his feet in the sand. His younger friend was constant company, no doubt learning the trick from the “master”.


Others sat still, some by themselves, some in groups, looking out to sea.

A group of children frolicked in the waters off the polluted beach, waters I wouldn’t dare step in. Later they emerged from the sea, and got into their clothes.


There was laughter and animated conversation, cheerful youth in Muslim prayer caps and without, Muslim women some in black, others in colour. There were children galore everywhere you looked.


The crowd was overwhelmingly Muslim and the ten-day long annual Mahim Fair commemorating Hazrat Makhdum Fakih Ali Mahimi’s (Makhdoom Shah Baba) death anniversary (“Urs”) was an annual pilgrimage to most of them.

The celebrations in honour of the Sufi were underway at the Dargah a short distance away and the fair was where many headed after paying respects to the Sufi.

~


I had arrived at the annual Mahim Fair a little after three in the afternoon. The fairground was just about beginning to stir to life then. Workers stretched out in the shade of the many amusement rides rose to work among the rides, preparing them for evening crowds.

“Now, no one will be around. Why would someone come here this early on a holiday (Jan 1), they would much rather rest at home,” a man, likely part of the troupe managing one of the rides, told me. “The crowd will pick up by evening.”

Makeshift eating places got busy preparing their menu. Gaming stalls and those selling toys and other knick knacks began to come to life. There was not much time to be wasted for, the duration of the fair promises opportunities not easily available elsewhere.
  
I broke my stride at the Wall of Death. The rumbles had grown persistent behind the high wall.

The observation deck (viewing gallery) could be reached by a flight of steps that ended on the circular boardwalk of the first viewing gallery. A short flight of steps led from the first tier to the second.  

The observation deck was enclosed by railing painted white on the outside, allowing air to circulate amidst the audience. It appeared to be raised separate from the Well of Death. Columns painted blue supported the two-tier observation deck.

The whole setup of the Well of Death seemed designed for easy assembly and dissembling once the show ended.

There was no one at the ticket counter so I meandered in the vicinity of the well. I wanted to catch the first act for the evening.

The sounds grew louder, the revving of the bike and the rattling of the hardboards turned heads of passers-by meandering among the stalls and amusement rides to their source behind the walls.

Having found its voice, the revving bike turned into a determined rumble, a beast growling, straining at the leash, screaming as it breaks free, roaring forward fiercely, then turning into a whine at the very moment it finds its stride, settling into a rhythm before easing back into a steady mix of pulsating rattling where the tyres meet the walls of the Wall of Death.

Like me, a few others were drawn to the well by the rumbling from within.

A middle-aged man sat on the steps that went up the Wall of Death, or Maut Ka Kuaa (Well of Death) as it’s better known in India. Two visitors to the fair got his attention, and pointing to the barrel-shaped wooden cylinder, motioned with their hands asking, “When does it start?”

“They’re practicing,” he replied.

“Will it take long?” I interjected.

“No. They’ll start shortly,” he replied.

He waved me on up the steps to take a look at the dare devil riders practice and photograph them. The Mauth ka Kuan (Well of Death) promised to be a spectacle.

The 30+ feet climb up the near vertical wall constructed with wooden planks was not too difficult to ascend.

A viewing deck (platform) ran along the circumference of the cylindrical construction. Five youth were already up on the deck, leaning against chest-high railing and looking down the well.


Three Maruti cars, most likely Maruti 800, with Gujarat registration plates were parked in the centre of the well. A motorcycle that sounded very like Yamaha RX 100 but looked different was parked on the floor beside the wall.

Two middle-aged men stood by the cars while two youth were by the motorbikes. It was a team of four.

The biker had just finished with making a run in the Well of Death. It seemed like they were exchanging notes.

A giant Ferris Wheel rose beyond the wall, lit golden by the setting Sun. Announcers hoping to draw visitors to their amusement rides could be heard over the hum of the fair. The fairground was buzzing.

A second tier for viewers rose above the one I stood on. I tried to imagine what it must be like for the rider zipping along the near vertical walls to have two tiers full of viewers gazing into the well, holding their breath as the dare devils worked up pace.

I expected the viewing gallery to begin filling up once ticketing commenced for the show. The riders weren’t done practicing yet. I leaned against the railing and looked down the well.

A ramp rose from the floor of the well at a gentler angle than the walls themselves. Riders use the ramp to begin their ascent and gain speed before transferring to the near vertical walls at which point they’re riding horizontal to the floor.

I didn’t have to wait long before the Dare Devil rider, Anees as I would learn later, went back up the well and sped along the wall of death, his hair swept back as he circled the well, his bike gripping the wooden wall as he roared past in circles.


Centrifugal forces kept him from falling down so long as he maintained a minimum speed.  


His colleague had his phone up as he traced the rider speeding along the wall, recording a video of the ride. I’d be surprised if the rider didn’t already have recordings of his ride from earlier performances. Maybe this one sought to record his Mumbai stint.

 

A young viewer watching the act with his friend waved a ten rupee note at Anees, leaning over the railing, expecting Anees to snatch it from his hand.

I hoped his hand would not knock Anees from his perch on the speeding motorcycle, for, he was riding within reach of those of us on the boardwalk on the first tier.

Anees did not take the bait. This prompted the boy’s friend to point at the note and call out to Anees, “Arrey le na.” (Hey, take it).  

I waited to see if Anees would go for the note on his next pass. He didn’t. The youth called out to Anees over the din, pointing to the note, repeating, “Arrey, le na.” All eyes on the observation deck were on Anees and the hand waving the ten rupee note. [WATCH: Video]

video

And when Anees did snatch the note from the hand later, it happened quickly. The youth smiled. Now he had a story to take back home of how he had dared the rider to make the snatch.

After circling several times, Anees began to draw downward, descending the well before riding off the take-off ramp, and onto the floor of the well. His colleague walked over and they both got busy with the video of his ride.


People began trickling in just as the second rider prepared to begin his ride.

Some took to the second gallery. I stayed on the first so I could get a closer look at the riders as they came close to the outer edge of the well, within handshaking distance of viewers standing in the first tier.

The temperature was pleasant and anticipation was writ large on the faces. The second rider was the real deal.


He rode to dare and to please. Here was the well, his very own to do as he wished, never slacking off or taking it for granted as he swung his leg off the bike and rode with both legs sideways, facing downward. You’d think gravity would have him, but it didn’t.


Then he lifted his hands in the air and folded them across his chest. He was riding fast, both legs sideway and hands off the handlebars. I could sense the crowd tense.



The rider completed several rounds of the Wall of Death, thundering past me, within reach, riding along the very edge of the well. The boardwalk under my feet rattled. So did the railing supporting my hands as I peered into the well.

The crowd came alive seeing one of the three Maruti 800 cars enter the fray. It eased into the thick of action along the ramp before speeding up and taking centre stage. The motorcycle and the car zipped past, rattling the hardboards ever more.

I could fee the wind rush in the wake of the circling vehicles, a rush of adrenaline standing there and marvelling at the dare devilry.


Then, a second car eased onto the ramp and entered the fray. The Wall of Death would see two cars and a motorbike perform together.


In the second car Anees rode in the passenger seat. As it picked up speed trailing the car ahead and the motorcycle upfront, Anees leant out of the window, collecting the ten rupee baksheesh offered by the same youth who had dared him when he was riding the bike, alone at the very beginning.

The youth was running through his ten rupee notes. He looked happy giving them away, only ever expressing disappointment when he let go of one before the other rider, biker, could reach for it. The note took a log time to float to the ground.

I could feel the tremors from the well heralding the approaching motor vehicles, progressively building tension as tremors got stronger the nearer they approached. The Wall of Death took a pounding. 

As the three vehicles roared at speed along the   walls, viewers held their breath as planks rattled with increasing ferocity. [WATCH: Video]

video

It was mayhem at Wall of Death.

Behind me the Sun had sunk in the sea. They dying twilight had changed the shade of light mellow, fading out with the show the team had put out at the fairground. The Sufi, I reckoned, would’ve approved of it.

As the last car slowed down, easing off the ramp to join the two on the floor of the well, a viewer turned to me and said, “Yeh Hai Mehnat ka Paisa” (this earning is worthy of the labour earning it).

The Dare Devils had earned respect.

No sooner had the riders wound up their act they disappeared through a hatch in the Wall, emerging outside to advertise their second act for the day. Mike in hand, Anees took to the public address system exhorting visitors to the fair to step into “Maut Ka Kuaa” (Well of Death).


The tickets for the act were going at Rs. 50/- apiece.

Night had set in and the fairground was throbbing with life. Muslim families, women in burqa and without, crowded the attractions. And they were many, each vying for attention.


The ticketeers, a man and a woman, for the Well of Death, were busy. A small crowd had gathered around them. 


Many just stood and watched, likely making up their mind of buying the tickets. At Rs. 50/- a piece, it would cost a family of three, 150/-, a not inconsiderable sum to many among the visitors.


Anees’s voice was growing hoarse the more he exerted visitors to the fair to come see his gravity-defying team of riders perform in the Well of Death.


The barrel-shaped cylinder shone in the night. Coloured tubelights outlined its presence in the night.


A steady stream of curious visitors ascended the steps that led to the first tier for the second act of the night. Soon the galleries would be full and Anees would be back in action, hoping the night would stretch long.   


As the night deepened its hold on the fairground off the Mahim beach, a vendor adjusted a cheap portable lamp and set up his little shop in the shadows.