>> “Seeking wine, the drinker leaves home for the tavern./Perplexed, he asks,“Which path will take me there?”
We are waiting in a stalled car at Film City, Goregaon in a snaking line of limos on our way to Reliance Media Works for Amitabh Bachchan’s 70th birthday party.
It is a measure of the stature of the man and the respect he evokes that in this impromptu cavalcade of some of the country’s most famous people, no one blows a horn, no one expresses irritation no one breaks queue or tries the ‘do you know who I am’ routine with the security.
After all who can afford a sense of importance when you wait to wish Amitabh Bachchan? Jaguars, Rolls Royces, Bentleys and Beemers are stalled, their engines purring in the dark night. Behind us we spot Rahul Bose, besides us is Javed Jaffrey, some one knocks on our window: it is Vishal Dadlani. “Shall we start the party here?” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
And then walking towards us like a mirage from a long distance we spot the betuxed and no-nonsense Adi Godrej whose attempts to negotiate the slippery dirt road has come to naught. “I’m told it’s still a distance off!” he says.
>> “Only once every year, the fires of Holi are lit/ Only once is the game played and are garlands of lamps lit.”
Then it is time for speeches and with Karan Johar at the mike the first family of Indian films has gathered on stage: Amitabh, Jaya, Abhishek and Aishwarya along with Shweta Nanda and her family and even little baby Aaradhya on her first public outing in a fetching bow! To the gathered guests, and the nation at large this is a memorable photo op but for one family it is the much-awaited 70th birthday of a father, a brother, a husband and a grand-dad.
As Ajitabh Bachchan, Yash Chopra and Javed Akhtar reminisce we notice an emotional Shweta wipe away a tear, we see the shy choked hug that passes between Jaya and Amitabh as he thanks her for the party we hear the joy in Abhishek’s chortle: A father who has been through so much, challenges, pain, triumphs and adulation trials and tribulations — more than most people will ever see — has reached this milestone. What passes through his son’s head? And then Anil Ambani takes the mike, and blows the audience away with his speech.
Spoken without notes, in that staccato way that he is known for he speaks of Amitabh as an incarnate of a Buddha, a man who has lived and died so many times, under so many trying circumstances and has emerged each time with grace and dignity.
With words of humility and love, Anil evokes the great bond they share, an inexplicable one that has surmounted so many vicissitudes.
>> “We have reached there, a few steps are we from the tavern,/Hark! Hear the laughter of the drinkers, as the fragrance of the tavern wafts through the air.”
Hark, what is this? A nautanki band, at the entrance — a brilliant echo of the orchestra of the streets and the vast multitudes whose aggregated passion for this man is what this joyful celebration is predicated on. Vidya Balan is being mobbed by paparazzi, Sridevi is slinking in, an impossibly lissome Mehr Rampal has ditched her car and is trudging the last fifty metres in her heels! At the entrance we run in to Anil Ambani Gatsby -like in a white Jodhpur. “You’re late!” he says, “Go straight to the dining area.”
Following him we enter a room the size of an airport hangar adorned with tables around which nonchalantly sit legends: Dilip Kumar and Shashi Kapoor, Yash Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan.
But to think that Mr AB is an icon only to the film industry would be a travesty, for here are gathered a collection of some of the country’s most celebrated individuals: Media men like Aroon Purie and Shekhar Gupta, doctors like Naresh Trehan, cultural dons like Rajeev Sethi and a list industrialists like Kumaramanglam Birla.
>> Life is short. How much love can I give and how much can I drink?”
Then for those of us who missed the enactment of his father’s legendary poem Madhushala that Harivansh Rai Bachchan composed at 26, Amitabh offers to do a repeat performance.
With trapeze artists, primeval masks and flying dancers we are transported to another world a metaphysical dream as that baritone reminds us of his father’s exquisite words: “O maiden! Which burning heart drinking has pacified?/Every drinker repeats only one chant, ‘More! More!’
>> And then it is time for joyful celebration: “Drink, and know no more consciousness, O carefree one.”
After the speeches, the wining and dining, India’s power elite only wants to kick off its shoes and let its hair down. The dance floor throbs to the music of Amitabh’s hits, the walls are emblazoned with his posters There is even a giant egg from Amar Akbar Anthony! And now Shah Rukh and Amitabh are dancing together in mock challenge, a svelte Tina is on the floor grooving to the beat, Bipasha Basu is a swirling vision in white and Jaya Bachchan who has put the evening together with panache and grace is dancing to Rang Barse! We seek Amitabh one more time to wish him.
“We have now attended your 50th, 60th and 70th birthday celebrations,” we say, “See you on the 80th!” It is 4.30 am and as we leave we overhear a concerned Shweta asking her husband Nikhil to escort Masi (Jaya’s sister who has flown down from Dubai) to her car. An ordinary family. An extraordinary pedigree.
“And when, my darling, you must call guests for the ritual feast, Do this - call those who will drink and have the tavern opened for them.”
The highlighted quotes are from an English translation of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s ‘Madhushala’.