How I became a writer
At a very young age I was drawn towards writing, but had never thought of becoming a writer. Then how come this book Ramkada Vahu got written?
I was determined to learn the ropes as a film director in the film industry. My friend Madhukar Desai, the son of Chimanbhai Desai, the founder of Sagar Movietone introduced me to his father. Chimanbhai Desai then was the chief manager of a leading National Studio (Currently, Central Studios). He asked me, 'Madhukar says you write well. Would you write if we employ you in the Studio?'
I said, 'in fact, I do not want to work as a writer. Writing is just my personal hobby. My first wish is to learn direction. I would be obliged if you could make such arrangement.'
And at the behest of Madhukar and his recommendation, I was put under the highly erudite film director Ramchandra Thakur (M A) as an assistant director. Thakur was making Kasauti then and I felt it was my Kasauti (test). Thakur is a thorough gentleman and one has to be extra cautious working under a kind man. And you have to work hard if you aspire to grow .
I learnt from Ramchandra Thakur many aspects of filmmaking like how to structure a film, how to weave and arrange scenes and dialogues. These are all integral parts of film direction. A director may not be a writer but he has to learn the principles of screenplay.
But it so happened that in eight months, Chimanbhai Desai left National Studio and decided to set up his independent company Amar Pictures. And he was looking for a story that could help the company establish its name in its initial phase. He was toying with a story idea for quite some time. The story germ ran thus: a poor girl has to vacate her house and her furniture and other things get thrown out and it falls on a young man's head who happens to pass by. The young man climbs up and bumps into the rent collector Mehtaji on the staircase. The young man learns that a poor girl is being evicted and he feels sorry for her and pays off the rent without knowing who the girl was.'
Desai would share this plot with many writers and request them to enlarge it into a full-fledged story. It was tough to create a full length story just on the basis of such a tiny incident. Many did try but it could not satisfy Chimanbhai.
At that time my friend and his son Madhukar told me, 'father is feeling restless of late. He has a plot and wants someone to make a story out of it but none seem to be succeeding. The story should be such that it can get us fame in our initial phase.' And then Madhukar went ahead narrating the incident to me and said in an encouraging tone, 'you do write much in your leisure, but prove yourself by writing a story out of this incident.'
I said, 'I do not want to do this work to prove a point. But I will surely give it a go. Of course, it is pretty difficult to make a full-length story based on such flimsy incident.'
'I am not concerned if it is hard or simple. You have to give it a try.'
But it was difficult. My thinking process started. I kept thinking over it for eight days and then a structure began to emerge and for some reasons, everyone seemed to like the plotting. Later, they made Khilona based on this story. The film was released in 1941 and was acclaimed far and wide.
This triggered requests for stories from other companies. But writing was not my profession. My goal was different and I was working hard in that field.
I joined the Rajneet Film Company for some time but it did not work for long. So I joined the newly-set up Janak Pictures. This company made Anguthi featuring Ashoik Kumar. Ashok Kumar and I became friends and he told me, 'if you continue to write film stories I would get you job in the story department of Filmistan.'
Ashok Kumar was associated with Filmistan, but I did not like his request for story writing, for that was not what I set out to do.
At around the same time, I came in contact with N R Acharya. He had started his independent company Acharya Productions. A highly decent man, N R Acharya had directed Bandhan, Kangan and Naya Sansar when he was with Bombay Talkies. . the success of these three films had catapulted the company to the top. The company's name was a big draw. He accepted me as his assistant director, for I wanted to stay away from the career as a writer.
But it often happens in life that the things you do not chase come calling. Here, Paristan film was made and the subject matter and plotting of the film impressed the great novelist of Gujarati literature Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai. When we met in Mumbai, he insisted that I write novels.
At Acharya Art Productions, I came in contact with a new gentleman who very cleverly tried me to steer towards writing. His name was Dattatrey Kulkarni. At the time, he was the head of the company's advertising department and was simultaneously looking after Chitrapat, a popular film weekly. Once I was gossiping away when he came and told me, 'do you know that I look after the administration of Chitrapat? I need to talk to you regarding this. Now you have time, so would you write a piece for Chitrapat?
'Is it my job to write articles? Do you want to have your weekly closed down?'
'Please do not joke with me, you will have to write for my sake. Only one article.'
I had to give in to his insistence. But how was I to know that this insistence would change the course of my stars? I thought if I have time why not write? Quite a few funny incidents happen when we do shooting. I recalled those incidents and wrote out a piece and handed over to him.
A few days later, Kulkarni told me again, 'your article was liked by my readers.'
'But I did not give my byline to the article.'
'Agreed. But it is true that they have liked the article. At the moment arrangements for our next film are underway, so why don't you write a second piece?
But I do not want to be a writer.
'You are not giving your name. So please write a piece based on similar funny incidents. Light hearted banter is appreciated by the readers.'
'Ok, I will give you something in the evening.'
And I handed over my second piece. My stars were activated by Kulkarni's insistence. But it so happened that the stars of our company began to move slowly. And once the company came to a grinding halt. The names were there on the muster, but no salary was given. We all marked presence in the hope that once the situation would improve, it would restore our salaries. The Studio hotel maintained our account so we had our tea on credit. But when people give credit, expenses begin to mount rapidly.
There was a panwala's shop under the tree, just outside the studio. He too was equally generous. Kulkarni stopped coming to the studio. But our arrears began to mount and eventually the panwala too pleaded helplessness and asked for his money, as he was going to be father.
I was surprised, for I knew that he had not been to his native place for the past two years. I said, 'you are here, and wife in countryside, then how on earth do you have a son? He then explained that between two brothers, they have one wife. When his brother is here looking after business, he would go to his wife. This custom is prevalent among some people in his town. I was shocked to know that I owed him rupees 35. Did I gorge away pans worth Rs 35? My head was spinning.
I had an urge for a cup of tea and when I shouted for the boy at the hotel to serve me tea, the owner showed up. He too needed his arrears settled.
Suddenly I felt I was weighed down by the economic hardships.
While I was reflecting on my predicament, a producer's car pulled up near me. He said, 'you have made a name for you in the field of writing. I have something for you.'
'Tell me, what is it? Do you want me to write scenario or dialogues?'
I knew that this man had written a story and this was why I asked him this question.
'No, I am to write the scenario and dialogues, but I am not happy with the way the story has developed. Why don't you work on the story, rewrite and make it more compact and stronger.'
'Ok, what remuneration will you give?
'You start writing and if I like it only then I will pay you.'
'And if you do not happen to like it.'
'Then where is the question of my paying you?
I responded, 'do you accept me as a good writer?
'Yes, everyone knows it and this is why I want to give you this assignment.'
I said, 'if you go to a doctor and tell him that I shall pay you only if my disease is cured, will he agree and treat you? You want to cure your 'ailing' story and if you do not like it, you would not pay me for my labour. Is it fair? You decide that if you like the story, my fees will be this much, otherwise I will be paid only a certain sum towards my labour. We will move forward only if you agree.'
The producer started the car and sped off. On my way back, I ran into Kulkrni.
He asked me why I keep going to office when there is no work.
He offered me a cup of tea but I refused saying that I have given it up.
Half an hour back. He laughed and said, 'ups and downs are part of one's life, but one should not quit no matter what happens.'
And at the hotel, we started talking. Like war stories studio gossips are equally griping. I drank off my cup.
After a while Kulakarni said, 'you had written a few articles for Chitrapat. Your remuneration is lying there. Come and collect it.
I felt happy hearing this. I said I did not write for money. I wrote because of our friendship and your insistence.
'Yes, but for friendship you cannot curry favours again and again. And if you have time, keep writing a piece or two for us.'
'But I did not want to be a writer.'
'I never said that you should be a writer. Stop writing once work at studio resumes.'
This line of argument convinced me. But I could not figure out that my destiny was pushing me towards the career as a writer.
I started writing for Chitrapat. Writing a piece or two in a week was not a big deal. Those days I used to stay in the house of Motichand Girdhar Kapadia, a leading solicitor of Mumbai, for his son Rasik Kapadia was and is my friend. Motichandbhai was a unique personality. He would take cases on basis of principles. When I said a lawyer should be prepared to fight any case, he would say whoever is right would come to me and those who are in the wrong would go elsewhere. There is no possibility of loss in this business. Has it ever happened that anyone storing good and quality goods has suffered losses?
This noble soul had watched my films like Khilona, Bhalai, Paristan etc and told me, ' films are just films, they come and go, but the stories that you write, if you make novels out of them, they will endure for a long time.
Those days Rasik Kapadia bought a new pen and told me, 'look, how do you like this pen? Is the ink flow ok? He left the pen and walked away and I began to write just to check if the pen wrote well. And I drifted away. I did not realize that I had embarked on a novel and it would be published as Ramkad Vahu in the future.
I remembered the story of Khilona and on the basis of this story I started writing novel. Three hours later, Rasiklal returned and I said oh much time has passed. Your pen is working fine. It is very good.
Two days later, my young friend Doctor Vinod Doshi was reading my notebook lying on the table. He told me when I returned, 'so you have started writing a novel. It is a good beginning. It has a reflection of Khilona.
I thought he was making fun of me. I replied, 'friend, do not deceive me. I just wrote to see how Rasik's pen worked.
But he was serious, 'I am not kidding. There is no film at the Studio, so write it out. It will turn out to be a good story.'
I was convinced and resumed writing. Doctor would come every day evening and read my written portions. He was far more enthusiastic about the project. At his behest I hastened the project and completed the novel. Doctor said this is a different kind of novel, as it is based on screenplay. It will create a different impact.
In the following days, the manuscript began to circulate among friends and was read with interest. Rasik Kapdia was the first to insist that this should be published as a novel. I then replied, 'I did not write to have it published as a novel and I do not want my name as a writer.
Despite its circulation among friends, the manuscript survived. After some time, I had to accept the editorship of Chitrapat. Kulkarni said, let your name be there, but you need not attend office for eight hours. You have to write a little more. You give up this job once the studio work resumes.'
The studio work never started and the writing work kept mounting. One day, when I was at office, a friend came to return the manuscript. Kulkarni asked me, 'what is it?'
I said it is a novel.
Kulkarni took the script and after two days, said, 'let us start this novel in Chitrapat. Why do not you tell me when you have written so well?
'I have not written to tell others.'
The novel was serialized in Chitrapat. In fact, it was Kulkarni who named it Ramkada Vahu. Readers liked the story and the popular Chitrapat became a lot more popular.
This is a history of how I entered the field of novel writing.
In his career, besides working as an assistant director in Kasauti and as a director in Shatrant, Gorakh Dhandha, he had written screenplays and dialogues for Khilauna, Nanandbhojai and Lagnamandap. In the end he became the editor of Chitrapad, the job he had to later leave over some ideological issues. And this became the reason for Chitralekha's birth.
(Preface of Ramkada Vahu)