Monday, September 24, 2007

Tribute to film critic and friend M Shamim

Retired journalist Atul Cowsish doesn’t visit the Delhi Press Club often; and whenever he does, he doesn’t stay beyond eight or half-past. When Atul went there a couple of Sundays back, for a condolence meeting, he stayed on for an hour after the meet, hoping that I might drop in at the club. I was visiting Delhi then, after a 11-year gap. The condolence meet was for a senior club member and common friend M Shamim. The three of us, Shamim, Atul and I, had been part of the local media scene in Delhi of the 60s and the seventies, when newspaper reporters were a close-knit group; and everyone knew everyone else.

I didn’t go to the club that day because I didn’t know about the condolence meet. In fact, I learned about Shamim’s demise only at a subsequent visit to the club to meet Atul, by appointment. Cowsish and I used to cover the Delhi Administration (or was it the municipal corporation beat?); he, for The Statesman, and I, for The National Herald. We met that evening at the club after three decades. To celebrate the occasion Atul stayed beyond 9 p m, lingering over his customary two smalls.

Shamim and I were on a different beat together. We did the round of cinema houses on Fridays to review, for our papers, the latest releases. We saw two, and, on occasions, three films, back-to-back as they say, and also took in a late-evening booze party hosted by a visiting director or Bollywood star.

There was camaraderie among film critics of English dailies and the bunch of us taxied together from one cinema house to another, to catch up on the latest releases. The core group comprised K M Amladi of Hindustan Times, Debu Mazumdar of Indian Express, Habib Tanveer of The Patriot, Amita Malik of The Statesman, and yours truly, then representing National Herald. Shamim of The Times of India was our group lead, a dada in fact.

At the press club condolence meet a former Times colleague Yogendra Bali said in his tribute, “I remember the whole of Bollywood used to be scared of him (Shamim), for he never spared anyone in his (film) reviews”.

Bali often used to tag along with Shamim on his Friday rounds of cinema houses, and, occasionally, stand in for him whenever Shamim couldn’t make it to a show. I wouldn’t say, as Bali does, that Bollywood was scared of Shamim. He was pampered by most Bollywood busybodies; and many held him in high regard. But no one who was anyone in Bollywood those days could afford to ignore Shamim.

As someone from a lesser paper(National Herald) I basked in the reflected clout Shamim had with Bollywood folks. He wouldn’t let them take any of us for granted in the matter of invites to a special screening or a Bollywood party. Shamim rarely accepted an exclusive invitation from any film world biggie. It was all or none , he used to tell them.

He was on first-name terms with all big actors of his days. Amitabh Bachchan was then a ‘bachcha’. If I remember right, Saat Hindustani was his first notable film; and its maker, K A Abbas, a good friend of Shamim, held a special screening for us at the Mahadev Rd. Films Division auditorium. I can’t recall what we wrote about the film, and if we mentioned Amitabh's role in it, at all.

Yusuf bhai (Dilip Kumar) who rarely interacted with Delhi film journalists used to phone Shamim whenever he was in town. And Shamim, true to his all-or-none principle, had him call us over as well for an afternoon drink at Oberai. I also remember us spending a long afternoon with Kamal Amrohi when he shared with us the factors responsible for the long delay in the making of Pakheeza. Matters no one would discuss with gossip-driven film media. Such was the relationship Shamim had with Bollywood folks and the trust they reposed on his film critic friends. Amrohi was married to the leading lady Meena Kumari when Pakheeza first went on the studio floor.

And then there was Aradhana, for the release of which the producer had flown the lead players to New Delhi. The Shamim gang was invited to meet Sharmila Tagore at Hotel Imperial. Rajesh Khanna, making a debut in the film, was staying in the adjacent suite. Yogendra Bali might remember this incident, for, I believe, he was also with us then. As we left Sharmila’s suite Mr Khanna’s PR man, met us on the hallway to plead with Shamim to spare a few minutes for Aradhana’s leading man. Shamim turned him down, but politely in his Lucknowi andaz, as we headed to a Connaught Circus cinema house to attend a film premiere.

This was the Shamim I knew. Such was his clout in Bollywood.

Cross-posted in Desicritic and zine5

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