Dear Jaya Bachchan, I Have A Letter For Your Famous Husband

Published: September 20, 2016 18:54 IST
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On Monday evening, I did something I hadn't done since I was 12 or 13: I took my mother out for a movie. It was just the two of us, sitting next to each other, engrossed in the film and munching caramelised popcorn from the same box. It was while biting into one of those pieces of popcorn that the penny dropped. I realised my mother hadn't come to a cinema hall in some 25 years.

In the past few years, my father and she, both movie buffs, had watched films at home, using DVDs. 50 years ago, even 40 years ago, they would go to the movies every weekend, sometimes more than once a week. The evening out with my mother was part of a routine I had promised her and promised myself ever since my father died three months ago. Inevitably, my mother thought of my father as we left her house that evening. "Your Dad and I used to go for so many films," she remembered, "all those Hollywood releases at Globe, Lighthouse ..."

She rattled off names of once-iconic Kolkata movie theatres, now sadly  past their prime.  In the car she asked me which film we were going to see. "Well," I said, "it's a film starring a man you knew as a lanky young business executive who shared the stage with Dad and was part of the Kolkata theatre scene in the 1960s." She guessed immediately: "Ah, Amitabh Bachchan. Your Dad directed him in a play once, he had a walk-on part. And I remember Neil telling him, 'You're stiff, loosen up.'" My mother couldn't remember the name of the play, but she remembered the incident, for years a family joke, as we reached the theatre to watch Pink.

Pink is a powerful movie dealing with three young women raging against a prejudiced, chauvinistic and patriarchal society. My mother was clearly shaken. When we finished, I asked her, "What did you think of the film.?"

Without a moment's hesitation, she said, "It's very, very real. Disturbingly real. That's what happens." She spoke as a wise and experienced woman, now close to 80. She also spoke as the grandmother of four young women aged between 16 and 24, and of two teenaged grandsons.

The film had obviously struck her somewhere deep inside. So as we drove home, I decided to divert her thoughts. "Do you remember Barry's [my brother's] friend?" I asked. "The chap who came over and stayed over so often that he even had a set of pyjamas at Jamir Lane [the lane on which my parents' house is]?"

"Yes, of course, Tony," my mother responded, "what about him?"

"He's made the film. Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury ... Tony to you. The director of Pink ..."

"Tony?"

"Yes, you want to speak to him?"

I phoned Annirudha and told him my mother had just seen his film and loved it. She spoke to him and blessed him. It was apparent from his voice that he was moved, seriously moved. "Aunty," he said, "I'll come and see you at Jamir Lane ... How can I forget those days ..." A few minutes later, we dialled the number of Shoojit Sircar, the producer of the film, and my mother spoke to him as well. She told him, a stranger to her, she was extremely impressed with Pink.

As I dropped Mum home, she turned to thank me, or so I thought. Actually she had a favour to ask. "You know Amitabh Bachchan was very good in the film," she said, "I'd like to tell him ... I wonder if he remembers your Dad and all of us from all those years ago ... You said you keep running into his wife Jaya in the House. Maybe I'll send him a note congratulating him on Pink and you can hand it to her. What do you think?"

My eyes popped out. I've carried fan mail from my daughter, when she was much younger, but this was the first time I was being asked to carry fan mail for my Mum! But never mind: Jaya di, when we meet for the Winter Session, I'll have a letter for your husband.

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(Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.)

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