Around this time fifty years ago, ie in early 1968, aspiring actor Amitabh Bachchan arrived in Bombay with a driving licence and a dream. The driving licence was for just in case, so he could ply a taxi to make a living. Many years before him, another gifted young man, this time around a musician, had come from Jammu to Bombay. His name was Shiv Kumar Sharma, and the year was 1959. His aim was to introduce the santoor, the instrument few had seen or heard outside the Kashmir valley, and play it on a huge stage, both Indian and international. He too had arrived almost broke. But even before him, another young man, also a musician, had come to Bombay after rebelling from his parents in Lucknow. His name was Naushad Ali. He had come to seek his musical fortune in 1936.
Years later, all of these gents would marvel at their phenomenal fortune, and with it, remember their first few nights in Bombay. Naushad had slept on a footpath at Dadar, right across what was Broadway Cinema. When his film Baiju Bawra became a hit in 1953, its silver jubilee was celebrated at the same Broadway. Many times did the maestro recall his view from the hall’s first floor varandah during the interval, as he pensively gazed at the footpath across the road. This is what he was to recall: “It had taken me 17 years to cross the street”.
Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma had come from a comfortable lifestyle to spend his first few weeks at the downmarket Kashmir Hotel, opposite Bombay’s Metro cinema. His film Silsila (1981) did a silver too, at—if you didn’t know, you may have guessed it by now—Metro cinema. He too remembers that evening only too well, and how he chuckled at the irony of it all. You wonder if the santoor maestro knew that Silsila’s male lead, Amitabh had slept his first few nights on a bench at Marine Drive. In just 7 years, the young actor was already a huge celebrity and was shooting key scenes inside a suite in Hotel Oberoi (now called Trident), overlooking the same Marine Drive expanse. It was in Deewar (1975) that we found him looking down at that bench, before saying to someone this line with much gravitas: “Main aaj bhi pheke hue paise naheen utthaata”.
Broadway Cinema has gone, replaced by a shopping monstrosity. The decrepit Kashmir Hotel was long ago declared too dangerous to live in, and has been more-or-less evacuated, even if the structure still stands, mired in legal disputes backed by ill-advised legislation that characterize life in India. Fortunately, Marine Drive remains as charming as ever, never mind the crowds during the day, and the high-revving bikes that happen during nights, when it becomes the Queen’s Necklace, its lights scintillating along its curve. Marine Drive still has charm and character.
Thus, while Broadway stopped exhibiting movies, Amitabh was on Marine Drive many times again; for example, riding a motorbike there while singing Rote hue aate hain sab, in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978). Kashmir Hotel was evacuated, but the Queen’s Necklace was fine with film shoots, such as for Vivek Oberoi as he rode a motorcycle during the song O humdum suniyo re (Saathiya, 2002). Many years before these shoots, the definitive musical evaluation of the city was filmed here and lip-synced by Johnny Walker and Kumkum in CID (1956): Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan…ye hai Bombay meri jaan.
These are some of the many songs in which the camera romanced Mumbai’s most charming location:
- Mera naam Abdul Rehman (Kishore, Lata/Bhai Bhai, 1956)
- Mera akele jiya kaise laage re (Lata, Hemant/Inspector, 1956)
- Bachke balam chal ki rasta hai mushkil (Geeta, Rafi/Johnny Walker, 1957)
- Albela main ik dil waala (Asha/Miss India, 1957)
- Babu samjho ishaare (Manna Dey, Kishore/Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958)
- Neeli neeli ghata (Asha, Mukesh/Hum Hindustani, 1960)
- Sach kehta hoon bahut haseen ho (Rafi, Asha/Jaali Note, 1960)
- Rimjhim ke taraane leke aayi barsaat (Rafi, Geeta/Kaala Bazaar, 1960)
- Rut albeli mast sama (Mukesh/Shreeman Satyawadi, 1960)
- Tumne hasi hi hasi mein (Lata, Mahendra/Ghar Basake Dekho, 1963)
- Na na karte pyaar tumhi se kar baitthe (Rafi, Suman/Jab Jab Phool Khile, 1965)
- Chakke mein chakka (Rafi/Brahmachari, 1968)
- Zindagi ik safar hai suhaana (Kishore, Hema/Andaaz, 1971)
- Abhi to haath mein jaam hai (Manna Dey/Seeta Aur Geeta, 1972)
- Tum jo mil gaye ho (Rafi/Haste Zakhm, 1973)
- Kayi baar yoon hi dekha hai (Mukesh/Rajnigandha, 1974)
- Ek akela is sheher mein (Bhupinder/Gharonda, 1977)
- Ye oonche mahal suhaane (Lata, Usha/Parvarish, 1977)
- Ee hai Bambai nagariya tu dekh babua (Kishore/Don, 1978)
- Seene mein jalan aankhon mein toofaan sa kyoon hai (Suresh Wadkar/Gaman, 1978)
- Rimjhim gire saawan (Lata/Manzil, 1979)
- Humen aur jeene ki chaahat na hoti (Lata/Agar Tum Na Hote, 1983)
- Badi mushkil hai khoya mera dil hai (Abhijit/Anjaam, 1994)
- Goonja sa hai koi ektara (Amitabh Bhattacharya, Kavita Seth/Wake Up Sid, 2009)
Marine Drive’s four kilometres of beautiful seafront curve includes a beach. The promenade must have plenty of memories, even if not all of them beautiful. It witnessed OP Nayyar walking sprightly up and down the stretch, 5 times a week unfailingly in his Oxford-style shoes, for decades. The composer used to live nearby. It is here that astonishing actress Suraiya lived for some 60 years, and here she often met her beau Dev Anand, on the terrace of her building Krishna Mahal too, before things went awry for the lovers. Film star Nargis lived a few blocks to Suraiya’s south, in Chateau Marine, and would leave for her shoots in her gas-guzzling limousine, smiling as she waved to her fans. Just a few seconds walk from her abode was Natraj Hotel, now called InterContinental. Many of us know about Nargis’s affair with the married Raj Kapoor, but it was not in protest against her that Raj Kapoor’s wife moved to Natraj Hotel with her kids for two months. This was later, and it was for his relationship with Vyjayanthimala. In the lane behind this hotel lived Nirupa Roy, who wasn’t famous for her walks along the promenade, but she did walk on it in the same Deewar, mentioned above, as the helpless mother of two boys who would grow up to become Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor. Marine Drive was also the patch where Jagjit and Chitra Singh’s son Vivek Singh drove his jeep in overdrive, at 3 in the morning, to die on the spot in July 1990.
On weekend nights these days, Marine Drive experiences enthusiastic young men over-rev their bikes to exhaustion. Over the years, there have also been many events taking place here, on both sides of the road. Yoga camps, women-centric fairs, vintage car rallies, book exhibitions, plant and nursery sales, what have you. But last month, the city’s Municipal Commissioner bowed to pressure from nearby residents to outlaw all except charity events. The best of these charities is the annual Mumbai Marathon, which is happening today, on the 21st of January, 2018. This is India’s largest charity platform for non-profit organisations to raise funds for a spectrum of causes. Today, like so many times before this, Marine Drive will once again be offering its grey carpet to runners from all over the world. Very impressive.
Featured images: On top, Amitabh in a suite overlooking Marine Drive in Deewaar (1975); above, Mumbai Marathon 2017 file photo.
Originally published on 21 January 2018 in DNA Jaipur page 11