Thought Box

Retroscope - Meena Kumari

Retroscope - Meena Kumari

by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya May 21 2016, 3:16 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 3 secs

I walked carefully through the film set, encountering black coils of electrical wires, plug points, tripods, pedestal lights, noisy fans at every step of the way that made me afraid of tripping.

From nowhere a voice shouted: “baby koidharlao”

I looked up startled, but there was no baby!

Baby, I learnt, was a spot light. At the farther end of the massive floor I saw a writing desk. Sitting at the desk, twirling the pencil was a pretty lady in simple striped cotton Bengali saree. It could have been beige, blue, grey- any colour. The film was black & white..colour was irrelevant.

Loud directions, orders, instruction to light men walking precariously on the catwalk above, to the invisible sound department, the camera crew handling the huge camera atop a tripod covered in black cloth poured in.

In that crowded sound track I picked up my father’s familiar voice. Standing next to the lady at the desk, he bend down before instructing her. After which she tilted her head at a certain angle. Looking at Baba for his approval.

“Full lights!” came the order on the mike.

Everything froze. Lights blazed, limbs tautened…

“SILENCE" shouted the same voice and continued to order:

“Start camera”

“RRRolling”- came the reply


“Taking!!” assured sound.

A man ran into frame with a black clapper that had written:

“Parineeta…Muhurat shot, Take one…shot one!” Clap. Stop.

Then he did the vanishing act.

Had a needle dropped, we would hear its sound in that the intense silence that enveloped us.

The lady at the desk, looked into the camera lens…with an expression of anxiety. She looked at the particular direction from where a stern mail voice demanded:

“Kaalkahathi?Parnenahi aye?” He repeated this sentence twice.

Looking in the direction of the voice, she uttered something in a small voice then looked down, as if ashamed. I remember that fruity voice. The sweet charm it had cast on me.

“CUT! Cut!” Voices repeated the word cut from every angle.

“Sound ok?”
“Take ok?”
The conversation went on in cryptic codes …cut. ok. silence. take.

And finally when a calm voice ordered Lights off, the big blazing lights that heated the set like oven were turned off, leaving only a filler light. And I could breath again.

I heard people clapping all around as they do at the circus or theatre.

Surprised to find a man silently standing with a box of yellow pedas at my elbow. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Was it by chance magic? The man smiled at me : “Baby , take!!” so nicely that I took one peda before he melted into the crowd managing the box of sweets.

That was my first experience of a film muhurat. The film, Parineeta. The studio, Bombay Talkies . The year 1953 . And the lady at the desk with a fruity voice, MeenaKumari.. I was to see much more of her during the entire production of Parineeta. We visited the sets daily as kids go to a park. But when the Ashok Kumar production enlisted me as a junior artist for the chorus song: Gore goreHatoon mein by AshaBhonsale I shared screen space with Meenaji! What a privilege that was! With me were cast children of composer Arun kumar Mukherjee and a bunch of regular junior artists.

It is a fragrance slice of memory that I cherish and will treasure till human memories last.


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