...and then I can, with great delight, reply "Why yes, indeed I did!" Yesterday afternoon at the Oberoi Grand Hotel in Kolkata, I met a movie star.
Let me just say two things before I tell the story. 1) With the possible exception of my FPMBF, I don't have any desire to actually interact with any Bollywood stars (or any kind of celebrity, for that matter). What on earth would I say to them? 2) Other than former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, I have never had to answer that question, becuase I've never had any conversations with anyone who counts as a celebrity. Until yesterday.
We're sitting in the Oberoi lobby, waiting to go to the train station for our overnight trip to Varanasi, when Rajan comes up to me and says "See that woman over there? She's ______. She's been in several fimls. And that man with her is ______, a director." I'm not putting in ______ to be secretive; I didn't recognize either name, so they went in one ear and out the other. I handed Rajan a pen and told him to write down the names for me so I could look them up later. I thought nothing further of it and continued to flip through Filmfare. Actor and director eventually got up and come over near where I was sitting to talk with a man dressed in denim and mirrored sunglasses with shaggy hair, who looked like he was either very cool or trying to look very cool. They chatted, then they left the building. A few minutes later, my friend Michael (no, not liebling Michael of Bollyblog fame - the one on this trip) said to me that one of the Fulbright staff traveling with us said that there was a famous actor just leaving the building. I immediately sat bolt upright and say "Where? Who?" Said staff person came over to me and said, "Yes, he's very famous, he was in Munnabhai MBBS, I forget his name, he is often playing the side character." I haven't seen Munnabhai and quickly wondered if it might be Sanjay Dutt, but the whole "side character" description didn't fit. I asked a few more questions and my companion says "Oh, it's Arshad Warsi!"
Freeze frame: given the disclaimers above, what should I do? I mean, honestly, what would I actually say to Arshad Warsi? But I figure when in India, do the Indians, as they say, so I got out of my chair and walked quickly towards the door with the hope of just seeing Mr. Warsi. The Fulbright guy came with me and before I really knew what was going on, he's opened the door to the hotel and we're standing right next to that whole actor party and the Fulbright guy has gone up to Mr. Warsi and made some sort of introduction, something along the lines of "She is from America and is a fan." Awk-ward. Mr. Warsi is smoking, but I didn't really take full account of that and stuck out my right hand, not really knowing what else to do. He switches his cigarette from right to left and shook my hand and very politely said hello. I then said "I really enjoy your movies" - which strictly speaking is true, as the two of his I've seen, Salaam Namaste and Hulchul, are both very enjoyable.
Unfortunately the rest of the conversation is no longer clear in my memory, as it was such a strange experience as it was happening that I hardly knew what I was saying. He said something like, "Oh, you don't know anything about me" to which I repiled, "I do! I watch Hindi movies all the time"! I really wonder if he thought I was a random American so obsessed with celebrity-spotting that I would say something like that to someone I didn't recognize. Anyway, he either decided to take pity on me or he was convinced by my argument, and he proceeded to talk about how he's going to go to the Toronto Film Festival this fall. As many of you know, I lived in Toronto for two years, so I said to him what I would say to any brand-new acquaintance who said they were going to Toronto: "Oh, it's a wonderful city. I used to live there and absolutely loved it." Yes. That's what I said to a Bollywood star. This general line of chit-chat continued for a bit, and then he (again very politely) held out his right hand and said, "Well, I have to go. It was nice to meet you" and shook my hand and turned to get into a car with his group. I hope I said something like "No no, the pleasure is all mine" or something, but I'm sure I said something stupider. Who knows. Well, maybe one of the uber-nice doormen of the Oberoi knows, but I'm never going to investigate because I really don't want to know how precisely stupid I sounded.
Aside to Arshad Warsi: thank you for talking to a crazy American Bollywood fan. You were extremely polite and interesting, and I will remember that little moment fondly for a long, long time. Sincere apologies for interrupting your afternoon - when I got up from that chair, I never meant to invade your day, but in retrospect I have to admit it was a total kick. I promise to rent Munnabhai and any of your other films I can find the moment I get home.
Aside to all other readers: I have to admit, the Bollywood-related highlight of my trip is still dancing to "Boro Boro" with Debbie and Rajan. No frills needed for me, thanks - just an honest, loving enjoyment of filmi.