Guest Post: Rajinder Singh Bedi – My Uncle as I remember him

It is sad that among the people responsible for making cinema what it is, the spotlight is invariably only on the ones whom the audience sees and hears. Actors, singers. Composers and directors, by dint of their work being most visible (or audible). We know these, we are familiar with them. We watch films for them. But how often do we stop to think who wrote the story for a film? Who wrote this dialogue that we have exulted over, who wrote this screenplay that fits so perfectly?

Rajinder Singh Bedi, the man who wrote the dialogues for so many of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films—from Mem-Didi to the hilarious Biwi aur Makaan, from the sensitive Anupama to Satyakam, is perhaps one of the exceptions. Not because people pay attention to who wrote the dialogues for a film (or even the story), but because his name is known as that of a literary stalwart. The man who wrote Ek Chaadar Maili Si; a winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Ghalib Award, and the Padmashri. The director (and writer) of Dastak. The man on whose death Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq offered condolences, saying that it was a loss not just for India, but for Pakistan as well.

Some days back, Nischint ‘Nishi’, who is Mr Bedi’s niece (his younger brother’s daughter) left a comment on my blog about her illustrious uncle. Me, being what I am (always eager to know more about the cinema of yesteryears) asked if she would be kind enough to write a guest post for this blog. She agreed. Click this link: Rajinder Singh Bedi – Biography to read a brief biography that she provided for her uncle, and read on for a heart-warming little insight into the man Rajinder Singh Bedi was.

Over to Nishi:

My earliest memories of him are about fun and laughter and a distinct fragrance of paan and tambaku. I remember in the early 60s when Dad was posted in Aurangabad.  It was summer and as was customary, khats were set up in the lawn in front of the house – it was early morning and we were all still asleep.  A sudden commotion startled us out of our sleep: it was my uncle with family.  They had driven from Bombay – “Get up everyone” he said “we are going out to have paan.”

After my grandfather’s death, the family was abandoned by relatives who felt they did not need the additional burden, so at the ripe old age of 20 he took on the mantle of father to his siblings. One of his brothers joined the army and he married off his sister in 1938. In the meantime, his youngest brother (Dad) had matriculated, was bright and wanted to continue his studies.  One ‘concerned’ uncle got him a clerical job. He was miserable. Dad tells us when he got his first salary he gave it to his brother.  Uncle took him to a bar to celebrate. He said “Now that you are grown you are going to drink at some point, I would much rather you have your first drink with me so you never feel guilty or have to do it in secret!” Knowing how he hated the job, he asked him to leave it and sent him to college.  Luckily Dad got full scholarships and was able to complete his Masters’ degree and became a professor at the Government College in Ropar and then on to IAS!

Dad used to tell us stories about Lahore and his village, Dalleki.  They had some land which was being taken care of by their uncle, whom they called Babaji.  Traditionally the eldest Bedi son did not get married and was Guru ki Aulad, since they are considered direct descendants of Shri Guru Nanak. Babaji stayed behind during the partition to take care of the land for his orphaned nephews until they returned (most families believed they would return once everything died down).  Unfortunately, he was killed and my uncle never forgave himself for deserting him.

He always treated my Dad like a son and had a special bond with him, and consequently us.  Dad tells us they had decided to name me Rita which was the name ‘trending’ at the time and Uncle took it upon himself to name us (just as well!) – so I was Nischint (without worries) and my sister he named Achla after Achla Sachdev who was his ‘Mooh boli behen’.  His daughters were named Surinder and Parminder and used to say – how come Dad gave us those ugly traditional names and you guys the nice ones!

On a train he got talking to one of his travelling companions, and discovered he was one of Dad’s colleagues who mentioned to my uncle that Dad had a great sense of humor.  After that, each time he introduced my Dad to anyone he used to say, “This is my brother, he is the humorous one!” He brought so much laughter into any family get-together.  Everyone automatically gathered around him and we would laugh and cry between anecdotes.

During our vacations we used to go to Bombay and stay with him in King’s Circle.  My aunt was the boss of the house and had an inordinate amount of energy.  I think she was OCD about cleanliness especially washing clothes – if you left anything hanging in the bathroom and stepped out for a minute, it was going to end up in the wash.  My uncle decided to get her a washing machine, and did so on one of his trips to Moscow.  She never trusted it and always washed the clothes before she put them in the machine.  He said he should write a story ‘Dhoban’ based on her. Our visits to Bombay also meant going to see film shootings.  We would come back and show off to our friends about the movie stars we had met. Bombay visits also meant driving to Khandala. I remember best our visit to Mulk Raj Anand’s beautiful cottage built on a hillside in Khandala. He said when he needed peace and quiet he went there to write.

Most everyone said about him that he was moved to tears very easily.  He would begin to narrate a story he had written himself and would have trouble finishing it because he would be so choked up.  I think all of us Bedis have that trait.  I remember when Narinder got married and during the doli the only people who were crying were the Bedis – my bhabi’s family?  No one.

His conversation was always interspersed with humor. The government had announced that people who had land in Pakistan would be allotted land in India and a few acres was given to the brothers near Hoshiarpur.  Since he lived in Bombay and his other two brothers in Delhi, they decided to see if the allotment could be moved closer to Delhi.  Afterwards he said “We lived together like friends, if we had lived like brothers we wouldn’t have lasted a day!”.  He used to dye his beard and Dad, who was quite grey as well did not.  He tried to convince him to color it saying, “I can deal with you looking like my older brother, but you look like my father.”

He was very fond of Geeta Bali who called him Bauji like his other children.  She died having contracted smallpox while shooting the Punjabi film, Rano, based on his novel Ek Chadar Maili Si. He was directing the film and she was the producer. He was devastated by her untimely death, abandoned the project and vowed he would never make a film based on it.  The film with Hema Malini was made after his death.

Dharmendra was one of his favorite actors who he said was a “beeba ladka” (good/decent).  He acted in several of his movies – among them Anupama, Satyakam and Phagun.  He had also been signed for Rano opposite Geeta Bali.  Dilip Kumar used to sit in on the writing sessions but had a tendency to change dialogues.  Uncle told him “You stick to acting and I will stick to writing”.  His famous dialogue for Devdas subsequently plagiarized by Sanjay Leela for the new Devdas  –  badly delivered by Shahrukh Khan was “Kaun kambakht bardaasht karne ko peeta hai? Main toh peeta hoon ke bas saans le saku”.  Dilip Kumar said of him. “Dialogues of ‘Devdas’ are replete with a haunting sensitivity and spontaneity that came from the pen of Rajinder Singh Bedi, one of those rare writers whose syntax was so perfect that simple lines he wrote inspired actors to build up deep emotions in their rendering,”

I remember once he and my aunt were returning from a party late at night and they were flagged down by a couple of men who were supporting a third who looked very sick.  They asked him for a lift to the hospital.  On their way there one of the men said “Khallas” (finished).  At the hospital they put the ailing man on a stretcher, made some excuse about returning and left.  A doctor who was passing recognized my uncle and asked what he was doing there. He said he had brought in a sick man – the doctor said “Bedi Saheb, just turn around and leave, they probably killed this man and you will end up in serious trouble.” [Rajinder Singh Bedi’s son] Narinder used this incident as the basis for his movie Benaam.

Soon after his wife died he had a stroke, his speech became unintelligible and he lost sight in one eye.  He had finished directing his movie Ankhan Dekhi about the plight of harijans, but was not able to give it full justice.  He also wanted to get a tax free certificate for it, which was promised by the then President Zail Singh.  I believe the movie was never released. By then he had lost that joie de vivre and his health started to decline.  He said he dreamt of funerals and assumed he had premonitions of his own death, but unfortunately he lost his son Narinder who was all of 45.

The fragrance of the tambaku paan that till today brings back such vivid memories of him was his undoing and he got cancer.  Dad had retired by then and was with him during his last days.

Last picture of all four siblings – Dad is the “humorous” one in the middle.

 

This is how I remember him!

 

My cousin’s wedding – I am more interested in what is happening behind me!

 

I was an autograph freak as a teenager. Here is what he wrote in my book.

Text and images © Nischint Bhatnagar née Bedi

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37 thoughts on “Guest Post: Rajinder Singh Bedi – My Uncle as I remember him

  1. It’s always a special treat to host a guest post on my blog, because I can be the first one to comment! :-)

    Thank you so much for this, Nishi. It’s always interesting to get a glimpse of the person in question from how their family remembers (which is one reason I like Shilpi’s blog about her father, Tarun Bose). And your post brings your uncle so vividly alive. He seems like such a wonderful man: so sensitive (I think the depth of his understanding of human nature is very apparent in much of his work), so warm-hearted, and with such a good sense of humour.

    Coincidentally, Ek Chaadar Maili Si happens to be one of the few Hindi books I possess. I read several Hindi novels while in school and college, but gave up after that and fell out of the habit of reading anything other than English-language books. For the past few years, though, I’ve been trying to read more Hindi books, and seeing this in a shop one day, bought it. It’s a haunting book, so good.

    • Madhulika, thank you so much for encouraging me to share that side of my uncle which is not known to most people. I enjoyed reminiscing about him and writing a blog for the very first time ever!

      • And we enjoyed reading about your Uncle! Thank you so much, Nishi – that was a lovely article, and it was so good to read about someone most viewers of old Hindi cinema (or readers of Hindi literature) would have heard of, but know next to nothing about. If you have more anecdotes to share, please do – another post would be more than welcome!

        • Hi Madhulika
          You have very rightly said in your introduction that people do not pay attention to who wrote the dialogue or the story. This is true to a great extent because when a film is reviewed or critiqued there usually is no mention of the story or dialogue writer, so we tend not to consider their contribution.

          • Yes. I think that’s really sad, because unless the story is sound, the rest doesn’t really matter. I have seen so many films which have a brilliant cast and superb music, but are let down by a ridiculous or tedious story. The basis of a good film, I think, is a good story.

    • You’re very welcome, AK. I think it’s important to encourage people who know the other side of famous people to talk about them – I am not keen on gossip, but a lovely little tribute like this is a better insight into a person than those dull bios one usually comes across.

  2. This is such a beautiful read! Loved every bit of it. I hope the author shares many more such memories with us.

  3. What a lovely, lovely post! I did not know much about Rajinder Singh Bedi and this has prompted me to read up more about him. Thanks, Madhu and Nishi.

  4. An interesting read, Nishi, and thank you, Madhu, for hosting this piece. Like you, Ek Chhaddar Maili Si is the only one of his books that I have read, but I have seen his films. I have also thoroughly enjoyed watching Dastak.

    We have a tenuous connection to the Bedi family – my husband’s second cousin is married to Rajinder Singh Bedi’s grandson.

  5. Madhuji, I loved reading about Rajinder Singh Bedi. For one who is interested there is so much info about Hollywood movies, artists etc. But if you are a Bollywood fan, there is very scant info about movies released in the 70s. As for 50s movies, it will mostly be a vain exercise. For example, just try to get info about Kalpana, the lady who acted in Teen Devian, Professor, Pyaar Kiye Ja etc and there is no info. I only got to know that she died a lonely death in Pune a few years ago. So, such articles about our artists, directors etc. are specially welcome.

    • You’re right. Sadly, while there are biographies galore of many of the big stars and the more popular actors – DIlip Kumar, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, Shammi Kapoor, Pran, Helen, etc – the lesser-known ones tend to be forgotten very quickly, even when they’re not exactly unknowns. Kalpana, as you point out, is a good example (and a sad one). Vimmi too, and Bharat Bhushan – not that Bharat Bhushan was anywhere close to an unknown.

      And for people who aren’t actors, directors, singers or composers… their lives tend to be even more of a question mark.

  6. Excellent narrative Nischintji and thank you Madhulika for the forum to share such memories! I wish we could get several such glimpses from relatives/friends of famous personalities that have contributed so much to Hindi cinema!

    • Yes, it’s always good to have posts like this from friends and relatives who’ve known these people from up close. Search of ‘Guest post’ on the search bar (right hand panel, right at the bottom) on this blog, and you’ll see some other posts – there are a few from Tasneem Khan, for instance, about her parents, Noor and Johnny Walker, and her aunt, Shakila.

  7. This is such a fantastic read! Thanks Nishi for sharing this with us, and Madhu for facilitating it!

    I love to read about these details that give rare insights to the artists we admire so much, especially those who are not in the limelight. Somehow, the focus of our masses are only on the shiny movie stars/singers. The contribution of others is no less.

    I am hoping we continue to hear more and more about Bedi sahab in future.

    Regards

    • “Somehow, the focus of our masses are only on the shiny movie stars/singers. The contribution of others is no less.

      Exactly. It’s sad that the average filmgoer would much rather read all the sordid details about a filmstar’s personal life, than even make an attempt to find out something about a lyricist, a writer, a makeup artist, etc. We should be grateful to people like Anuja Ghosalkar, Shilpi Bose, Tom Daniel, etc, who have helped shed light on the lesser-known (though personally I don’t think that’s the case with Tarun Bose…).

  8. “Exactly. It’s sad that the average filmgoer would much rather read all the sordid details about a filmstar’s personal life, than even make an attempt to find out something about a lyricist, a writer, a makeup artist, etc. ”

    Amen to that.
    Fantastic post which brings out very effectively the warmth of the person. Being sensitive is a good thing — ” during the doli the only people who were crying were the Bedis” Good for you Nishi !
    I specially liked the SRK aside ! So there are people like me out there.

    Madhu ,you can use your not so negligible clout to get ,more filmy kin to share about such memories. They make for interesting reading and we get to know more about persons who otherise are unfairly forgotten.

  9. hello madhuji and nishiji

    thanx for the post.
    its indeed a pleasure to read about Rjinder Singh Bedi, whom i used to associate with Dastak only!
    i didnt know anything more about him at all!
    i remember manek and rajat bedi being bollywood actors, but had no idea about their connection with R S Bedi.
    thanx again!

  10. Thank you everyone who commented. I am so glad you enjoyed reading, as much as I enjoyed writing about him! Ila Bedi Datta is his grand daughter and she and her brothers (Manek and Rajat) recently produced the TV series “Lajwanti” – based on his short story.

  11. This was such a treat to read! Rajinder Singh Bedi is one of those names that when I see it in the credits of a Hindi film I relax imperceptibly because I know I’ll be watching something of quality.

    You’re absolutely right, Madhu about his sensitivity and insight into human nature. Indeed, when Anu and I watched “Phagun” that was one of the prime aspects of the film we both noticed and commented upon. And that non-judgemental attitude and affection for fellow human beings comes through clearly in these lovely reminisces by Nishi. Thank you so much for sharing them with us, Nishi.

    • Now I am even more determined to watch Phagun sooner rather than later, Shalini. Anu’s review of it had piqued my interest, and coming on the heels of this post, I am even more keen on watching it.

      • I am sure you will enjoy the film. We were in Bombay during the shooting and I was able to meet Waheeda and Jaya – who was so full of life and giggled about everything. She was also shooting for Narinder’s Jawani Diwani at that time.
        During one of his interviews he said about a particular scene in ‘Phagun’

        “Recently, I was making a film which was psychological. What happens is that a woman’s husband runs away, abandoning his house. After his departure, a girl is born to that woman. She marries upon growing up, but the mother attaches herself to her daughter in such a way as to make breathing for the son-in-law difficult. A day comes when she sees her daughter and son-in-law in each other’s arms and for a moment, projects herself in place of her daughter.
        Man often thinks about things which are unacceptable from a social and moral ideology, but the truth is that he does understand, no matter how much he may consider himself to be a sinner afterwards. That is why it happens like this. The mother-in-law does stop for a moment, but moves back, startled and overflowing with feelings of guilt, goes to the temple and begins chanting the bhajan (prayer),
        “Mere to Girdhar Gopal dusro na koyee.”
        I had just filmed this scene and my heroine objected to it,
        “How can this happen?”
        I said,
        “It happens Madame.”
        And then, when I proved my point, she leaves the set, embarrassed by the passion of being a sinner. She did end up doing that scene, but kept thinking she will be flogged by the public over it. I told her to send over the shoes flung at her to me since my own shoes are rather worn out.”

        • What a fine anecdote that is, and how well it demonstrates Mr Bedi’s understanding of the nuances of human emotion. I love old Hindi cinema, but I do think that a lot of film makers, even when making films that I adore, took a fairly simplistic, ‘innocent’ view of how the human heart and mind work. Mr Bedi was an exception in that sense – or at least one of the rarities. This grasp of how, in sometimes ‘not done’ ways people think and behave, is also very well shown in Ek Chaadar Maili Si (the book, not so much the film).

          • You are right about the book vs the film. I did not care for the translation by Khushwant Singh ‘I take this woman’ either.

            • I haven’t read the translation. I had seen it available online, but when a book has been originally written in a language that I can read, I prefer to try and look out for the original. In this case, I was lucky – I was in a bookshop, and saw Ek Chaadar Maili Si. I hadn’t gone in thinking I’d buy anything (which never works! – when it comes to books, I am a very impulsive shopper), but saw this and bought it. A superb book.

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