Posted in Personal Observations, Religion, Writing

“Lights, Camera, Kirtan” – When Bollywood came to Gravesend

The large well-lit marble floored lobby area, usually a stopping ground for a catch up was covered in a wash of even brighter lights pushing out volumes of heat surrounded by white gigantic cinema style screens. The Sangat (congregation) had made a semi-circle which started at one end of the staircase and reached over like a long arm to the staircase on the opposite side.

If I wasn’t mistaken the scene unfolding in front of me had onlookers mesmerised, similar to those who sat in the famous courtroom watching hundreds of reflections of Madhubala in the film Mughal-E-Azam.  I was still searching for quick answers when I noticed Ratna Pathak (plays the mum in Kapoor & Sons) in a peach Indian suit marching towards a gora (white chap) dressed in a kurta pajama (male Indian dress) and giving him a right good thapper (slap) across his face.  One thing was for sure, I had obviously been living in exile for sometime because the majority of the Sangat in Gravesend was here to see the shooting of a film called #Mubaraka. Not to say Ratna Pathak wouldn’t have visited Gravesend Gurdwara (Sikh Holy place of worship) on any other given day, but she didn’t come across the type to let her right hand fly across someone’s face, on several occasions.  In all this sudden commotion I realised I had come to the Gurdwara to pray, but now the sight of #Bollywood blockbuster and long serving star, Anil Kapoor, had sent me spinning with excitement like a catherine wheel.

Note from author: Before anyone labels me a hypocrite, I’m already owning up to my weakness of not prioritising my visit

Now realising it was high time I partook in what I was really here to do, I proceeded to walk upstairs to the first floor.  As I looked up, I could see arms and heads peering over the banisters and rectangler wooden balconies, like those punters (excuse the London slang) with the cheapest tickets at a theatre production.  The demographic understandably varied; the younger generation interested in the action unfolding, (I told my kids Anil Kapoor was a bigger celeb then Tom Cruise, which they connected well with having just seen MI:4 – Ghost Protocol, for the umpteenth time), the sightly elder folk fretting with excitement of the man they had been watching on their screens for the past 30 years and the very older segment just shaking their heads in amazement.

Note from author: I fall into the slightly older segment

On finally reaching the Divan hall (room where Sangat can pay their respects to Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Sikh Holy Book) and listen to hymns) I could see the in-house raagi’s (Sikh priests) singing hymns to a handful of Sangat – granted the numbers were never high on a Thursday evening but attention otherwise had been divided.  Having sat in the Divan hall for a while, I ventured back out, walked halfway down the stairs and perched myself against the wooden banister, watching a particular scene being re-shot over and over again.  The extra’s being hurled to stop, then start again, they themselves recounting their steps time and time again, the production team making sure they got their money’s worth at £80 per official extra.  I then asked one of the security chaps when the crew arrived and how long they were staying for, today and 1 week.  That made me choke, this was some filming!

While the producer or director, I didn’t know which shouted for silence, the sound coming from upstairs resonated around the whole Gurdwara, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji was being taken from the Divan hall to their room for rest, the cast waited patiently.

Note from author: This sounds bad but I avoided going to the Gurdwara for most part of the week that pursued, to avoid all this commotion, however my resistance was broken

Filming had moved to the first floor and it was the second to last day of shooting, and boy was the whole surrounding area upstairs packed to the rafters.  There was a moment when I was going to test out my high jump skills to get from the Divan hall back downstairs, however I refrained and politely asked a lady to move over to allow me to get through.  Today Arjun Kapoor was also present performing his role, cutting his lines, I was once again engulfed in all this.  Leaning against one of the walls, I looked to my right and noticed Anil Kapoor heading in my direction, smartly dressed in a kurta with a brown tightly wrapped Dastaar (turban), was I going to just stay motionless?  To hell no, I stepped forward, called out his name and told him I loved his films, he responded with a polite Thank You.

So where do we go from here?  I’d say the large majority of people really enjoyed the week-long activities that took place in their Gurdwara, I mean they could have shot the film anywhere in the world, but they chose the UK, and in that they opted for little old Gravesend.  There was, as always is, a small segment that found this all too much, that things dragged on and it bordered on becoming a full-scale circus.  They commented on seeing people who otherwise wouldn’t come to the Gurdwara, I recall responding to that one, stating that on a positive note, it dragged out people and as a result they, if only briefly, sat in the presence of Waheguru (Sikh reference to God).  But for me…seeing Anil Kapoor and being able to atone for my sins through worship all in the same place was a unique opportunity.

Question from author: If you were at Gravesend Gurdwara during this period, how did you feel?

 This segment covers the period 8th March through to 16th March 2017