Let’s start with Raj Kapoor’s
“In a flash, a man dressed in white raced past me towards the stage. As he went up on the dais, the lights came on and I saw an enraged Raj saab calling the men, hired by rival distributors to run down the film, ‘bhaade ke tattu’. He told them that he’d made the film with heart and honesty and God would reward him. Pointing to the door, he told them to get out and shamefaced, the men complied,” Ghulu, who grew up to become Manoj Kumar, reminisces, adding that at night, when his naani wondered why he couldn’t sleep, he told her all that had transpired and asked her who was this man who could talk so fearlessly. “‘He’s a karmayogi—one who connects with God through actions’—she told me, and the words stayed with me.”
A decade later, Manoj saab was shooting for Raj Khosla’s Anita at
Soon after, while he was away in Delhi or maybe Kolkata, Raj saab tried calling him and was brusquely told he had got the wrong number. On his return, Manoj saab was surprised when singer Mukesh relayed this to him, saying Raj saab was upset, thinking that he was being avoided as Manoj saab didn’t want to do Mera Naam Joker. Almost immediately, Manoj saab called Raj saab and asked to see him.
“We met at 4 pm at (composer) Jaikishan’s residence, where I assured Raj saab that neither I nor my wife Shashi would dare discomfit him. I told him I was looking forward to working with not the showman but a karmayogi and went on to tell him about the earlier incident at Regal. Raj saab quietly heard me out, then, put his head in my lap and started crying,” he recounts.
Soon after, Manoj saab flew down for the shoot in Ooty where, while narrating a scene that they were to shoot the following day, Raj saab stopped abruptly, alerted by the expression on his face that he didn’t agree with something. When prodded, Manoj saab pointed to a certain dialogue which made a reference to Gandhiji’s assassination. He pointed out that since Raju was an adolescent then, the Father of the Nation would have been alive. Taken aback, Raj saab retreated to his room on the first floor, but after half an hour, came down, telling Shashi ji to persuade Manoj saab to re-write the scene for him. “When I demurred, pointing out that (KA) Abbas saab (who had penned the story and screenplay) was a senior writer, he made me speak to him on the phone and he gave me his permission,” the writer-actor-filmmaker reveals.
Raj saab was so impressed with his dialogue, particularly one where, in response to young Raju’s query about who’s the biggest joker till date, David points his thumb towards the sky and reacting to Raju’s “Bhagwan” reasons that God, like the joker, does everything for others, apne liye kuchh nahin. “Appreciating that dialogue, Raj saab called (DoP) Radhu Karmakar and a few others to listen to me as I narrated what I’d written, pointing out that I had encapsulated the philosophy of the joker in these lines,” Manoj saab recalls, adding, “The first story in this three-story film was reworked by me, but I didn’t do it for name, fame or money. I paid for my travel expenses and hotel stay and refused to take credit as writer. Mera Naam Joker was my tribute to karmayogi Raj Kapoor. In Urdu ‘awara’ means ‘khushboo’ and even today, the ‘fragrance’ of Raj Kapoor fills our senses.”