By Jyothi Venkatesh
He was very lean and lanky when I first met him 33 years ago and he was known only as Rajiv Bhatia, assisting well-known photographer Jayesh Sheth. The place I met him was exotic – Madh Island in a lovely garden cottage where I had accompanied starlet Renu Arya, who was excited to be making her debut in films with a film called Biwi Ho To Aisi starring Farouque Shaikh would give and Rekha on top.
Nobody knew that the film featured another slender and lanky boy destined to be a competitor to Akshay Kumar. His name was Salman Khan and he was the privileged son of Salim Khan, one of the popular Salim-Javed writer duos. While Salman Khan played the role of Vikram Vicky Bhandari, Renu Arya played the role of his lover named Aarti in it. The film was directed by JK Bihari and the year was 1988.
Today I am writing this article to celebrate the 54th birthday of this 23 year old boy named Rajiv Bhatia who later emerged as one of the most prolific and attractive stars of the 2000s by the stage name Akshay Kumar. Little did the boy who assisted Jayesh on his photo shoots by holding the lights while photographing top models and actresses like Rekha that a day would come when he would have the privilege of trading with the likes of Rekha and Salman Khan also starred in films, as time has proven, while Renu Arya has been forgotten after taking a job as a stewardess after starring Salman in a movie like Biwi Ho To Aisi. Khan had worked as her lead actor and Farouque Shaikh and Rekha as her co-actors.
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In all honesty, I never dreamed that the lanky boy would eventually end up as a big superstar in Bollywood named Salman Khan and moreover pose a big threat to the other stars by being productive with him with up to five films each year as Leading actors, most of whom are also produced by him, including Bell Bottom, which was the first Hindi film to be made after the pandemic, including the one in distant Scotland. It is an entirely different matter that, with the exception of Maharashtra, everywhere that the film has been released, it is none of your business. By the way, I have not seen the film yet, as it has not yet appeared on an OTT and since Akshay was shooting for a film in London, the PR man Parag Desai had coolly forgotten to invite a critic like me to the press show of Bell Bottom at Baroda. However, one thing that always strikes me when I come across the star is that he is still down to earth and humble and has yet to act as a superstar.
We’ll do a review of the photo session on Madh Island. I still remember when I was on hiatus from shooting Jayesh Sheth for lunch, when Jayesh asked me if I would like chilled beer as it was very hot, I asked him to get three bottles of chilled beer and he again ordered his Assistant to pick them up from a nearby wine store. The boy’s first reaction was to tell us that he doesn’t drink at all and therefore doesn’t know the location of the wine shop. However, when Jayesh presented him with a 100 rupee note, he said that three bottles of beer would cost 105 rupees as each bottle cost 35 rupees. Jayesh and I reprimanded him for lying about not drinking, and he shot back, embarrassed, “My friends are drinking beer and I’ve seen them shop in wine stores.”
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Rajiv got three bottles of chilled beer for us and when I asked him why he wasn’t buying a chakna with the beer he said he didn’t have five rupees in hand for change and I gave him a ten and he asked for some Sheng Daana and without hesitation the poor guy ran back to get us Sheng Danas.
When the press introduced director Pramod Chakraborty’s new arrival Akshay Kumar at a party to mark the completion of his film Deedar, when Chakkida, as Pramod Chakraborty was affectionately known when I said to Akshay Kumar, “I’m delighted to meet you,” Akshay told me immediately that he had already met me on Jayesh’s filming and reminded me that he was assisting Jayesh at the time. I was amazed and decided to be his fan for life because I was telling the truth to myself.
The next time I met Akshay in Mauritius, where I was with the late producer Champak Jain and Ratan Jain from Venus, who produced the film that covered the shooting of Main Khiladi Tu Anari. Shilpa Shetty was there, with whom Akshay shot the airy, romantic theme song Main Khiladi Tu Anari the next day I landed in Mauritius. Ratan Jain, the older brother of Champak, had actually asked the PRO of the film Ajit Ghosh to bring me to Mauritius, but he insisted on bringing his journalist friends from major newspapers like Screen, Filmfare, Cine Blitz and Stardust for the outdoor shoots and not me alone and angry, Ratan simply canceled the idea of taking Ajit Ghosh and only took me. It was a lovely trip for five days and my first visit to Mauritius in 1993.
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The day after filming the first day of the song, Akshay was free and offered to drive the car he had on the beaches of Mauritius where we could barely meet anyone but the unit. The staunch teetotaler Akki avoided beer while I drank chilled beer on the beach at lunchtime. As he drove the car back he threw it over the sand dunes on the beach and we almost fell over and when I told Ratan what had happened Akshay was furious but could only mumble aap ke pet my cake nahi rakhte hain aap. That same evening, Abbas (from the duo Abbas and Mustan) was ready to celebrate his birthday in the same hotel we stayed in and there was a big party that evening that also included Saif Ali Khan, Rajeshwari, who shot for a film and Tabu and Ajay Devgn, who shot next to Shilpa Shetty with Abbas-Mustan.
Akshay and Ajay are great paint masters in the business and decided to teach me a lesson by throwing me in the pool while gossiping with Tabu and Shilpa Shetty over a glass of scotch by the pool. Just before I was mercilessly dumped, I told Tabu and Shilpa that I couldn’t swim at all and when they saw me trying to get out of the pool, Shilpa started yelling at them both and ultimately it was supposed to save me from swimming and drowning.
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Ajay and Akshay took off their pants and jumped into their underwear to save me from the pool. When Ratan Jain decided to resuscitate me, I was scared and jumped up and it turned out to be an unforgettable night for that day everyone was in the unit – a birthday, neither Abbas, Mustan, Ajay, Akshay, Shilpa or even Tabu could be forgotten to this day, I assume.
Today it’s Akshays 54NS Unfortunately, he cannot celebrate his birthday because his mother only died two days ago. Nevertheless, I take this opportunity to wish my friend Akshay Kumar a happy 54th birthday.