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Bollywood's Nostradamus died alone, unsung

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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Gulshan RaiThe maker of gigantic hits like "Johny Mera Naam" and "Deewaar" passed away, alone and without any friends by his side. Gulshan Rai would have been king even today had a paralytic stroke not felled him.

The 82-year-old, who died Tuesday after having been bed-ridden for the last couple of years, was alone in his last days. But throughout the 1970s and 1980s Gulshan Rai remained one of the most astute, prosperous and powerful film producers in Bollywood.

His box-office predictions, not just about his own productions but also about films by other movie makers, were so accurate that anxious filmmakers would invite his opinion before releasing their films.

"I remember how we all held our breath and waited for Mr Rai's opinion at the trial screening of "Ek Duuje Ke Liye". The entire film industry considered him "a sort of soothsayer," recalls a filmmaker.

The Nostradamus of Bollywood had an unerring sense of box-office correctness. Seldom did Gulshan Rai go wrong with his own films. When in 1971 he produced "Johnny Mera Naam" everyone warned him against a title that raised uncomfortable memories of Raj Kapoor's film "Mera Naam Joker" that didn't do well.

But Gulshan Rai was adamant. Though his next production with the "Johnny Mera Naam" team entitled "Joshila" was a box-office dud, it started off a long association between the producer and director Yash Chopra.

Chopra and Rai collaborated on a number of mega-movies in the 1970s featuring Amitabh Bachchan, including "Deewaar", "Trishul" and "Kala Patthar".

Says Amitabh Bachchan: "For some reason we had some of our biggest successes together. He was an extremely humble man. In fact, Gulshanji took up my first film 'Saat Hindustani' for distribution, not for any other reason than that he respected director Khwaja Ahmed Abbas. Later, he produced some of my major hits including 'Deewaar'.

"Gulshanji was always a very just, fair-minded but simple person. He had an uncanny business sense. As a producer he never interfered in the making of a film. We barely ever saw him on sets. We met off the sets for negotiations or for story sessions. He judged the potential of any given project, not through hard business sense or its technical merits, but by a sixth sense. Most of the time he'd be right. He had a very basic gut-level instinct about what would succeed.

"Like Yash Johar, Gulshan Rai had no enemies in the film industry. He was always willing to extend a helping hand to those who needed it. It's a tragic loss to the film industry."

More tragic is the fact that the Mumbai film industry had all but forgotten the man who produced some of the most powerful successes of Hindi cinema. In the past five years hardly anything was heard about Gulshan Rai. His only son, filmmaker Rajiv Rai, who will now run the family banner Trimurti Films on his own, was forced to leave India after extortion and death threats from the underworld.

Gulshan Rai died with none of his friends by his side. At one time his home was haven for the biggest stars and directors of Bollywood.

Kaifi Azmi's song "Dekhi zamane ki yaari bichde sabhi baari-baari" from "Pyaasa" describing the fickleness of filmdom applies to the prophet of profits, Gulshan Rai.


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