I have had the privilege of meeting with and interviewing some of the most iconic personalities from different fields, having worked in the media industry back at home. From film director Ramesh Sippy to the legendary Amitabh Bachchan and from Former President of India Dr Paranab Mukherjee to the incredible Javed Akhtar Saab, from Mr Ruskin Bond to Mr Ramchandra Guha and Ms Vidya Balan to Ms Priyanka Chopra- the list is quite long. They have all inspired me in so many ways. I have learnt at least one big lesson from each of these encounters.
During my time as a TV Presenter at Doordarshan Delhi, my beat was Art and Culture. I had the chance of hosting an on-stage Art festival where the legendary Gulzar Saab was the guest of honour. My introduction for Gulzar Saab was some 20 minutes long and at that time those 20 minutes felt like the longest 20 minutes of my life! I was young, nervous, and obviously intimidated by the legend’s presence.
Cut 2. The year 2019.
I have been living and working in Singapore for more than two years now. Here, I have collaborated with shows featuring the likes of Indian personalities, such as Javed Saab and Shabana Azmi Ji, Harshdeep Kaur and Javed Ali, and most recently Bollywood singer Shreya Ghoshal. I have also had the chance to meet and interview some prominent personalities of Singapore. For YP SG, I have interviewed more than forty such personages.
However, in May this year, something spectacular happened and the memory of that entire process is going to stay with me forever.
I was browsing the internet when I first chanced upon this event titled Guftagoo with Gulzar. I checked the organiser’s website and found the people behind this extraordinary evening. I realised that the organisers- Vmall Entertainment- frequently organise similar events where they bring Indian art and culture to Singapore.
One thing led to another. And, on 17th May 2019, I found myself on stage at Esplanade- one of Singapore’s most respectable concert halls!
Additionally, The Vent Machine also handled digital marketing and social media campaigning along with graphic designing for the show.
Guftagoo with Gulzar: My first live stage gig in Singapore
Draped in a white silk saree and make up all done, I am going through my script for last-minute revisions. Someone knocks on my door and I am informed that it is time for my mic test. I head towards the stage still trying to soak in the grandeur of the evening.
This is my first Live Stage show in Singapore. Since moving here, I am actively writing and practising Journalism. If there is one thing missing- it is the dais. I miss being in front of the camera but I miss being behind a dais more.
I finally manage to get my first gig in Singapore and it is with Gulzar Saab at he country’s best possible venue. Phew!
With a million thoughts in my head, I walk on stage and get a hold of the mic. As I am about to start reading from my script, I see a silver figure approaching towards me smiling. I look at him, smile (almost breaking down) and touch his feet.
We exchange greetings, “Aapko Yaad Nahi Hoga Sir, lekin main aapse Pehle mili hun. Ek art festival ke dauran Dilli me, main host kar rahi thi aur aap guest of honour they.” (You might not remember Sir but we have met before, during an art festival back in Delhi.)
He smiles at me and says, “Surabhi, aap taal bhi hain.”
All this while, I am thinking in the back of my head that how in the world am I supposed to recite Gulzar Saab’s lines in front of him! He reads my nervousness and holds me by my arms. He brings me to the dais and says “Padhiye”.
As I start reading my script, I see Gulzar Saab quietly walk down the stage. He gets in the front, listens to my entire opening piece patiently and shows me two thumbs up from the distance. I smile and say, “thank you”.
The world is a small place
As I finish my mic test, I hear a familiar voice in the background. It is Salim Saab! I worked with him closely when I was covering the theatre festival at the National School of Drama in New Delhi a few years ago. He is a well-known and respected name in the theatre world. A humble man, with panache in direction and filmmaking, Salim Saab is a gem of a person. He recognises me at once and we get to talking.
I am in my makeup room, drinking water and going through my script (for the hundredth time!) when someone calls me over to meet Gulzar Saab. I walk to his cabin and say Hello.
“It was an Urdu poetry festival, you gave me a 20-minute long introduction and then we sat next to each other on the stage for two hours. It was a bright sunny day and I started the show with one of my poems about books. You told me it was the demand of the public.”
I start crying and smiling at the same time. At that moment, I feel so validated and valued at the same time. The evening is already a success for me.
Housefull and happy moments
In thirty minutes, we begin the show. The auditorium is housefull. There are thousands of people filling up almost every row and each seat. I feel butterflies but I know this is it. The spotlight is on me and so is every single eye.
As I take a deep breath and begin the show, I see my husband sitting in the front aisle smiling and beaming with pride. I also see my friend Himani smiling at me from the audience seat. I feel confident and the evening goes away really well.
After the show is over, my friends Sharma Ji and Himani, and my husband are waiting outside for me. We walk from the Esplanade towards the Merlion Park talking, discussing the evening. My husband casually says, “It must have felt so great listen Gulzar Saab talk about you on stage.”
“What? When did this happen?” I ask. I was backstage administering some stuff when apparently Gulzar Saab had said,” Ye jo ladki hai na Surabhi, ye taal bhi hai.”
We celebrate with dinner and drinks and head back home. My heart is full and my head is spinning. It has been an incredible evening, probably one of the best evenings of my life. But this is not the end. Tomorrow I get to meet Gulzar Saab and Salim Saab once again in the afternoon.
The next day, I get to sit and chat with them. I gift a copy of my Grandfather’s latest book titled ‘Asli Nakli Chehre’, which Gulzar Saab graciously accepts.
I request Gulzar Saab to sign my diary. He writes-
This experience was more than just a hosting gig. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions and realisations. Gulzar Saab has been one of the biggest inspirations in my life. The fact that his work has been relevant and extremely popular for years across generations is in itself awe-inspiring.
I consider myself extremely lucky for having the opportunity to meet this living legend not once but twice. I am thankful to Vmall Entertainment for showing faith in me and giving me the dais for this show.
What made my entire experience even more worth it, the icing on the cake, was the fact that I had my loved ones in the audience on a Friday night, cheering all the way for me.