But my father said, 'Hiroo, give him this one year, na. Kuch nahin hone wala hai. He's not cut out for this industry. He won't be able to handle the sets.' Since it was Adi, Yash uncle's and Pam aunty's son, my mother finally said yes. This was how I began my journey in Bollywood, as an assistant director to Adi. I'd catch a cab, go to Adi's place, into the world of Yash Chopra's house. All they did and spoke about was movies. I was totally mesmerized by the duniya of Hindi films. And their level of passion. Yash uncle was passionate about food and movies. Pam aunty was also entrenched in that zone. For Adi and Uday, it was all about friends. Hindi movies, Hindi movies and more Hindi movies. I was totally sucked into that world. Soon I started losing touch with my college friends.
I got into my job as an assistant: schedules, planning, prepping.
Then came my meeting with Shah Rukh Khan. After that meeting in Anand's office, I had met Shah Rukh once more. This time with my father at the shooting of Karan Arjun. Adi took me to him, and he said, 'Oh, you're Yashji's son, I remember meeting you.'
At that time, he was deciding whether he should do Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or not. Of course, he agreed. I had one or two meetings with him and then the big day came, my first day of shooting on the set. All the prep work hadn't prepared me for what it was going to be like. This was Filmistan Studios, and we were shooting with Kajol for the song 'Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye'. I was very close to Kajol, and she was very comfortable with me. But I was new to being on a set. Now on a set if you don't have a job to do or you don't know exactly what you're supposed to do, you feel like you're in everyone's way. It's like being on a station where everyone's running around, and you have to know where you're going. If you don't, you could be tripped on, you could be bumped into or you could feel completely disoriented.
I had done all the creative work with Adi but the on-set modalities were new to me. I was given the clap and I didn't know where to stand. So I was screamed at by the cinematographer for being in the way. Then I was given the responsibility to write the continuity but I didn't know which column to write what in because I didn't know what a camera was, I didn't know what a lens was, and I didn't know how to describe the shot. Uday was a big help because he had been an AD (assistant director) before on a film called Aaina. So he knew what to do. But I was lost. At three in the afternoon, I thought, this is not my world, I cannot do this. My father was right. My mother was right.
That evening when I was sitting with Uday, and we were drinking, Uday said, 'Why are you looking so lost?' And I said, 'Because I'm not meant to do this. I'm going to tell Adi that this is a big mistake. I quit going to Paris, we let go of so much money, but this is not where I'm meant to be. I don't think I can do this'.
He said, 'It's just your first for day.' I said, 'No, it's not me.' I had made up my mind. But because the next day was a really early-morning call, I told Uday, 'You know, Adi is tired right now. But first thing in the morning, I'll tell him. I can't do this. It's a mistake.' He said, 'Are you sure?'
In the morning I went to Adi and said I wanted to speak to him about something. He was rather stressed about the scene he was going to shoot. Plus, he'd just been told that that particular day Shah Rukh was coming to give one shot; his date had come through. He had to give that waving shot when Kajol imagines him outside her door when she comes home after her Switzerland trip. He was coming for just that shot. Adi was really stressed about how he should compose the shot. I tried to talk to him again but he said, 'Why are you stressing me out, speak to me at the end of the day.'
So at lunchtime I told Uday, 'I can't tell him right now.' Uday said, 'Forget it, just go through the day. You've survived day one. Go through day two as well. Don't tell him.' But I was ready to just get up and leave. So I said, 'Shall I just go?' He said, 'You can't just leave. He's your friend. He will be so upset.' At lunchtime Adi called me. He said, 'Listen, Karan, Shah Rukh's not happy with the guy doing the clothes. Can you go to the costume peti and get something unused? Get a sweater from Chandni's costumes for Shah Rukh for this shot.'
I was most excited. Chandni and Rishi Kapoor! I was a big fan of both. After lunch, I went to the peti. I found this red-and-white sweater which I loved. I didn't like any of the other sweaters. But this one had a big hole. So now what to do? In the same peti, there was a blazer with an emblem on it. I made the costume dada remove that emblem and put it on that sweater, which I thought would look nice. And it did. The sweater actually looked kind of cool with the emblem. I was so excited. It was like I had created a garment. Then I hoped Shah Rukh would be okay with it.
Soon Shah Rukh walked in, being his easy, breezy, accommodating self. He said, 'What a cool sweater! Why don't you only do my clothes, yaar?' He told Adi, 'Itna achcha sweater badal diya hai.' I had also got two or three jeans which I had gone to the market and bought.
I told Shah Rukh, 'You wear very baggy jeans. You should wear tighter Levi's, they'll give you a better fit. [He used to wear Wrangler jeans.] Trust me, you'll look nice.' He wore them, looked in the mirror and kind of liked what he saw. He said, 'Why don't you do my clothes?' So Adi said, 'Will you do that?' And I said, 'Yeah, I'll be happy to.'
And then I suddenly felt I had a mission. I thought, my god! Maybe this is my calling. I should become a costume designer. This is it! I was so excited about doing Shah Rukh's clothes. And then Adi said, 'Why just him? Why don't you take charge of the entire costume department of the film?' 'My god!' I exclaimed to Uday. 'This is it. Now I know what I'm doing in this film. I'm doing the costumes.' He said, 'From an assistant director, you're going to become a costume designer? 'And I said, 'I'll learn, na.' From then onwards I had a mission. But I was so attached to the film that I had one hand in the creative arena and one hand in costumes. Pam aunty and I would work on the women's clothes together. I would go and buy bangles from the Goregaon market and match them with bindis. Nobody did such things those days. The make-up artist used to get the bangles and the people who did the hair would get the other stuff. No one person sat and matched bangles with costumes. And the second half of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was full of Indian costumes.
The production woul give me a certain amount, but I would spend my own money and get better things. I'd also pick up things for the supporting cast-Faridaji, Himani Shivpuri . . . Kajol's clothes were being done by Manish Malhotra who was a friend. But I was doing the clothes for the other people in the film.
Then came the time when we were doing the climax in the month of April. There was a speech that Shah Rukh had to deliver to the father, 'Babuji, aap theek kehte hain.' That speech. Adi asked, 'What do you think the take of this speech should be?' I said it should be like the Julius Caesar speech, you know, Caesar's an honourable man, etc. It should be sarcastic, it should be like, 'Yes, I'm a liar, so what if this liar loves your daughter like no one else. So what if I'm a deewana. So what if this deewana, paagal, liar, loves your daughter. I'm still a liar, still a liar.' Adi liked the idea.
He said, 'Why don't you write it?'
So I sat down and wrote it and Adi took it from me and modified it. He kept 80 per cent of what I wrote and put in his own 20 per cent. And gave it to Shah Rukh. Now Shah Rukh always knew me as this aesthetically sound but very South Bombay person. He was very fond of me. I was very different from the other ADs. I spoke his language, I got his jokes. He used to find me really funny. I used to say these strange, funny things. I was a good narrator of stories.
When he came on set, he said, 'Adi, what a good scene, yaar!'
And Adi, in front of everyone, said, 'He wrote it,' pointing to me. Shah Rukh looked at me and said, 'Tune likha hai? Hindi mein likha hai?' Then he said, 'Lekin teri Hindi toh itni kharab hai, jaise tu baat karta hai.' I said, 'My written Hindi is good, not my spoken Hindi.' He said, 'You wrote this scene?' He asked me three times. He said, 'I can't believe you've written this scene!' He did the scene and from then on I think something changed in the way he viewed me. He started taking me more seriously. After that, he would run every scene by me. He would act it out in front of me and I would give my opinion. Then he'd go and act it out for Adi. I developed a solid bond with him.
The moment he accepted me as a possible resource was the moment when Adi told him that I had written that scene. And I have to say that very few film-makers would give this kind of credit to an assistant in front of everyone. But Adi was so confident in his own skin and had such large-heartedness about him that he did. And that one incident changed the way Shah Rukh looked at me.
I enjoyed the company of the people I was working with. I loved Shah Rukh and Kajol. I loved Adi. I loved Uday. I liked the people on the set. I loved Yash uncle who was always there on the set. He reminded me of my father. It was strange but Yash uncle and I from the very first day struck this wonderful rapport which lasted till the very end. He was really like a father to me. I was very close to him. In fact, it took a very long time for me to deal with the fact that he's gone.
Excerpted with permissions from Penguin Random House India under Shobhaa De Books