Vintage trips that leave you high, dry

I am in Hong Kong, supping on oysters on ice… After three days of oysters for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I nearly give birth to a pearl.

Once, overseas trips — I’m not about to say “in my time” — were an exception. Today, they’re the rule. And so, print and electronic media are frequent fliers to spots ranging from Mauritius and Australia to London, New York, Hollywood and… who knows about tomorrow… Haiti and the Hebrides.

A rickshaw ride to Mehboob studio, for interview sessions, is out. A Benz-drive to the Eiffel Tower is in. Wonderful, we the chroniclers of glowtown, have been majorly upgraded. For a glimpse of our international beat, I rewind, right here, to two vintage funoranjan trips.

Viva Las Vegas: I landed in New York, after a killer flight, the connecting jet is a hundred terminals away. I run like Paras Singh Tomar, pantingly I show my ticket to a blonde, she hisses, “No seats, you’re on a discount ticket, wait if you want to… or go back home.” I wait for 10 hours, 11 hours, 12 hours, at long last the blonde’s heart melts like candle, I get on an object resembling a flying Maruti 800 and reach LV.
It was worth it — the limitless lights are dazzling, the casinos are royale and I am lodged in the MGM Grand. Sleep boy, sleep.
No zzzz. Production chief says I have to be ready in five minutes, maybe 10. I keep my James Dean stubble on, I am at a theme park where Shah Rukh Khan is hanging from a wire in mid-air. He waves. I g.g.gasp, he could fall any minute. The shot’s okayed after an eternity (in the final product, it’s a one-second blur), I am feeling faint, SRK isn’t.
He tells me he’s returning to Mumbai in a few hours. “What!” I cry. “Then who do I interview here?” Two canyon-deep dimples flash, SRK exits. He’s upset with Subhash Ghai for some serious reasons but isn’t telling,
The director enters. I love Subhashji. I want to see what makes him click. At the Grand’s carpeted lobby, he readies chorus dancers to pirouette, but hello, dance director Ahmed Khan is missing. “Ahmed sir is sleeping,” goes the rumour. Ghai choreographs the dancers himself. Mahima Chaudhary twirls and twirls. American tourists watch, mouth agape and ask, “Bollywood, huh?” I shrug, “Maybe.”
Hot afternoon. Ji and I are searching for highway spots where we (WE?) can shoot. I suggest a cool valley stretch, Ghai says, “Superb idea. This is it, you’re a genius.” Am I? Anyway, I feel I have contributed to cinema history. But after a week of such improvised, on-the-moment shoots, I visibly age. I haven’t slept, I haven’t even seen the slot machines. I want to get back home to my mamma. Trouble: the ticket isn’t valid unless it’s approved by an airline manager or something. I get a fresh one on credit card. Like SRK, I exit like a blur. At home, I report on the experience. Subhash Ghai hasn’t talked to me ever since.

High on Hong Kong: Star TV wanted to be in the news, which it was, but it wanted to be more in the news.
So with a posse of Asian journalists, I am in Hong Kong, supping on oysters on ice. This is paradise but when do we get to work please? “Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy,” we’re told.
“Shop, see the sights,” and wink, wink, “Do what you like.” Is he talking peep shows or pursuits more daring? After three days of oysters for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I nearly give birth to a pearl.
That Star TV liaison officer finally shows up with a van into which we are herded like premium cattle. We reach a hilly mound dominated by the splendidly architected Star TV centre. We’re shown huge dish antennae, each one with special features.
The other journos nod away knowledgeably. I don’t understand a word. Why are we here to see dishes? Stupid question. “Enjoy!” Mr Liaison picks his favourite word again from the dictionary. Enjoy, I guess I did.

The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director

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