Jeetendra: ‘Our Punjabi Family Had An Improvised Gudi Installed’

Jeetendra: ‘Our Punjabi Family Had An Improvised Gudi Installed’

Veteran actor Jeetendra remembers his childhood in South Mumbai’s Girgaon

Yogesh PawarUpdated: Sunday, April 07, 2024, 12:36 AM IST
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On the occasion of Gudi Padwa, octogenarian actor Jeetendra, who turns 82 today, takes a walk down memory lane. He speaks evocatively of heralding the New Year in Girgaon where he was raised, his foray into cinema and the lasting impact of Maharashtrian values on his life. 

Excerpts from the interview:

Gudi Padwa is around the corner…

Though it starts getting really hot after Holi, I’d wait for Gudi Padwa since early childhood…

Why?

Festivities and the food… This was when we’d generally have our first mangoes of the season. There was a lot of other good food too…

And you liked it?

Given our meagre means it was special. It still seems heavenly compared to the lavish food these days. I’d get invited by neighbours in our Girgaon chawl to eat. There was only one tiny problem…

Problem…?

Yes… Right in the beginning. There was a neem chutney served and none of us kids liked it. But the elders said the tasty yellow potato bhaji with puris, the varan bhaat with toop, the koshimbir and aamras/ mango shrikhand could not then be eaten. When given that choice we just agreed and swallowed the chutney… It was all very working class. No taam-jhaam like now. Even radios were rare and people went to small chai kiosks to hear them. It was a different time…

Were there any Gudi Padwa Shobha Yatras in Girgaon then?

Everything was marked by simplicity and piety. Even our Punjabi family would have an improvised Gudi installed. There was lezim and baalya dance occasionally, but there was no loudness to the celebrations which were largely family affairs. You know when you lived with neighbours on the same floor and shared common areas they became your family too.

There weren’t fights?

Plenty! Mostly over water. But these escalated as quickly as they dissipated. You knew, if you ran out of sugar/jeera the next day you’d stillo to each other. The drunken brawls at Holi were particularly entertaining for us kids. Since there was no TV we improvised by imitating them. I remember once a kaka caught us and began berating us. We just scampered off…

How did a Punjabi family like yours land up in a largely Maharashtrian milieu?

I was born in Amritsar where the extended family were merchants but there was some fall out and my father Amarnathji brought us all to Bombay to start afresh. He was selling imitation jewellery and business boomed.

And your life changed…

Yes. I was at Girgaon’s St. Sebastian’s School and helped in the business supplying imitation jewellery to the film industry. Annasaheb (filmmaking legend V Shantaram) was his client. I’d courier the goods. The glitz and glamour of films was very attractive for a young boy my age. I hung around willing to do bit tasks or run errands so that I could avoid being home and studying which I hated...

Were you paid?

It never struck me. When asked to be a junior artiste in a crowd scene too, it felt so heady that money was the last thing on my mind. The fact that there would be food was itself great! Later, there was a princely Rs 5 a day.

Were festivals like Gudi Padwa celebrated on the set?

The food would be in keeping with the festival. It had a distinct Kolhapur flavour since so many people in the company were from that region. My taste for modak, puran poli, shrikhand, basundi and narali bhaat have all come from there.

Do you still visit Girgaon’s Shyam Sadan Chawl?

Yes. For 22 years I went from adolescence to being an adult there. Every year, I unfailingly visit our chawl’s Ganpati pandal on the first day. It is a great reminder of my roots.

What impact have Maharashtrians had on you?

Maharashtrians are mostly tenacious, hardworking, fearless and so humble despite coming from a land of rich music, cinema, literature and culture. I imbibed those values which have stood me in good stead.

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