Through its 60 years, the Dattatrey Lodge has housed many a struggler who made it, and many who didn’t, finds Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Nilesh Wairkar
“Bhatt se milwa doonga.” “Bhatt kaun?” “Arre Mahesh, mere bina hilta nahin hai. Maine hi Rahul se milwaya tha.” “Rahul kaun?” “Arre Roy. Woh kehta tha baal lambe hai. Maine bola – Yehi baal ise star banaayenge Mahesh, tu dekhna!”
This exchange, between an old gent and an off-the-boat aspiring actor is one of the first memories that comes to actor Bobby Pervez’s mind when he recalls his 10 months spent in Goregaon’s Dattatrey Lodge: “This was followed, of course, by many drinking sessions sponsored by the young chap, before he realised that perhaps there wasn’t a Mahesh Bhatt waiting to cast him at the end of it all.” Struggling actors who haven’t given up for too long, a music director for Nepali films, a Bhojpuri filmmaker, aspiring painters, photographers, job holders who’re waiting for that one opportunity to go abroad… Dattatrey Lodge is Pianoman Billy Joel’s Piano Bar.
“My grandfather founded this place in 1946, with just two rooms and a shed for cooking,” informs a rotund Sameer Eknath Talwalkar from behind an old wooden desk in the lodge’s vast reception area, at the end of a winding two-minute walk from Goregaon Station. Though brothers Sameer and Sunil handle day-to-day management of the now three-storied reddish-pink building, Dattatray Talwalkar, who the lodge is named after, continues to look to it’s affairs at a whopping 91, sitting in at the office every day.
It is rumoured that Dharmendra and Anupam Kher inhabited this space once, although the brothers dismiss it. “But other established artists have started their Bombay life from here. My grandfather was an artiste himself, you see—an expert Mridang player,” says Sunil proudly. He goes on to list: “Rajesh Tandon, actor in Balaji serials, McDonalds ads and movies like Kaho Na Pyaar Hai; Raj Kumar Sharma, director of Bhojpuri films much before they gained the popularity they have today; Murlidhar, a Nepali music director; Aboozar Rizvi, an upcoming music director who’s one film old… many have stayed for eight to nine years.” The lodge itself has had its five minutes of fame: “Some scenes from the serial Gubbarein were shot here…” Samir claims.
The blue painted reception hall, with its traditional Ganpati images and wall scrawlings like ‘don’t smoke in lobby’ and ‘check out time 8.30 am’ could belong to any local lodge. What is Dattatrey Lodge’s USP? “It’s cheap (Rs 1,300 per month) and clean, and it’s located focally (it’s next to the station) between the Lokhandwala-Adarshnagar belt of entertainment offices and film city (three kilometres away),” explains Shwapnanill Chatterjee, a Zee Telefilms associate director a resident at the lodge. “It’s the only place in Mumbai where strugglers can squeeze in.” More importantly, the lodge caters to birds of a feather. While Chatterjee talks about people from similar fields “exchanging contacts and information about opportunities”, Pervez stresses on something else. “We were all lost in some special way, that created a camaraderie,” remembers the theatre, ad-film and TV actor who now lives in a Lokhandwala flat. “A wannabe painter told me dead seriously that if all else failed, he would use his driving skill to enroll in the mafia. Another man had returned from Dubai having spent all the money he’d borrowed for a business. So he was unwilling to return to his wife and family in Bangalore!” Balm for these pilgrims of progress would be morning chai and chess games amid intense discussions on tinsel-town.
The rooms board between three to five people each. Amid one five-bed room’s whitewashed walls with crossroom clotheslines, sit three reclining figures. The oldest, Rajeev Jha, introduces himself as being “in the hotel industry”. “There’s a friendly environment here—people help each other…” Jha, here or four years, starts droning, when Chatterjee enters the room. “You should ask him about struggling, he was a theatre person!” Chatterjee gestures towards Jha. But Jha turns away: “All that is past… don’t want to talk about it.” Does the “friendly environment” help ease such frustration? “Frustration is a private emotion,” Chatterjee’s voice is ominously resolute. “One can cure it while all alone, or not be able to when amidst ten friends. Curing it isn’t an interactive endeavour.”
This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/7rtp