It was the beginning of awards being given in every city, suburb, lane and even gully. Any star, established or new who promised to come to an entertainment function and especial if they participated was made sure that he or she would be presented with an award…
There was an awards function held in New Delhi every year under the auspices of the Punjabi Kala Sangam whose founder was an ex-journalist called Narendra Handa,who took up this ‘profession’ of presenting awards to stars and other members of the film fraternity in Mumbai. The entire function was entirely sponsored by a well-known company called ‘Pan Parag’ . The show was entirely organised by my friend and the well-known secretary and producer Rakesh Nath (better known as Rikku) who made it a point to see that every guest from Mumbai was put up in a five-star hotel.(the Holiday Inn most of the time). He made sure that some of the biggest stars and the best newcomers and lyricists and music composers were present a day before the function….
I was also an invitee in more than one occasion and was presented with the award for the best journalist of the year, Rikku had made sure of it. Among the stars who attended only to keep Rikku happy were Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Anupam Kher, Amrish Puri and at least in one occasion there was Sridevi to add to the glamour. The organisers made site that there was a Minister of State as the chief guest…..
On one particular day when the awards were to be presented at the Siri Fort Auditorium, Rikku suddenly got a call saying that Divya Bharti who was supposed to get the best newcomer award could not make it to Delhi. Rikku who never knew what panic meant immediately found out who her replacement could be. The answer he found was Shilpa Shetty who had made her debut in“Baazigar”. He made all the right calls to the right people at the right time (he was known for it and moreover there were no mobiles those days). It was as if by magic that Shilpa and her mother, Mrs Sunanda Shetty arrived in Delhi by the afternoon flight. She was immediately provided with a suite and asked to be ready by 4:30 pm.
I remember the entertainment part of the awards function which was conducted by a local man called Prem Kumar. All the items were regular imitations of the well-known singers from Mumbai, but there was one ten year old girl who took the entire packed stadium by a melodious storm. Her name was Sunidhi Chauhan. I met her parents during the interval and asked them who they were wasting their talent and asked them to bring her to Mumbai as soon as possible. I forgot all about her because there were too many other things about that function to remember.
I had never seen such an unruly and wild crowd at any other function before this. The people stormed the stage on which the show was being held and hell was let loose when Madhuri Dixit arrived and till she received her award. Madhuri however had the best protection and she did not needed any kind of security. Rikku was her constant security and when the crowd went crazy about Madhuri, he literally banged the heads of many with the heavy trophy Madhuri was presented with and finally got her into the car she had to take back to the Holiday Inn. The crowd even didn’t show any respect for the senior minister, Mr Salman Khurshid who presented me with my award even as I had to dodge my way through the wild crowd standing all around the stage and creating the kind of ruckus that could bring down the government of Mrs Indira Gandhi!
When I came out alone, there was no one to take charge or care of me and I was left all alone and to my fate. In the distance, I could see Shilpa and her mother screaming their lungs out in panic till a Maruti Van passed them and suddenly stopped. Two men pushed the mother and daughter into the van and told the driver ‘bhagaao bhagaao’.
I saw the van as my last hope and waived out with both my hands till the van stopped and I was literally thrown into it. The mother and daughter had already started screaming and we didn’t have the need to get introduced to one another.
Within minutes, we were out of Siri Fort Auditorium and on the highway or some way to no way, when we saw four wild looking young men following our van on bikes which looked like the devil’s dragons. They kept chasing her and Shilpa kept howling even as her brave mother tried to calm her down. But the more they cried, the more dangerous the bike devils grew. They screamed, they abused and they kept banging the van both with their hands and legs and even with their bikes….
They were not willing to give up. The driver looked like a wet crow and the more Mrs Shetty asked him to speed up, the more scared he grew and he was more scared for his life than all the three of us. Then one of the leaders of the gang asked me to pull down the window pane as he wanted to pass over a simple message to the mother. He said, “meimsahab se bolo ki woh bas ladki ko hamare hath saump de aur aap dono ja sakte hain”. I didn’t tell Mrs Shetty about what the gangster had said and was only interested in pacifying the two women. This dangerous case which I had never experienced and still had not continued till we entered the gates of the Holiday Inn Hotel. Rikku was the only one who seemed to show concern as he was standing alone at the gate even though it had passed midnight.
The two women cried all the more once they knew they were safe and the four men on their dangerous bikes vanished, but not before firing their last volley of abuses in Hindi….
It was may be just one of those many incidents in the life of a big star like Shilpa Shetty Kundra, but for me it will always be black as black can be night.

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