I had a 9:05 am Mumbai-Delhi flight on 10th Aug 2015 with Abhishek Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Supriya Pathak, Umesh Shukla and others from the movie All is Well which was slated for release on 21st August (2015).
I reached the airport in time and was pleasantly happy to have someone hold my bag and accompany me through check-in and get me seated in the VIP lounge. It is such a pain, I tell you, to remove your laptop from your bag and put it separately in a plastic tray for the x-ray machine. I wonder why one needs to do that, can’t they scan the laptop while it is placed inside the bag?
At the lounge I greeted Indu Mirani, Senior Journalist of The Times of India, who recently quit TOI to join Fly with VIP as the Manager – Celebrity Acquisitions. If you were wondering what she was doing here, she was actually doubling up as a Fly with VIP inflight manager for this flight. She was to be seated with Rishi Kapoor, someone whom she has known for 30 years. Well, everyone knows Rishi Kapoor for 30 years, but when I say she knows him, I mean she knows him personally…as in has visited his house at least a dozen times, and has shared tea and meals with him.
After a few minutes, walked in this towering personality of 6 feet, who though looked a good one feet taller, dressed in black, wearing dark glasses and throwing the entire airport into a tizzy. Abhishek Bachchan walked up to me, greeted me by my name (Gosh, how does he remember the names so well?) and gave me a strong handshake before giving a warm hug to Indu.
Indu remarked that she was at the airport since 5 am. This was owing to the fact that a week before, during a video shoot inviting Fly with VIP users to fly with him, Abhishek pulled a prank on Indu by telling her that he would be flying at 5.30 am.
“Don’t worry, you can keep popping coffee beans to keep yourself awake”, Abhishek jokingly told Indu.
“Okay, so you bring the coffee beans and pick me up from my home”, Indu, smartly quipped.
There were no coffee beans and no flight taking off until 9 am, only peals of laughter all around when everyone realized how poor Indu was fooled by the infamous prankster.
“So where’s the winner”, Abhishek asked, looking at me.
I announced. I am the winner. I have been your fan for so long, there is no way I am going to let anyone sit on that seat beside you. However, on the journey back home, I might give my seat to someone else, but with a heavy heart.
During the ten minutes that it took for the rest of the passengers to finish boarding (we were the last ones to board), I observed that Abhishek was constantly on his feet. Some energy the man has!
After taking our seats and the customary announcements having taken place, Rishi Kapoor summoned the air-stewardess and asked her why did the announcement say, “If you have children flying with you, in case of an emergency please fasten your seat belt before fastening the seat belt of your child”.
The reference was made only to a male child, Rishiji was annoyed that the female child was ignored. “This is discrimination and I am going to tweet about this,” he said putting on a great act of sounding genuinely upset .
The poor air hostess was flustered. Then it was AB Junior’s time to take over.
He said, “Tell your air hostess to retaliate to this passenger who is taking offense on an issue which no one else even heard much less objected to by announcing, – Ladies and Gentlemen, on our flight we are proud to announce the presence of Chintuji who is happy to pose for selfies with everyone, please make your way in an orderly fashion to seat No. 2F”.
Ha, ha! Abhishek was enjoying pulling the airhostess’s leg, while the poor lady didn’t know what to say or what to do.
“The captain just remarked that everyone for their safety should be seated and the seat belt sign is switched on, so why is it that you will not remain seated, but continue serving?”
“Why is that you must continue serving us, is chivalry dead?”
“Does anyone ask you for coffee? Let me serve you some coffee, would you like some?”!!!!
In the flight, I started by thanking Abhishek because Fly with VIP started business with a maiden flight during his home production Shamitabh where we auctioned and raffled seats with his father Amitabh Bachchan.
In fact, that flight almost never happened because CA Media threatened us with legal action, since they professed to own exclusive meet and greet rights of Mr. Bachchan.
I tried to convince them that we were doing it for charity. But, they absolutely refused to listen and said they would send us a notice and shut us down. However, finally, their lawyer saw some sense when he realized that this Fly with VIP meeting with Amitabh Bachchan was during a movie promotion (and meet and greets during movie promotions was excluded in their contract), hence they did not have a case.
I asked Abhishek – How would you feel if your co-passenger was a rickshawallah or a paanwallah?
He replied very honestly that it didn’t matter to him.
I showed him the creatives for the Fly with VIP print advertisement campaign with Saif Ali Khan, Salim and Suleman, Sonu Nigam, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla and said we wanted to promote, in the similar fashion, the opportunity to fly with the team of All Stars Football Club (ASFC – a football team created with players from the bollywood film fraternity, with Abhishek Bachchan as Captain and Ranbir Kapoor as Vice Captain) for which we needed to do a photo shoot with the team for 30 minutes. The team members could be dressed in their football outfits. We would aggressively put it across The Times of India as we had a 30 Cr. barter agreement with them. He was fine with that and in fact said that he would personally call all the team members and request them to come for the shoot. He asked me to be in touch with Bunty, his manager, for coordinating the photo shoot.
He also added, “I am quite hands on with anything to do about the football or Kabaddi team.”
I asked his opinion on whether 8 to 10 advertisements featuring Sunny Leone would give a negative perception of our company. He felt that was untrue. Sunny was doing an honest job to make a living. No one should have a problem with that. When I asked him what if I did the same thing with Poonam Pandey.
Abhishek had a confused look on his face. He hadn’t heard of her. When I explained to him who Poonam Pandey was and the means she took to shoot to fame, Abhishek very politely told me to refrain engaging Poonam Pandey’s services.
I told him that I wished his Kabaddi team was part of Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd.(ABCL), so that public shareholders could also be part of the excitement. In India, there was no sports team which was listed. When they announced that India Cements would de-merge their Chennai Super Kings into a new company, I bought the India Cements stock, but when the team was disqualified, I quickly exited the counter.
Abhishek didn’t agree to my suggestion of merging his Kabaddi team with ABCL, because he wanted to be in total control of his teams. I also told him that way back when Kotak Mahindra Ltd. was carrying out a private placement of ABCL shares at Rs. 85, I had bought up stock worth 25 lacs and immediately managed to sell it to someone else at Rs. 125-140 cause that was the prevailing black market premium on the stock.
Abhishek was amazed. Wouldn’t you have been in school then?
I nodded. But, I have been tracking stocks since I was 9 years old.
Abhishek – Do you stay in South Mumbai?
I nodded. I went to Greenlawns High School at Breach Candy, where I distinctly remember the then fat Karan Johar winning all the elocutions.
Abhishek – Karan is still fat. I managed to keep a straight face, but it was difficult.
I told him that I had attended the Magic Bus fundraiser where Abhishek was the host and compere.
I had bid at the Magic Bus fundraiser, Rs. 12 lacs to buy 2 tickets to the Oscars, but somebody else upped my bid and took it away from me.
Abhishek – Indians by and large are not as generous as westerners for donating vast sums of money and those who are don’t want to be publicly seen to be doing so and, hence these fundraisers held by Magic Bus raise far less than similar fund raisers held abroad.
He added – Aishwarya and I are associated with Amfar. Last year at its charity auction held in Cannes, which Aishwarya attended, they received a USD 22 million bid for a sculpture.
Shahrukh always has these charity dinners while he is traveling in the US. They charge USD 1000 for each diner and around 100 diners usually subscribe to it, so a whopping USD 100,000 is raised in the duration of a night.
Abhishek asked me what I felt about the announcement of Sundar Pichai taking over as the CEO of Google. I said it was great and it should have probably been done much before, so that the founders could free themselves up from the daily grind and focus on new initiatives to change the planet. He said when they visited the Google campus during Happy New Year’s promotional tour in the US, they had a feeling right then that Sundar was going to be appointed CEO soon.
I – Why don’t producers have a panel of say 50 fans who can watch the first cuts of the movie and give their opinion, so that changes could be made before the movie hits the screen. Remember, Balki himself confessed that if given a chance he would change Shamitabh’s ending into one where the character didn’t die.
Abhishek – In India, we are in such a mad rush to get the movie released that these things are just ignored. In Hollywood, after the last scene has been canned, the movie would probably release 12-18 months later.
On the return journey, I informed him that poor Asin had to cancel her plans to fly in a private charter flight Delhi-Mumbai because a T Series executive (T Series is the producer of the movie All is Well) told her that if she did not permit a Fly with VIP winner to sit beside her during the flight, someone from T Series would be arrested for dishonouring the contract.
Poor Asin, had to cancel her charter flight at much financial loss and alter her travel plans and fly commercial to permit a Fly With VIP winner and inflight manager to be seated beside her. During the flight, she asked the Fly with VIP inflight manager what would have happened if she had been unable to fly with the Fly With VIP winner sitting beside her.
The Fly With VIP manager reassured her that nobody would have gone to jail. A small startup like Fly With VIP would never sue a large producer like T Series and changes in travel plans which often happens in the busy lives of celebrities.
Abhishek loves watches and noticing my bare arm, he remarked, “Evidently you don’t.”
He went to great lengths to explain how Omega made watches for pilots or sailors, though apparently the market for them would by puny, but then it was not just pilots or sailors that buy the watches with those special features. Everyone else did too.
Though he had been the brand ambassador for Omega for a long time, Omega refused to be a sponsor for his Kabaddi team because they felt they couldn’t add any value, even though Abhishek had offered them to be the sponsor for free for the first year.
In the end just before disembarking, the air hostesses came to Chintuji and asked if they could have a picture with him.
“How much will you pay me,” he asked. The poor girl was taken aback and didn’t know what to answer.
“We want it as a blessing from you,” was all she could manage.
“For blessings, please go to Abhishek and other senior members”. But, Rishi Kapoor was soon his normal self and went on to give some fabulous selfie poses to everyone who requested.
It was a pleasant journey, made better with some great company! A memorable flight that i wouldn’t ever forget.