Journalist Flynn Remedios recounts his memories of covering the Micheal Jackson tour in India in 1996..
“The year was 1996 and I was then with Island magazine from the Magna Group. Raj Thackeray and his newly formed Shiv Udyog Sena in association with Wizcraft had announced the HISTory Micheal Jackson Tour in India (for charitable purpose of course – the proceeds of the tour was to be used to generate job opportunities for the SUS) and we were all naturally very excited. We were waiting for the big day. Jackson was supposed to come to Mumbai a couple of days before. He was to stay in a suite at The Oberoi and as field reporters we had been assigned to find out how The Oberoi was preparing to make the King of Pop feel at home.”
As a reporter who religiously covered and reported on the controversies surrounding the Micheal Jackson tour in India in 1996, Flynn Remedios recalls how Shiv Sena Supremo Balasaheb Thackeray – then the roaring tiger in Maharashtra whose one word could bring the entire state to a standstill – had blushed like a child before the media when he admitted that Micheal Jackson used his personal toilet when he visited his newly done up and renovated residence Matoshree at Kala Nagar in suburban Bandra. Thackeray had just about moved into his newly furnished residence – superbly done up by Unity Constructions Ltd and got Jackson to almost inaugurate his residence.
“I clearly remember the crowd from the airport to Thackeray’s residence. Jackson who landed at the Sahar airport had stopped over for cup of tea at Thackeray’s residence. I had managed to hitch hike on a media vehicle – there were very few TV News channels then – the roads were lined with lakhs of students and fans. The energy and sentiment was ecstatic as though a god was driving down.”
“I was covering that press conference and wanted to ask Thackeray if he had a western or Indian toilet, but looking at the tough looking sainiks around, I kept my mouth shut, he says, recalling the trouble that the Jackson Concert got his friends from Wizcraft – Andre Timmins, Sabbas Joseph and Viraf; and not to forget Raj Thackerey and his SUS (Shiv Udyog Sena – for those who came in late) – with all the allegations of entertainment tax evasion.
“I also remember reading some report that the tax chaps from the Suburban District Collector’s office had raided Andre and Viraf’s residence and tried to attach their personal belongings like the refrigerator and TV set. Then the jokes that followed when Sonali Bendre was asked to ‘welcome’ MJ at the airport with an ‘aarti’.
Showtime magazine had then asked me to interview Raj Thackeray post the concert and ask him about the ‘reported alleged linkup’ with Sonali Bendre. I was trembling as I went into the tiger cub’s den at Prabhadevi near Dadar. The Ramesh Kini episode was roving around in my mind and I was praying that my corpse wouldn’t be found somewhere in some desolate place, for asking Raj all the ‘tough’ questions.
Fortunately, the interview went off well – and I lived to tell the tale. Raj had said his wife Sharmila – who was sitting by his side during the interview – had recommended Sonali Bendre as she was her friend. In spite of his tough exterior, Raj Thackeray was a very congenial, jovial person who liked to joke. Raj was of course a great fan of Micheal Jackson, he had said in the interview. This interview with Raj was followed by many smaller interviews and continued for almost two years when I joined the Sunday Observer.
Post the Jackson tour, which was a resounding success – not surprisingly because the tax guys made life miserable for Wizcraft later on – there was an auction of Jackson’s personal effects that he used at The Oberoi. I remember seeing Shobha De jump up to the podium at the auction, pump Micheal Jackson’s hand and later on tell the media ‘it was a great orgasm’. I don’t exactly remember how much the pillow that Micheal slept on at The Oberoi went for – if I am not mistaken, it was sold for Rs One Lakh. I just hope that I haven’t mixed up any facts here, says Flynn Remedios, adding that everybody right from Prabhudeva in the south to Amitabh Bachchan in Mumbai had joined the “praise Micheal Jackson’ bandwagon, each claiming some reason for hero-worshiping the hero.
Watching the news of MJ’s death on TV, I couldn’t help but recall seeing a frail, weak and tired Balasaheb Thackeray return home from Lilavati Hospital just days before the news of Jackson’s death became known.
How the hands of time move? How life comes full circle? How time takes its toll on everyone? Veterans, stalwarts, enigmas like Micheal Jackson and Balasaheb Thackeray who made the world ‘stop’ at their whims and fancy have fallen to the silent killer ‘Time’. Long Live Micheal.. You will always live in our hearts.
(Excerpts from a yet-to-be published book by Flynn Remedios tentatively titled 18 Years of Reporting. This excerpt or article is © Flynn Remedios/Futuristic Media Network)