For MM Somaya, the last few days have been a sweet kind of busy.
India’s former hockey captain and Olympic gold medallist landed in Hangzhou on Sunday as a deputy chef de mission for the Indian Asian Games contingent. A couple of days prior, on September 15 to be precise, Somaya had tea with Amitabh Bachchan at ‘Janak’, the Juhu bungalow where the actor has his office.
Also at the meeting were Abhinav Bindra, winner of India’s first individual Olympic gold, and badminton Olympian Aparna Popat.
The purpose of the gathering was the poster launch of ‘Olympics In Reel Life’, a film and photography festival on the Olympics. It has been curated by Film Heritage Foundation, headed by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, and the Olympic Museum in Switzerland.
The festival will be held at the NCPA in Mumbai from October 1-8, and at IIC in Delhi from October 7-14. It is being seen as a prelude to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Session in Mumbai from October 15-17.
The poster launch started with a shoot. Afterwards, Bachchan invited his guests to an upstairs lounge for tea and snacks. They spoke about Bachchan’s school years at Nainital’s Sherwood, where the physical education teachers were hard taskmasters, and where he played everything from cricket to tennis and boxing. India’s improved performances in sports in recent years were also discussed.
Bachchan had attended the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as a spectator. He had met Somaya and the Indian hockey team then.
“He is sharp of mind and remembered meeting the hockey team in Los Angeles, and he recollected cheering for PT Usha in the stadium when she came so close to winning the 400m hurdles bronze,” Somaya told ‘Outlook’ from Hangzhou.
Somaya was a Byculla boy during Bachchan’s 70s heyday. He watched many of his hits at Minerva and Apsara theatres.
“I was a fan of his,” Somaya said. “Movies like ‘Deewar’, ‘Don’, ‘Silsila’, I saw most of them at Minerva and Apsara.”
About the meeting and the film festival, Somaya said, “We were generally speaking about sports and how much it means for the country and how well we are doing. Mr Bachchan, and all of us associated with the festival, feel strongly about the importance of archival material, be it sports or anything else.”
In Hangzhou, Somaya has hit the ground working. He is meeting teams and coaches and checking if they need anything. The Asian Games officially begin on September 23, but a few competitions, including women’s cricket, start from September 19. Besides, not all squads are staying at the athletes’ village. Some have picked accommodation closer to their venues. That adds to the logistical complications of those managing contingents.
“I have met the volleyball and rowing teams, and later today I will meet the women’s cricket team,” Somaya said.
Somaya rarely needs an introduction in India’s Olympic sport circle. But should one be needed, he might just say, “Rishtey me to hum tumhare deputy chef de mission hote hai….”