I can’t quite recall how I first met Amar Singh, but I clearly remember the first long phone conversation I had with him.
I was driving when he called. I saw his name flash and felt a pang of surprise. I didn’t expect him to call ever. I pulled to the side of the road and answered his call.
What ensued was a 45-minute long conversation: his tales were scandalous and aware of the times he had been ‘stung’ and his phone tapped, I was amazed at his irrepressibility. He spoke mostly about films and filmy gossip.
He openly accepted things that were a matter of conjecture and laughed about it.
A writer, I am hungry for a story and Amar Singh never disappointed: he came with no filter, speaking openly of frenemies (weren’t they all?) and dropping nuggets like the time when a major movie star carried his suitcase. He enjoyed the experience because of the look on other people’s faces.
It was in that moment when he felt like he had arrived. A young man from Calcutta, Singh travelled a great distance, from standing in line to buy tickets for the latest Amitabh Bachchan movie to counting the superstar as a friend and family.
There was a time when he would swan into snooty gatherings, like a big book launch and make his way to the front of the crowd and Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter, then living in Delhi, would greet him like a long lost uncle. It was all family... till it wasn’t.
I didn’t know him in those heady days, I met him in the last decade of his life. Whilst it wasn’t a long standing friendship, there was a moment when we were in touch.
I recall once he invited me to a movie at his home theatre in his farmhouse in Delhi. It was the film, ‘I Hate Love Stories’, a bit risqué and he noted the hesitation in my voice and laughed, “Don’t worry, I am inviting a whole group of friends!”
And he did: there were about twenty of us at the screening, the film was unmemorable but the conversations before and after the show were far more interesting.
His young daughters strolled in and out, and his wife played hostess: it was a side to Amar Singh I am glad I witnessed. It made me soften my impression of him. Not that he cared much for people’s opinions.
However, he had been hurt, often diving into the past, taking names one had only ever read about and disclosing betrayals. The hurt was palpable, always a story away.
In the last decade of his life, the consummate insider once had returned to where he had started, on the outside. And he didn’t really like it.
His health steadily declined but there was never any complaint from him, he watched what he ate, even as he played host to lavish meals.
The evergreen networker, he was quite straight forward when he asked, “Who all do you know?” I think I may have disappointed him with my limited networking, but the films – those he could talk about for hours.
I used to tell him to write his autobiography and he would sometimes agree that the time had come and there was a lot he would reveal. Once we discussed me working on it with him, and said that the contract would have to be iron clad, since these things couldn’t get out.
Later he told me he wanted to work with a foreigner, since he felt an Indian would judge the people he spoke of. He was right, most of these people were household names.
Eventually, he never got down to it, maybe it was the reminiscence of once being an insider that prevented him, for he did love to tell a good story.
The last time I met him was a year-and-a-half ago: we had both been invited as speakers to a youth conclave. He seemed a bit absent that time.
I mentioned to him something that we had discussed and he blanked out: I had to ask him again if he remembered me at all.
It wasn’t the first time: a few months prior to that he had invited me to a wedding in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family in New Delhi. This was when he had fallen out with Akhilesh Yadav, but was still friends with the father.
On that occasion as well, he seemed in a different place. Maybe he was struck by being the centre of attention again, for the few hours he sat next to Mulayam Singh, who had people abandoning the wedding festivities and swarming around him.
Power, I could tell was intoxicating, and if you got close enough it could give anyone a contact high.
Amar Singh is gone. In his mind there was a second act that was round the corner, and its time was anytime now. He never got to play that role, never had the opportunity to crescendo in the climax.
He died in a hospital in Singapore, far away from the city that had defined him. But before he left, he made a video, and in it he said with filmy relish to those who spread rumours about his demise: ‘Tiger abhi zinda hai’.