You are currently viewing Everybody needs a Rusty in their life.

Everybody needs a Rusty in their life.

This time Shubhi’s blog is about Rusty: My tribute to Mr.
Ruskin Bond as, on 19th May this year, he turns 90

The adventures of Rusty through the eyes of a filmmaker

I had made a few documentaries by 1989 and was so eager to make fiction that I jumped at the chance of making a “serial” for Doordarshan when they asked for proposals for children’s fiction on the morning slot. 1990.

I raided my son’s bookshelf and found a book The Adventures of Rusty which I had given him when he was recuperating from measles. He was in school then. I read that book again and decided it fit into my plans perfectly.

I knew it would be a winner.

So I wrote a letter asking Ruskin Bond if he would give me the rights for some of his stories. I said I could picture him in his book lined Ivy cottage and that as a young mother whenever I told my husband I wanted to have a career, my husband always answered: why don’t you work from home, look at Ruskin Bond!” And I would retort: “I am not Ruskin Bond”

Ruskin Bond wrote back a beautiful letter saying he lived in one of the floors of Ivy cottage always in fear of the roof blowing off… and that now he knew why he had these sudden pains in his elbow: I must have reacted to my husband’s suggestion to be like him… he knew how I felt: when everybody told him: Be like your uncle John… he is a Brigadier, and he would retort: I don’t want to be a Brigadier. He said he would be glad to give me his stories and of course since he lived by his pen he would take a fee.

So I began making the proposal with a list of stories I liked best. I drove to Mussoorie and for the first time I did not stay at the Savoy but in a small hotel close to Landour Bazar on his recommendation. It was a cold December and I wrote in my diary: I feel so lonely especially since the only tourists are honeymooners but Mr. Ruskin Bond was very nice and we went for lunch at the Whispering Windows, again his recommendation, saying they have a Tibetan cook.


  • The Funeral
  •  The Room Of Many Colours
  • The Last Truck Ride
  • The Photograph
  • Chachi’s Funeral
  • The Boy Who Broke The Bank
  •  A Job Well Done
  • The Adventures Of Rusty, (Running away from school)
  • A Prospect Of Flowers

The wait for my plans to make the series Ek Tha Rusty took almost 5 years! Doordarshan decided only the Childrens’ film society would be given the children’s slot. So I submitted the proposal for family see rials on prime time. Here also it lay for a long time… like the dead letter post office. And through a kind Doordarshan official I was guided about reviving the proposal… when I met the Director General he said: why isn’t this series passed! Everybody thought it was one of the best proposals!

We had to shoot a pilot and for that we got Zohra Segal, Raj Zutshi, a boy Zarul to play Rusty. Zarul has an amazing history: his mother is from the originally Chinese Chowfin family. The the first member of this family came around the mutiny of 1857 with the East India Company as a tea expert to the Garhwal region to plant tea gardens. The Chowfins settled near Pauri in Garhwal Uttarakhand. This led to a long and colourful line of Chowfins who have gone out into the world from beneath the shade of the oak and pine trees.

Somehow there always was for me and I am sure for many others a piece of Ruskin Bond in their lives… in the Readers Digest and the Illustrated weekly and his books… or school syllabus but I never realized what a wonderful sensitive boy “Rusty” was until I began adapting Ruskin Bond’s stories for the series for Doordarshan in the 1990s.

And I wish throughout my life I will have a Rusty in my life. Even today Ruskin Bond the Real Rusty al ways says things that make me feel better.

So in the stories too, not only was Rusty making friends with village boys and neighbors but he got on well with crazy old gardeners and crazy old Ranis and lonely ladies, or a secretive leprosy-affected man and of course his romances even as a boy. His friendships were never casual or of the elite school boys club type. And to each he gave his time, heart and soul….

In Ek Tha Rusty Season 1 from the first episode itself we see Rusty with the crazy old Rani, a strange gardener ukhi and at his granny’s, he makes friends with Mani a young boy from a village come to visit his uncle who orks for granny. Rusty takes him along to sell Granny’s pickles and they carry bottles in baskets and manage to sell verything.

In the hidden pool he makes friends with a boy who tells him the hidden pool is his… but after a little fight in the water they agree to be friends and share the pool….

Room on the roof and Road to Landour Bazar bring out his friendly behavior and his sincere feelings for the rich and poor.

A lifetime in the hills and a bountiful collection of stories throughout it—for nine decades, Ruskin Bond has been charming readers with his stories from India’s hinterland. He has brought to the fore front of everybody’s imagination the mountains, valleys and rivers of Garhwal, as well as the magic of small, tucked-away places.

Landour Bazaar is a collection of his best-loved stories about Garhwal over the years. Featuring some of his classics along with heart-warming anecdotes and essays woven around life in the hills. So began my involvement with the author of a thousand books and the best loved author with a string of awards beginning with his first book which won the Llwellyn Rhys award when he was not out of his teens- The Room on the roof.

He actually used to come down to the Mall Road bookshop the Cambrdige Book Depot to sign books for tourists rom everywhere… even while he went to the most prestigious Literary festivals. Then everything began: I was in a hurry but Doordarshan took a long time and shifted my proposal to “family Serials” as children’s programmes were all being given to the Childrens’ film Association under a very smart and ambitous Jaya Bacchan. That was good. It would give it a prime time slot. This was the first TV series based on Ruskin Bond’s stories and immediately made a place in the hearts of TV audiences who still remember it.

It was completely shot on location in Mussoorie, and some old homes and attractive places in and around Mussoorie.

It had some of the best senior actresses as the grand old ladies in Rusty’s life;
Like Zohra Segal, Nadira, Pearl Padamsee, Begum Para.
Ruskin Bond’s poems were translated to Hindi and made into songs.

My first shot as Drector was a scene where a 10 year old Rusty is taken to Raja Gulshan by his uncle Ken who is to be the children’s tutor. It was shot at the amazing big gate of a mostly empty royal place. I looked at the D.O.P., Devlin Bose (with whom I had travelled around India shooting documentaries and asked him in Bengali Bolbo? Shall I say Action? He said Hain boley phelo … Go on say it).

But it was hilarious: I could direct actors dialogue delivery and work out the scenes to a T but I didn’t know the jargon…when actors said Order maam, I thought they wanted me to get things in order!

We had the wonderful and Grand old ladies like Zohra Segal as the Old Rani, living in a tower; Nadira as Miss Mackenzie, Begum Para as granny Clerke and Pearl Padamsee as Granny Bond… All who be come Rusty’s friends and through them and the great stories described their “friendship”. I told myself: Everybody needs a Rusty in their life.

His father so nicely played by Raj Zutshi dies and he has to stay with his mother and stepfather and is sent to Boarding school.

Life with his stepfather is full of rebelliousness but one of my favourite stories Chachi’s Funeral was changed to bring in the stepfather… After running away from boarding school with a new friend Daljeet he is forced to live with his father and he hates him. The Mali, Sukhi, realizes this and they plan to “kill” the stepfather by drawing him on a piece of paper then burning the paper and putting the ashes into a drain… but by the time the ashes have floated away Rusty has a change of heart and is full of remorse. He remembers his stepfather trying to be jolly, or forcing him to go for picnics and always so loving to his mother …and he rushes in to find his stepfather reading the very book he had confiscated from Rusty…and hugs him to the man’s pleasant surprise! A ypung Pankaj Berry played this character with well greased hair and a cow lick ( a curl of hair on the forehead)

With the help of Ruskin Bond, Nandu Jauhar of Savoy and Ganesh Saili, then English Professor and a friend of everyone it seemed, and since then mine, we got great locations, sets and props… and recreating the 1950 Anglo Indian period in Dehradoon.

We camped in the then badly maintained Savoy and used every room and nook and cranny to make different sets. I bought an old Austin 8 and as for other props we borrowed or just secretly took things from the hotel’s rooms even Old Mrs. Jauhar’s silver! Mr. Jauhar would sometimes walk in to look at our shoot and hiss about that and that was not supposed to be taken…

Rusty also made a friend of an old spinster Miss Constance Mackenzie sharing her love for plants and flowers. We got Nadira to play that role and she was so wonderful! She flew in from Mumbai and stole our hearts. Miss Mackenzie makes friends with Rusty and forces him to take one of her priceless books about Himalayan flowers… Rusty steals food from his home to give her and his cook is blamed for stealing food. But he spends many hours with the lonely woman and fills her with joy. He even discovers that she is dying… and drags his stepfather to help her….

Then there are chance encounters with girls and boys his age with whom he has very wonderful times… the Punjabi boy who agrees to share a hidden pool with him, a village boy returning with a cow he has bought for his farm… his first love his ayah, her boyfriend the driver, and Mani in Getting granny’s glasses. Through all these stories we live through some beautiful moments of human relationships. My dogs who always travelled with me took on meaningful roles: a trend that we followed in Season II and III.

I was the producer/director/screenplay writer but I was also the assistant costume designer, assistant set and props designer, even the assistant make up person as I sat with our make up man designing Rusty’s stepfather’s Brylcreemed look and a cow lick; or that the only shade of lipstick for the women would be red, red, red. In the costumes department I desided Rusty’s mother would wear slacks and pearls… There is a lot of food described in Ruskin Bond’s stories and I went crazy showing food: meals, Christmas table, I even showed a typical breakfast to show the time instead of a sunrise.

I was often guilty: could anyone enjoy their work so much? I remember painting an old truck’s front panel to make it look like I wanted, for the Last truck ride and an actor from Delhi told me later he was won dering what he was doing here… “Then I saw the Producer Director on a stool painting the truck…and I knew I was in the right place.”

That was my dedication and enthusiasm … thank God I kept it alive even after many traumatizing and disappointing years before we were commissioned Ek Tha Rusty Seaon II.

Here Rusty is 30 and a Romantic writer, back from London, Delhi and Bombay to settle into an old house that once belonged to Miss Mackenzie and now Miss Bean. When we took Vipul Gupta who would be playing Rusty, to meet Ruskin Bond, he said: I was never so tall and handsome!” That’s his style: he is never rude or arrogant (he does have a temper but about that later) And to women he is always sweet. I had to remind my Rustys to be charming even to old, unattractive young silly women.

Another discovery: he was a great dancer and he loved dancing. Once he did a few steps of the boogie woogie… So I put in a scene where he dances to Shirley Temple and Bo Jangles when he gets a cheque for his story… And I had to tell the actor playing Rusty in “The Train Stops at Shamli” please don’t be have as though you are afraid to dance with the flirtatious Miss Deeds or that you don’t know how to: He is a great dancer!

Season 2 goes further in Rusty’s experiences as he slowly grows into his own as a writer and Mussoorie personality.

Rusty now rents Mulberry Cottage. Again he makes friends starting with a wild child Kamala, and In spector Keemat Lal, revives his friendship with an old flame a royal lady, but a very sanitized one… though again he says kind words, makes her laugh and stand by till her end. Another friend who swears by him is Inspector Keemat Lal. I never knew Ayub Khan as Keemat Lal would be so funny. I often told him: Ayub you will be the next Mehmood.

Season 3 was on the surface very unlike Ruskin Bond’s stories: it had murder, adultery, a pedophilic, dacoits and revenge tales… but still it was fun and beautiful.

These were the 60s and it was so wonderful because I actually had memories of these years! So we worked in a scene from Love In Shimla where Joy Mukherjee pulls a hand pulled rikksha with Sadhna as a passenger… here Vipul as Rusty took the love of his life Susheela for a birthday treat… as a part of Love is a sad song. Vipul and his friend Anchit Kapoor playing a grown up Daljit, acted so well in a scene where Daljit is shocked and angry to learn that Rusty and his young niece are in love. It was a daring situation: Rusty and Susheela in love, a schoolgirl and the niece of his good friend!

Just some days ago a little girl met Ruskin Bond and while he gave her an autograph he asked her name and she said Susheela, so he said he knew a Sudheela too do you know about her and she replied “Yes she was your girl friend wasn’t she?”

People often wonder if there is a Susheela and where and who she is. I never asked Ruskin Bond, because he himself says, most of his stories are “faction”.

I am so proud that Ruskin Bond visited the sets ate lunch with us allowed the make up man and costume in charge go through their duties with him… straightening his muffler, powdering his face lightly and holding up a hand mirror for him… And then he went on camera to introduce every new story.

You would think Doordarshan would give me an extension but no I had to wait for another year and a half and it wasn’t commissioned it was some terrible Revenue sharing format in which I had to spend every pie on production… but the good news was I had an extension of 52 episodes! Bad news it was on a 7 pm slot on weekdays with a repeat at 9 am the next day. So we went on shooting … and had some beautiful actors from Sikkim and some real great actors from Chandigarh… everything seemed to dazzle… but the marketing. I still wait for an opportunity to bring to my viewers Ek Tha Rusty in 103 episodes at a stretch …

This was the first TV series based on Ruskin Bond’s stories and immediately made a place in the hearts of TV audiences who still remember it. We had some of the best senior actresses as the grand old ladies in Rusty’s life.: Zohra Segal, Nadira, Pearl Padamsee, Begum Para. Ruskin Bond’s poems were translated to Hindi and made into songs.

And I am still meeting him ad exchanging notes about the books we read, the films we saw, even Bollywood (his favorite was Nalini Jaywant) and see Football matches together on TV. He was the goalkeeper of the school team. He says he is still a goalkeeper for his home and family.