Fareeda Raja has forgotten the first time a film star walked into her beauty salon. “So many have come over the years,” she says. At any time of the week, Fareeda is likely to be at her salon in Bandra’s Pali Hill, seated in a corner of her own, inspecting the bustle of clients coming and going and often quietly reprimanding her staff for slip-ups visible to her eyes. She moved out of the first-floor apartment in the same building a few years ago and now runs her own real estate business.
The lady has aged gracefully, and so has ‘Freeda’, her baby, which she opened in 1978 at the heart of what was then a hub of actors and producers of the Hindi film industry. Now, only a couple of star bungalows remain, but Freeda’s Bollywood connection is intact.
Anyone who has lived in Bandra knows it, has visited it at least once and many go back for its unpretentious, old-worldly charm. Of late, old-worldly has come to mean old, musty-smelling towels. If only more people would go up to Fareeda and complain (Last Sunday at least, they made sure I got a clean set). But Freeda still is the best place to spend your early Sunday evenings for that perfect head massage. Bollywood gossip and filmi conversations float about freely. Two Sundays ago, I was next to Delhi girl Gauri Khan and overheard her Bambaiyya Hindi—“tu bol, kya kar rahi hai?” At the other end, it seemed, was Rani Mukherjee, and not only because the name Rani flashed on the phone. There was talk of fairy wings for Kunal Kohli’s next film, in which Rani is acting, and of the “bahu”, who is in France (Aishwarya, of course, shooting for Pink Panther with Steve Martin in Paris).
Other celebrity clients Fareeda names, and some of whom you can spot quite often are Shilpa Shetty (my favourite pedicurist exclaimed she came the day she returned from Big Boss), Vidya Balan (in Fareeda’s words, “What’s that new, pretty girl’s name? Divya? Bindiya?”), Malaika Arora, Naseeruddin Shah and Rishi Kapoor (Fareeda’s “dear friend and loyal patron for years”).
One Saturday, Rishi, in the midst of a head massage, began talking to the man next to him, who turned out to be in the “construction business”. He was trying his best to show off his knowledge of the film industry. At first, the actor nodded, then the discussion veered to the new Kapoor, Rishi’s son Ranbir, who will make his debut this Diwali. The construction guy said: “You know, I think it’s very tough for youngsters now. They have to be really choosy about what they do. They have to get the right break. Your time was different. Not much competition.” Rishi attempted to convince him that was not true. But Construction Man continued. Finally, a flustered Rishi, head massage going to waste, huffed: “I don’t know what you’re talking, man.” And proceeded to ignore Construction Man completely.
By the way, it was Rishi who introduced music here. He suggested, and Fareeda agreed—it was necessary to add background music to the noise. Don’t be surprised if you get two hours of John Denver when Rishi is around, because he often gets his own CDs along. The point is, Freeda is an eavesdropper’s delight. Especially if you want to know how the glam set looks without make-up and with copious amounts of oil on their head and face.
But the real USP of Freeda, according to its owner, is that she resisted change when the swish set conquered many parts of Bandra about 10 years ago. “Ten years later, it turned out to be a blessing because I kept the prices low.” Its old-style mirrors, sturdy marble platforms that serve as tables, mermaid murals and the incessant chatter is comforting; something like home.
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