Posted by Fenil Seta
Five months after he slipped into a coma in Delhi, the filmmaker-actor is now recuperating at Nadiadwala’s house in a room that has been converted into an ICU
Sanyukta Iyer (MUMBAI MIRROR; April 7, 2017)
A room in filmmaker Firoz Nadiadwala’s Juhu home, Barkat Villa, has been converted into a fully-functional Intensive Care Unit (ICU). On the walls are throwback stills from Rangeela, Virasat, Hera Pheri, Phir Hera Pheri, Gomaal, Daud and Khiladi 420 and in a corner, a stack of DVDs with a flat screen TV plays him blockbusters from down the years round-the-clock. This room has been home to writer-director-actor Neeraj Vora since March 11, with a 24-hour nurse, ward boy and cook. A physiotherapist, neurosurgeon, acupuncture therapist and general physician pay him weekly visits.
Remembered for his wholesome entertainers, the 54-year-old filmmaker was in Delhi on business when he suffered a massive heart attack, followed by a brain stroke. On October 19, he was admitted to AIIMS in the capital. He hadn’t been feeling well that day and had even complained of a sensation of numbness. His childhood friend from Gujarat, Mandeep Desai, along with Firoz, whose last production, Welcome Back, had featured Neeraj as Badshah Bhai, immediately flew down. But by the time they reached, Neeraj had slipped into a coma.
“At 5pm on March 11, we airlifted Neeraj bhai and dashed to Mumbai in a medical helicopter. Within an hour he was comfortably resting at his new home in Barkat Villa,” says Firoz who has thrown his door open to welcome any friends who wants to visit the once always jovial Neeraj who has always hated being alone. “I’ve known him for 18 years and he even ate his meals and watched movies in a group. He enjoys the company of friends. Over the last five months, his condition has improved slightly, he can blink to communicate and is in a semi-conscious state. He’s been responding to audio therapy, particularly when we play his father’s (Pandit Vinayak Rai Nanalal Vora) music. He has yet to recover his speech but there are no infections or bed sores and the doctors have assured us that his life is out of danger,” says Firoz, who has been footing all the bills since October.
Neerja’s father was a prolific tar shehnai player who was very close to his son. He passed away in 2005. The filmmaker’s wife had passed away the year before that. They had no children and his only family was his mother (Premila Ben) who lived with him until her death in 2014. Firoz adds, “He is my brother and I’m simply doing my duty.”
Neeraj’s mother loved Hindi movies and would take him along when she went to watch movies. He started out on Gujarati stage as a writer, then, got his break as an actor in Ketan Mehta’s coming-of-age-drama, Holi. He became a household name with the TV shows, Choti Badi Baatien and Circus. He went on to script Rangeela and when one of the supporting actors didn’t show up, he stepped in front of the camera to play a “drunk party guest”. After seeing that scene, Anil Kapoor and Priyadarshan cast him in Virasat while Aamir Khan recommended him for Mann. It was not only his comic timing, but his easy-going nature and camaraderie with actors that kept him in among the roles. After 15 years of playing supporting roles, he made his directorial debut with Khiladi 420 in 2000.
When he suffered the stroke, he was working on the third instalment of his blockbuster franchise, Hera Pheri 3, which Firoz was producing. The script was locked and the film was expected to roll by the end of 2016. “He may not be able to communicate at the moment, but every time Neeraj bhai finds something funny his cheeks still turn red. When he was on set, this used to happen to him all the time. He was known to get embarrassed and blush easily. Everybody thought it was cute because he just couldn’t help himself,” Firoz smiles fondly.