Dev Anand maintained a permanent suite (number 226) at the hotel for 12 years. The Bachchans order food for their home parties from here. Sanjay Dutt took his first swimming lessons at the hotel’s iconic swimming pool. Rohit Shetty has worked on all his movie scripts in one of the hotel rooms. Welcome to Mumbai’s Sun-n-Sand, the hotel that has made a name for itself thanks to its close association with Bollywood.
Located on Juhu Beach, which is close to star residences and film production offices in the Bandra-Khar-Juhu belt, Sun-n-Sand started attracting Bollywood denizens from the word go when it was launched in November 1962 as India’s first 5-star beach resort. But Gulshan Arora (not to be confused with a character actor with the same name), Senior Vice President, points out the main reason for its initial popularity: “It was the first beach hotel in India to have its own swimming pool.”
The pool attracted many Bollywood stalwarts as its members. Shashi Kapoor, a leading man in the Sixties and Seventies, never shot on Sundays, preferring to lounge around the beach-facing pool with his wife and kids. Amitabh Bachchan, then a struggler, was denied entry at the hotel’s main gate and caught Kapoor’s eye by waving to him from the beach.
The pool has also been featured in numerous Hindi films and was the reason for an entire generation of Indian males catching their first glimpse of two-piece bikini girls, thanks to the numerous song sequences shot there. In a candid segment in the DVD `Celebrating… Half a Century of Trust’, released on the occasion of the hotel’s golden jubilee celebrations in 2012, Rishi Kapoor confesses: “I often used to come to the hotel as a schoolboy mainly to ogle at the bikini-clad Swissair airhostesses who used to tan themselves near the swimming pool area.”
Many sequences of the 1965 multi-starrer blockbuster Waqt were filmed here, including the key one where Meena (Sadhana) and Ravi (Sunil Dutt) declare their love for one another. A two-level eatery, Sunset Room, formed the backdrop of numerous Helen dance numbers. It has now been converted into a Chinese restaurant, Haochi.
The leisure-turned-business hotel owned by the Gul Advani family has now expanded to Pune, Shirdi and Nagpur. The Advanis are also major players in power generation and own 46 windmills in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Arora explains the reasons for Sun-n-Sand Mumbai’s enduring appeal to the Bollywood fraternity: “It has a pull of its own. We take great pains to maintain it. Regulars say there is a positive charm about the place. You will never hear anyone saying, ’Arey hotel purana ho gayahain.’ We always keep on innovating.”
(Above: Bollywood actors who were regulars at the hotel )
Good food and personal relations are the two pillars on which the 120-room hotel built its abiding loyalty with stars, says Arora, and recalls numerous anecdotes to prove his and the hotel’s proximity with them. In 1989, the career hotelier — he has been in the field for 54 years now — had been admitted to Jaslok Hospital for three days following chest complications. Amjad Khan came over to see him. The screen villain held his hand and said, “Gulu, you have worked very hard all these years. It’s time to take things easy. Become a partner in my Bangalore restaurant. ”
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had made a clean sweep of Mumbai, winning five seats (its alliance partner NCP won the remaining one). The next day, at 1.30 pm, former Congress MP Sunil Dutt brought his new MPs over to Sun-n-Sand for a round of celebrations. “He spotted me from the lobby and shouted out joyfully, ’Gulshan, yaar hum ne chakey maar diye!’ “ Thanks to his friendship with Dutt, Arora was a Censor Board member for four years.
More recently, Shatrughan Sinha’s son Kush got engaged at the star’s Juhu home. Only 20 people were around, with an equal number attending from the girl’s and boy’s side. Arora, who was one of them, says he has also been close to Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra and Raaj Kumar.
His long association with Bollywood has resulted in Arora becoming a a keen observer of its changing mores. He recalls a good friend asking his help in getting a Bollywood star for a “special appearance” in 1989 at a `Mohammed Rafi Nite’ in Singapore, the first Bollywood-related event in the city state. Arora turned to Rajendra Kumar for help. “Rajendra Kumar was then known as the Jubilee King. Every movie of his ran for more than 25 weeks. But he immediately agreed,” recalls Arora. “The organisers paid for his flight and two day stay in Singapore. But he did not charge a single rupee for his appearance at the show. Today, any of the Khans will demand at least a crore to even cut a ribbon.”
But Arora’s fondest memories are about the Kapoors, with whom he first associated for the marriage party celebrations of Rima, Raj Kapoor’s younger daughter, at the R. K. Studio lawns in Mumbai’s eastern suburb of Chembur. “Like everything about the Kapoors, it was a larger-than-life affair,” remembers Arora. His catering team served 150 dishes. For the exclusive sangeet ceremony, there were 500 guests, including Bal Thackeray, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. But 2,500 people were invited for the reception; the party went on till seven in the morning. After the party, as Arora was leaving the venue, Shammi, Shashi, Randhir, Rishi and Rajiv Kapoor stood next to his car and smartly saluted him. One of them opened the car door and said, “You have been on your feet for the last 15 hours and have done a wonderful job.”
More was to come. On reaching his office at Sun-n-Sand later, Arora found a gigantic bouquet awaiting him, along with six bottles each of champagne and Black Label, and a hand-written note from Krishna Kapoor, the family matriarch. “Our house is famous for parties,” it said, “But we have never had something so grand and well-organised before.”
“You don’t get those kind of people now,” concludes Arora. “In the good old days of Sun-n-Sand, film folks knew the value of human beings.”
WHEN THE STARS DESCENDED ON SUN-N-SAND
Dev Anand never took the lift, preferring to sprint up the steps to the permanent suite he maintained on the second floor.
Before she shifted to the Lokhandwala Complex, Sridevi was a regular at the health club.
Rakesh Roshan, Prem Chopra and Jeetendra are members of the Heath Club and come there every evening.
Rakesh Roshan got engaged here.
Prem Chopra’s three daughters were married at Sun-n-Sand.
Jeetendra hangs around in the lobby, mixing with strangers and signing autographs.
Amitabh Bachchan prefers going straight to the venue of the press conference or his movie’s pre-release party, attends to his work and leaves.
Sanjay Khan’s wife Zarine and his brother Akbar frequent all the restaurants at the hotel.
Foodies Hrithik Roshan and the entire Devgn family are regulars at the hotel. Kajol’s favourite dish is fried fish in tartar sauce.
Abhishek Bachchan loves the seek kabab and biryani at the Kabab Hut.
A long-time favourite dish with the stars over the decades: lobster thermidor in tartar Sauce.