TEN MINUTES past the 9.30 am start and the first “hint” had appeared on the television screen. Assistant police inspector Rajaram Patil (56) called out to his team and pointed to the screen. “That’s a lot of flags,” he grumbled. A group of protesters was standing outside a cinema in Kalyan. Members of Sambhaji Brigade, a Maratha outfit, they were pleading with people not to watch Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which features Pakistani actor Fawad Khan.
“Anything like this, push the priority button immediately,” Patil said, picking up two slips left by the night shift. The day shift had just begun at the Mumbai Police control room, comprising Camera Control Centre, Dial 100 Island and Dispatch Desk; 110 persons were on alert for “anything that has MNS”.
Outside, first day, first show had begun at 9:30. “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil deployment is in place,” said Patil said, 35 years in the force.
The calls had started and 21 call takers were attending to them. One caller suspected he was being followed, another wanted police to “investigate the culprit who threw garbage” outside his door.
On the video wall, common to all units, 16 screens were flashing live feed from 5,000 cameras across the city — a BEST bus that turned the video wall red, a couple buying coconuts. One camera zoomed to Metro theatre; police were visible but no crowd.
As he walked by each bay checking log-in problems, Digvijay Desai (26) was starting to get bored. Had his wife not been away, he said, he might even have taken her to the movie.
By 11 am, 2,552 calls had been taken but not one on Karan Johar’s movie. The “Calls in Queue” on the tele-board stood at zero. The feed from TV was showing the movie’s trailers. One constable wondered where Aishwarya Rai shops and what she does with her clothes after a shoot.
Pooja Godse (23) held a book; she is studying for Maharashtra Public Service Commission. “Most days are hectic but today, strangely, I have time to study,” she said. “But this can be a very risky job. Please don’t form an impression based on today’s logs,” she added.
Darshana Salgaonkar (24) had disconnected over 200 fake calls. “People keep their phone in their pockets and it dials. Many times we hear conversations that make no sense.”
It was nearing 11:30 am and Sarita Shinde (40) relied on two years’ experience to predict: “Now we will get some women for sure. Their husbands will start drinking because of a hangover, then start beating their wives, and we will have rings.” As if on cue, the phone at 103 rang — the caller was a woman.
Someone called out “Maria Saheb”. On screen now was Rakesh Maria, former top cop, just questioned by CBI in the Sheena Bora case.
Shinde went back to describing call trends: afternoon callers have low pressure or are elderly, their rest disturbed by loudspeakers, while young boys reported “missing” return home.
“Then there are the 12:30 affair calls,” she said, of wives complaining about “another woman’s voice” when they called their husbands to remind them of lunch.
In the evening come theft calls and women on scooters complaining of hawkers. The night calls will have a “different flavour”, from people who suspect “their unmarried female neighbour has a bachelor guest for the night”.
The most scary are the bomb hoax calls, operators say.
At five to noon, a caller offered to sell Aquaguard. Such calls don’t bother the women operators but they hate the night shift. “They talk dirty… There is one caller who has called us 10,500 times in three months. His number is blacklisted.”
At 12:25 pm came a caller who refused to hang up and kept pressing one button after the other, leading to a series of beeps. “Guys who have some grudge against the police… they will keep pressing the buttons until our ears hurt.”
The first show was now over. Special rings circled Roxy, Dreamland, Alankar, Sterling and Metro cinemas, said Digambar Parab (40) responsible for wireless channels of 16 police stations, as he spoke to a patrol unit. “Not one incident reported,” he said.
Another screen zoomed in on a theatre entrance. The crowd was walking out. The second show was filling up. It was 3 pm and the control room had picked 9,142 calls, only 40 of them high priority.
The next worry is Diwali calls, which will begin in 24 hours. “Then it will be a long weekend taking dispatches for loudspeakers, and fireworks problems,” Parab said.
At 3:30 pm, Ghansham Patil, (48) control room officer, faced his own crisis. A pigeon had struck the glass door twice. “She is dangerous. Please get her out,” he asked constable Digvijay Desai, going back to check the logs. “Today has been a peaceful day. I want it to stay that way.”