Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam
It is a world of extremes, of glorious uncertainties, of instant highs and lows fame-in and fade-outs, great adulation one day complete ignominy the next. Show world is especially cruel to women after they are past their prime, especially those who remained single (though filled the void in some producer, director or technician’s life), or those whom fate forced to raise a silent furrow after the death of their spouses. While some of them managed to successfully return to reapply the grease paint on their wrinkled faces, others are not even looked at with disdain by even the film industry, though they do occasionally light a spark in the hearts of their diehard fans. Yet some more somehow manage to become a photo-journalist delight when they make an occasional appearance at an awards event or a filmy party.
How many really know or care where is Nanda who did nearly 60 films as the leading lady between 1956 and 1972, who became the jumping board for the careers of many, especially Shashi Kapoor (last seen in Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog, Ahista Ahista and Mazdoor—1982) is now at the 72 ailing, hasn’t even made a public appearance since Manmohan Desai (with whom she was romantically linked) jumped the gun in 1994? Then there was Sadhna, living in total oblivion, caught up in litigation of her Carter Road apartment and no industry support, since the death of her first director and husband RK Nayyar (Love in Simla, 1960) in 1995, scaled dizzy heights (consciously modelling herself on her predecessor, Nutan) co-starring Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra and others. At 70, friend and issueless she has been battling thyroid that affected her eyes.
Sadhna’s contemporary, Asha Parekh’s (69) name was linked with producer Nasir Husain who had introduced her opposite Shammi Kapoor in Dil Deke Dekho (1959), and never really looked back, vying for screen honours with all the major heroes. She won the Filmfare Best Actress trophy for her portrayal in Shakti Samanta’s Kati Patang opposite the then reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna, as also the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. Unlike her predecessors and successor, Asha Parekh gave up doing meaningless roles, and turned to television as a producer-director and made several noteworthy serials. She was the woman, and that too an actor to head the Central Board of Film Certification (1998-2001). She also runs a dance academy and a hospital, and continues to be active on both the social and filmy scenes. In a career span lasting nearly two decades she worked in 52 films as a leading lady.
Mala Sinha (now 74) was another heroine who co-starred all the big heroes of her time in over a hundred films from the fifties to the early seventies sans Dilip Kumar. She made the last public appearance in 2007 to receive the Screen Lifetime Achievement Award, and her last screen appearance was in the forgotten 1994 Zid in which one-flick wonder Jai Mehta was the leading man. She lives a quiet life in her old bungalow with daughter Pratibha Sinha who turned out to be yet another case of a failed star-daughter. The high points of Mala’s career, apart from Pyaasa were BR Chopra’s Dhool ka Phool with Rajendra Kumar, Gumrah with Ashok Kumar and Sunil Dutt, Bahu Rani with Guru Dutt, and Jahan Ara with Bharat Bhushan, Himalaya ki God mein and for all these she received the Filmfare Best Actress nominations.
The great and most graceful survivor of successive generation of leading ladies has been Waheeda Rahman (75) who enjoys the privilege of working opposite the three big ones, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand. To this can be added Ashok Kumar, Guru Dutt, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, Raaj Kumar Dharmendra, Manoj Kumar, and Rajesh Khanna. A Padma Bhushan awardee, she has two Filmfare Best Actress trophies (Guide, 66, Neelkamal, 68, and four nominations), National Award for Reshma aur Shera (71) and a Lifetime Achievement (94) under her saree pallu. Her last film as a heroine was Phagun (1973). She took a 12-year-long sabbatical essaying character roles with Lamhe in 1991, returning with Anupam Kher’s directorial disaster, Om Jai Jagdish (02). She married her one film hero Kamaljeet (Shashi Rekhi) in 1974 (Shagun) and moved to Bangalore (the husband died). She has two children, both supposedly writers, and alternates between Bangalore and her sea view bungalow right next to Salman Khan’s Galaxy residence in Bandra, Mumbai. Her Hindi film debut was Guru Dutt’s Raj Khosla directed CID (56) opposite Dev Anand, and last Delhi 6 (09). The count is 80.
But one superbly talented and versatile actress who has scorned all offers of a return with contempt is Vyjantimala (75), the original siren from down south. Making her debut with Bahar (54) she dominated the Hindi screen till she bade goodbye with Prince (69) opposite Shammi Kapoor. Despite a long innings she starred in only about 30 films, including blockbusters like Devdas (55), Naya Daur (57), Madhumati (58), Gunga Jamuna (61) opposite Dilip Kumar (she did another five with him), Sangam (65) with Raj Kapoor, and Jewel Thief (67) with Dev Anand. She settled down in Chennai after marrying Dr Chaman Bali (he died in 1986), and continues to perform and teach Bharatnatyam. In between she also served as a parliamentarian for two terms.
Another successful heroine of the sixties was Saira Bano (67) who decided to retire after marriage to thespian Dilip Kumar (66) almost twice her age, but not without working opposite him in three films, Gopi, Sagina and Bairaag. She worked in 30 films between Junglee (61) and Hera Pheri (76). Better known for her beauty than any acting prowess, and won four Filmfare nominations, Junglee (61), Shagird (67), Diwana (68), Sagina (74) though won not a single award. Saira also runs a television production company which has made several serials though none of them has really worked.
Also qualifiers for the august list are contemporaries Sharmila Tagore, Rakhee and Mumtaz, and Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, amongst others, not to speak of Helen, the perennial favourite non-aging beauty who never made it as a heroine.
By Suresh Kohli