Been there, done that!

Been there, done that!

Legends Of Indian Cinema

Been there, done that!

Constant Evolving: Sharmila Tagore

At 62, contentment reigns. Sharmila Tagore’s done it all — been a teenage actor, done films in Bengali (her mentor was none other than Satyajit Ray) and Hindi, with flirtations with English and Marathi as well as television and ad campaigns. A UNICEF goodwill ambassador, the Censor Board chairperson, mother to two successful stars and the wife of the Nawab of Pataudi, who is also India’s ex-captain in test cricket, Sharmila Tagore has even donned a bikini for a film magazine and collected a slew of awards. The dimpled actor looks back comfortably at the past and savours the present.

Excerpts from an interview:
Your latest outing ‘Samaantar’ is your first in Marathi. What excited you about the film?
Amol Palekar and I had been wanting to work together for a long while, but this time everything jelled together — my dates, my role and the script. I have so many Maharashtrian friends, and there is so much in common between our cultures and even the language.

Your recent roles have been in extremes — from insignificant ones in ‘Fool n’ Final’ to meaty ones in ‘Viruddh’ and ‘Morning Walk’.
I am a free body and I do not owe explanations to anyone about my choice of films. And I do not mean that in a bad sense at all. Right from the beginning, I have never been strategic and have done films for different reasons.

You have won at least one significant award in every decade since your debut in the 60s. What do awards mean to you?
Getting recognition from your peers is always nice. But I have never taken myself so seriously. For me, audience appreciation is the real proof of the pudding, if that’s the right expression. Work is about my bond with the camera and the experience. But today, awards too are devalued to nothing more than television shows. I mean, how can I become less deserving if I am not in town on the day and I am openly told that in that case, someone else will get the Best Actress or Lifetime Achievement?

Most actresses move from mainstream to offbeat. But you began with Ray and gravitated to ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ and ‘Mumbai’.
As an actor, I needed to move from regional to national. It’s not as if others did not try — like Aparna Sen did, but did not find a comfort level. Besides, I also go back and do Bengali films even now. And today, the difference between kinds of cinema has shrunk. Yes, there are star-led films and director-led films, and it’s the former kind that more people want to watch, which isn’t wrong because those are the films that make money for the industry.

Is it easy for you as an actor to deal with all kinds of films?
(Laughs) I am equally at home and both are equally enjoyable for me. All I have to do is be either a little more realistic or a little more manipulative. All good films stay the course more than merely successful films. The sequence of the boy throwing the stone at the end of Ankur, a metaphor for the incipient end of the feudal system, is remembered in the right circles and makes it an important film in history, even if a Sholay is treasured at a different level.

As Censor chief, you get to see such a wide variety.
I actually do not. As chairperson, I look only into specific films, for example, when there is no consensus among members of the Revising Committee. Also, I watch specific films for other reasons, like Kaminey, because I did not want another controversy about the violence after what happened with Ghajini. We as a nation are not yet mature enough not to have censorship.

Has filmmaking changed, or is it the same stuff in new format?
I think it is the same in new format. Filmmaking has always been about entertainment first. But we have many more good directors today — like Rajkumar Hirani, Anurag Basu, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj or Imtiaz Ali. Hindi films were in a vacuum with stereotypes that are however being discarded now.

You did your maximum number of Hindi films with Shashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar. What are your memories about working with each?
Sanjeev was a lovely human being, he always came late but would complete his work meticulously. We did great films and some bad films too. He had struggled to make his way up. Rajesh Khanna was a phenomenon. I have never seen anyone, not even Amitabh Bachchan later, enjoy such popularity with girls going mad. Till then, such a craze for an actor was only seen in the South. Dharam was a son of the soil, generous and open-hearted. In those days, it was a status symbol for heroes to come late and Shashi broke the mould — he was punctual like Bachchan — and would always be concerned about even the light-men and the junior artistes. He was a good friend and taught me a lot of things.

Your first hero Shammi Kapoor’s wild reputation was enough to put many heroines off. What was your experience?
(Laughs) Oh, he was very supportive! Yes, he was a maverick and was quite weird in some things and would thus come out as somewhat fearsome. He had his moments of unpredictability.

Did you never want to turn director?
Honestly, I did think of it some time ago. But a director has to be with a film 24/7. She cannot remove her make-up and leave after her shot is over! I was discussing the possibility of a story about an autistic child with Vijay Tendulkar. But there were various personal reasons why I decided not to go ahead.

We hear that you are quitting as an actor as well.
Honestly, I am really involved in my UNICEF work against HIV and AIDS, and I find a change within me. Let’s see, I am still undecided.

You have spoken a lot about Saif and Soha. But I believe it is your daughter Saba who used to be the film buff since her childhood.
Yes, but she is a private kind of person, very creative and happy with her jewellery designing.

How about Nawab-saab, is he still disinterested in films?
Yes! (Laughs) He would watch the films of Meena Kumari and Vyjayantimala but went off them later. He also loved Tarzan films! I do not think that he has watched any of mine. But he is crazy about old film music.

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