Dream girl forever

Dream girl forever

She is Indian cinema’s ‘Dream Girl’. A term devised for her maiden film Sapnon Ka Saudagar’s (in 1968) publicity turned out apt in many ways for Hema Malini, now in the 50th year of her film career. Nothing was planned, notes the actor, about her success in multiple fields that went beyond even her wildest dreams.

From a bharatanatyam dancer to a heroine who ruled Hindi cinema for two decades, with romantic heroes from Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor to Rishi Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah, is not all that Hema is about. She has also become film producer, director, occasional singer, held key offices in film bodies and contested and won elections and succeeded as a parliamentarian.

Incredibly, despite her achievements, Hema never sidelined her first love — dance — and live recitals that continue even today. She also made a telefilm and a TV serial in reel life and been a perfect wife and mother in real life. She continues to mix her political work with her dance ballets and recitals, while being open to the occasional film.

From dance to movies

“As everything just happened, the challenge was in not knowing anything about film acting, though emoting skills have to be a necessary part of classical dance,” she states. “I think that my first director (Mahesh Kaul) and producer (B Ananthaswamy) thought I was a very good raw material when they signed me. And if I did well in my initial films, it was all thanks to my directors. With every film, I asked myself how I could do better. So, it was a learning process,” she says.

Though her second film, Waris, was her first hit, and Sharafat and Tum Haseen Main Jawan were big hits from the next four years, why is it that Johny Mera Naam is considered her first big hit? “Obviously, its level of success,” she points out pragmatically about India’s first film to make Rs 50 lakh per territory.

Was it because of her background that a lot of her film-makers ensured at least one classical dance in almost all her films? She nods her head. “Yes, though in films like Abhinetri and Sharafat, my characters had dance backgrounds. But in Jahan Pyar Miley, in which I did my first de-glam role, I still had a dance number ‘Nas Nas Mein Agan’. ”

Hema admits to a notorious contract then with her mentor producer Ananthaswamy, who not only chose which films she should do but also pocketed a part of her earnings. “I was put on a seven-year contract by him. But my mother fired him just before Sholay. Still, he did choose mostly good films for me.”

Among Hema’s pre-Sholay hits that had already made her reach numero uno position were Naya Zamana, Raja Jani, Seeta Aur Geeta, Babul Ki Galiyan, Bhai Ho To Aisa, Gora Aur Kala, Jugnu, Dost, Amir Garib, Haath Ki Safai, Kasauti, Patthar Aur Payal, Premnagar, Pratiggya, Dharmatma and Dulhan.

With affection, she remembers the directors who shaped her in her earliest years, like Lekh Tandon, Asit Sen (who sensitively presented her as an innocent but unwilling tawaif in Sharafat), Subodh Mukerji, Sushil Majumdar (Lal Patthar, one of her early celebrated performances), Ramesh Sippy, Gulzar and Vijay Anand. “Goldie-saab made us do so many rehearsals for Johny Mera Naam as he loved long shots!” she recalls.

Hema admits that it was her mother (the late Jaya Chakravarthy)’s wish that she learn dance and later, move to films. “She saw nothing wrong with a career as an actor. She would point out to Vyjayanthimalaji and Padminiji. We did get offers to do films down South before we came to Mumbai, like there was a Tamil film from which both Jayalalitha and I were thrown out!” she smiles. “I was 14!”

Khushboo, Sanyasi, Dus Numbri, Jaaneman, Chacha Bhatija, Trishul, Kranti, Naseeb, Andhaa Kaanoon and many more — the blockbusters kept adding up all the way till the late 80s. The 90s were relatively dull, though. In the millennium, Hema was mostly seen with Amitabh Bachchan in Baghban, Veer-Zaara, Baabul and Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap. When we ask why, she succinctly enquires, “Which other hero is there for me today? They are either barely doing films, or have quit.”

Hema had an unforgettable innings with Dharmendra, also her husband since 1980, with 28 films, of which the first 11 were all blockbusters. How did they first meet? “It was at the premiere of K A Abbas’s film Aasmaan Mahal,” she smiles at the memory. “I had signed my first film and word had spread. Shashi Kapoor and he were standing together, and when they saw me, they exchanged comments in Punjabi, to the effect that I was a nice-looking kudi!” Hema laughs. By 1970, Hema was to do two films each with both of them!

In her career, Hema had great rapports with Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babi and Rekha, also co-stars in many films, and with most heroes, especially Dev Anand, Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna. It was through Vinod that she made her entry into politics.

“Vinod was contesting on a BJP ticket and wanted me to campaign for him,” she remembers. “I did not know anything about campaigning or politics. My mother told me what she believed in always: ‘Try out any new opportunity you get. If you don’t like it, don’t do it again.’ The next step was a request from the party to join them as a Rajya Sabha candidate. Once again my mother invoked the example of Vyjayanthimalaji.”

Says Hema candidly, “I was truly exposed to a whole new zone and learnt what I never knew about the outside world. I would listen to the leaders speaking, and soon learnt to make a mark with my own speeches!”

Family first

Hema’s biggest plus point was her immaculate reputation even when she became Dharmendra’s second wife. She never interfered with his first family and adds that her husband was always there when she or her two daughters, Esha and Ahana, needed him. “A true-blue Punjabi, he was keen that Esha and Ahana never act in films, or even dance. He had to be convinced that my dance was not something cheap but almost divine. When he saw all of us dance together, he relented and even told them, ‘Dance like your mother does!’ He has always supported me in whatever I was doing.”

Hema’s ballets like ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Durga’ are hugely popular, but the interesting part is that Dharmendra still does not like to see her on stage. “He tells me that he feels I am someone else, someone who does not belong to him,” she laughs.

Motherhood, says Hema, has been the best part of her life. “I was the hands-on mother, taking up their studies, especially my favourite subject, History, and dropping them off to school when I was in Mumbai,” she says. “In fact, I would make it a precondition that I would report on sets only at 11.30 am, or they could take someone else. Esha and Ahana would also be with me on most of my outdoor locations.”

Hema’s close bond with her mother, the architect of her personality and career, is well-known. “I was nowhere as strict with my daughters as she was with me, though it was all for my good,” she declares. “At face value, she was a dominating mother, and as a child, I may not have liked the discipline she instilled, like waking up early for dance lessons from the time I was six years old.”

She then says, “My mother remained strict with me even after I was married. One day, I just told her, ‘Why are you so strict and shouting at me all the time? Kabhi pyaar se to baat karo!’ She started laughing and from that day, she changed. I really miss her today.”

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