Life on her own terms
VASANTI SUNDARAM speaks to Waheeda Rahman on her films and life away from the arclights.
Amitabh Bachchan considers her the most beautiful woman he's ever known. He should know; she's played his wife, and mother! For the rest of the world, she is the epitome of the classic Indian beauty, who has enthralled three generations of fans with her fascinating presence in "Chaudhvin Ka Chand", "Guide", and "Pyaasa". Waheeda Rahman, one of the legends of Indian cinema, in an introspective mood...
How films happened: The most respected profession, when I was young, was medicine. I'd go around declaring that I wished to become a doctor and look after my parents. However, being a weak child prone to allergic asthma, I was often confined at home while my sisters went to school. Bored, I would stand in front of the mirror making faces. Noticing my weird preoccupation, my father told my mother that my behaviour didn't seem normal to him. When they got really concerned, I stated that I wanted to be an actress. When questioned about my decision I said, "When I laugh I want everyone to laugh with me, when I cry I want them to cry with me as well." Fortunately for me, my parents didn't thwart my decision.
Breaking free from the mould: Rosie in "Guide" was a daring role at that time. A woman who leaves her stifling husband and lives with another man. When warned that I would be committing professional suicide taking on that role, I pointed out that while it was so easy for us to accept similar themes in English movies, why were we being hypocritical in the Indian context. My conviction stood by me.
Regrets: I regret having stopped giving stage performances in dancing so early in life, when I was just 22. Professionally, I often feel I ought to have been a little more serious about my career. I refused good films, for flimsy reasons. For instance, I turned down "Ankur" by Shyam Benegal. When Shyam asked me to justify my refusal, I told him that an earlier Malayalam art film produced by NFDC never got released, and I was afraid his film would go the same way. His promise to deliver didn't convince me. I regret that decision until today. Another wrong decision was not doing "Andaaz" with Shammi Kapoor. The role went to Hema Malini.
Workshops on acting: I am not a trained actress. There were no acting schools during the time I forayed into the industry, and the fact that I was a Bharatanatyam dancer helped me emote well in front of the camera. I don't think I'm qualified to conduct workshops on acting.
Intentions to foray into cross over films: You could say I did an international film 40 years ago, when the English version of "Guide" was produced in collaboration with Pearl S. Buck and directed by Ted Danielewski. I haven't been approached recently. At my age what role do you expect to come my way?
Watching her films: Not deliberately. When I am unable to sleep at nights, and catch one of my films on television, I tend to get too critical. I find my hairstyle awry, my performance falling short of standards, the shot badly executed... I always feel I could have done it some other way.
Her children watching her films: My 28-year-old son Sohail and 26-year-old daughter Kashvi would never watch my films when they were kids. It would have been difficult for them, with their father there, and seeing their mother cavorting around trees with another man.
Indulging in her hobby on location ... on the sets of "Kohraa".
But, while doing Cinematic Studies at the University of Toronto, my daughter called me up to say she watched "Pyaasa". I was surprised that she had taken the trouble to watch my film after so many years, she explained that "Pyaasa" was part of the archives and recommended study material. I was thrilled to hear this, and proud too.
On Life Without Films
Day in her life: I wake up early, go through the yoga and mediation routine, followed by coffee and newspaper. Then there are the usual housewifely chores planning the menu, getting odd jobs done around the house.
Keeping fit: Fortunately, I don't have the tendency to put on weight, and I'm definitely not careful about what I eat. My complexion? Well, I don't use make up daily, just khol to line my eyes, and a dab of lipstick. For my dry skin, I use Oil of Olay after my shower, and more intensively during the cold season.
Pastimes: I used to be interested in still photography, but haven't been able to pursue it lately. I'm interested in capturing nuances of nature, but to do that you'd have to spend more time outdoors. Besides, I suffer from severe spondylitis, and my neck hurts when I walk around with a camera, and look through the lens.
A successful entrepreneur: When my children went to boarding school in Kodaikanal, my friend and I decided to create a breakfast cereal for working mothers and busy households. The venture was first tried out in Bangalore, the success prompted us to challenge the Chennai market where families were still partial to idlis and dosas, and cereal for breakfast was unthinkable.
To our surprise, it did very well there too. We went ahead and distributed it all over India. But, now that both our husbands are dead, and our children are not interested in carrying it further, we're planning to sell the venture.
A true Aquarian: I am imaginative, absent minded. One instance that comes to my mind is when my husband and I took my best friend Nanda's car for shopping. While stopping by a restaurant, I tried getting into another car thinking it was the car we had come in. My husband was often frustrated with my absent mindedness, and amused too!
Pratham: Pratham, the NGO that fosters education for every underprivileged child, came my way two years ago. When asked to be its goodwill ambassador, I thought the representatives were crazy. I had my doubts about the value addition that I could bring.
However, I'm slowly beginning to realise that my involvement is indeed helping raise awareness towards this organisation. I find myself getting more and more involved with the children, teachers, and parents of Pratham.
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