Aruna Irani – Memories
I was born and brought up in Bombay. My father was an Irani Parsi, and my mother, a Maharashtrian, born in Andhra. My father was the proprietor of a drama company in which my mother worked. They fell in love, got married and the result was me!
You know, I always had a fascination for films. I used to rob money to go and watch them.Also, I was the monitor in my school and used to pass on love letters, charging four annas per letter! So you see, I used to make money since childhood. Diana cinema was in front of my school and a ticket used to cost five annas. So all the money that I earned was spent there.
As a child, I had a massive crush on Shashi Kapoor. I remember watching a particular movie of his, Bhramaputra. In it, there’s a scene where he puts sindoor on his co-star, Indrani Mukherjee. I would go mad watching that scene! When I grew up and acted opposite him, I used to do all my love scenes very naturally. I would hold him as tightly as possible, ask for re-takes and tell him, ‘Kya Shashiji, when you like a certain heroine how you ask for many re-takes? I have a great crush on you, let’s do more re-takes na’!
Coming back to my childhood, I was 10 years old when I had my first fling with Vinod Khanna’s brother, Pramod. Actually, I didn’t know he was Vinod’s brother till years later. He was very good looking, fair, with brown eyes. We were studying together and he would walk me home from school. Even on picnics, he’d spend for me. He would bring food from his house, put it on my lap and we would eat together. Then he left Bombay and we lost contact. Years later, he was making a film with Vinod and Vinod wanted me to do a dance in that movie. He said that his brother would discuss the details with me: I met him and he explained the scene to me. But all through, he kept looking at me. You see, till now I hadn’t recognized him so I felt very awkward. Suddenly, he burst out laughing. Then it struck me that this was the same Pramod I knew as a child.
I studied till the sixth standard. Then I was removed from school, so that someone else in my family could study. We were eight children and my father did not earn enough to give us proper education. Drama companies were all going at a loss since films had taken over. Most of the time, I was not able to pay my fees. When the teacher asked why, I would say that I had forgotten them. I wouldn’t say that my father didn’t have money to pay. The teacher would then make me write, ‘I will pay my fees on time’, ten thousand times.
Selections for a child artiste for Ganga Jamuna were taking place. So all the children in our family trooped off for the selection. I went because Dilip saab was going to be there and I wanted to see him. I never even thought that I would be selected, since there were around 500 children. But selected I was and I felt great. I was around nine years old when I first faced the camera. I was not frightened at all. It’s now that I am frightened to face the camera! As a child, one does not have any ego or anything. All this comes when one grows up.
Later on, I started doing small character roles like of the heroine’s friend, etc., in C-grade movies. At that time, I would get Rs. 150 a day and taxi fare. So what I’d do, is travel by train and save up the travelling expense. With this money, I used to buy mangoes for my family. I felt very happy when I saw them enjoying the things that I brought them.
My father would always say, ‘I wish I had a son instead of Aruna’. He felt that if he had a son, at least he would die happy because there would be someone to look after all the other children. This used to hurt me because I used to do so much, try my level best, but it was overlooked. Then slowly my father’s opinion changed. Later, when I bought myself a car, he would stand in the balcony and watch it for hours on end with pride. It made me feel very good when just before he was hospitalized, he called me and said, ‘I have no grudge against you. I am not repenting now. You are more than a son to me. If I had a son I don’t think he would have done so much’ And I realized that what he said was right. We couldn’t get proper education since we were poor. What work would a man get without education? Main to aurat hoon, naach-gaa kar kama liya.
When I met Mehmood, life took a turn. He helped me a lot in my career. He even elevated me to the position of a heroine from the small character roles that I did. But he was also responsible for my downfall. I was never in love with him. Yes, I had an affair with him. It was in return for the obligation I felt towards him. I was on the streets and every second person had an eye on me. So I thought it was better for me to stick to one person and I chose Mehmood Ali. Ek insaan jab bhoj ke neeche daba hua jaisa hota hain, I was like that. I couldn’t say no to him for anything. It was like the ‘You get me work and I am all yours’ kind of situation.
Then he fell in love with me and didn’t want me to work outside. He began spreading the rumour that we were married. People who wanted me in their films would approach him and he would say that I didn’t want to do the film. I didn’t even know of this. Vinod Khanna told me years later, that he had approached Mehmood for me to play his heroine, but he was told that I said I would only act opposite top stars. That was when Vinod had still not established his name. Then more stories came out in the open and I realized the truth. Also, when the false news of my marriage had spread, people stopped approaching me. At that time since even a married side actress wouldn’t get work, a heroine was out of the question. Actually it would have been better if I had met people and the Press and told them the truth. But I was angry and said, let people think what they want. Since there was no clarification from me, people thought it must be true. I stopped getting work and I sat at home brooding. This continued for three-and-a-half years.
It was very difficult to survive during this period because we had such a large family. My brothers, sisters, mamas and their children. I was the sole earner of the family. We had to make do with whatever money there was. I even sold my car. Then offers started coming my way again, this time for a dance or a small character role. By now I was so desperate that I grabbed any role which came my way. Here was where my career got mixed up. My family objected to my taking these miniscule roles and I told them to leave the decision to me. The second phase of my career had begun.
As I look back, I feel that the decision I made, was the right one. If I had stuck to lead roles, do you think I would still be in the industry? Character roles can be done till one reaches Leela Mishra’s age. At first, doing the ma and bhabhi roles used to hurt me. I felt I was stooping low, but not anymore. Anyway, when I entered the industry I had never hoped to become a heroine. I always thought I would be a dancer or something. What mattered to me, was that my house should run. My brothers and sisters should be educated and should live well. So when from heroine again I got small roles, I didn’t care. All I wanted was to survive in this industry.
Suddenly, someone offered me a Gujarati film. I was to play the role of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. I had watched this film when I was 16 years old and had always wanted to do such a role. I knew that since my second phase had begun, I would never be offered such a role in Hindi films, so I immediately lapped it up. I got a Best Actress award for that movie. Then I did another movie and again I got the Best Actress award. There was no looking back. In my Gujarati movies, I had at least seven songs and fights. I played the female Amitabh Bachchan. In these movies, I saved the hero instead of him saving me! Language was never a problem. I think I can speak better Gujarati than the Gujjus. What attracted me to doing these movies, was not the heroine tag but the charm of doing good roles.
I used to regret coming into the film line because of the backbiting and bitching that goes on. But by now, I had learned to ignore all this. I feel that these people are senseless and stupid and I ignore them. Once, I was shooting outdoors in a village and had to change my clothes behind a tree. There was a group of boys sitting around. As I was passing by someone shouted, ‘Should I come to help you? The first and second time I ignored it. When the person shouted for the third time, I turned around and said, ‘Whoever wants to help me come’. Everyone’s faces fell. I said, ‘What are you all standing around like hijras? Come with me’. They felt very bad and they pushed the guy who said it, in front. I caught hold of that guy’s pants and dragged him along saying, ‘Either you change my clothes or I’ll change yours’. He pleaded with me, calling me his sister and insisting that he hadn’t said anything, but I still dragged him. By this time, some unit members heard the commotion and rushed forward to beat him up. I felt sorry for him and let him go.
When I had to sell the distribution rights of the first Gujarati movie I had made, I got a real fright. I had settled the deal with someone I knew, even though I was getting a higher offer from someone else. I reasoned that since I already knew this person, it was better to do business with known people. But at the last moment, he backed out. I had put all my money into that movie. Everything except my house was mortgaged and I was under tremendous pressure. But my brother Indu came to my rescue and sold it to someone he knew. The movie was a big success.
My happiest moment was when Dil was a big hit. Before it was released, once, on the sets of Beta (Indu’s second movie), I casually told him, ‘What will happen if Dil does 60 per cent of the business that Maine Pyar Kiya did’? He looked at me and said, ‘Have you gone mad? Do you know what you are talking about’? I said it was just my intuition. He told me that if this came true, he would send me on a world tour at his expense. At the party held to celebrate the success of Dil, I was so happy that I downed six or seven pegs of whiskey when I normally don’t drink. Instead of the promised world tour which lndu wanted to give me, I took a trip to Ajmer Sharif.
One question people keep asking, is why I haven’t got married. It’s just that I haven’t met the right man. They say that you don’t know the joys of having a child. I tell them that all my brothers and sisters are like my own children. My father died when my youngest brother was just five years old. I brought them all up as my own children. Now do you want me to go through that cycle again? If I am ever foolish enough to get married at all, I will never have a child.
Like everybody, I have the fear that one day, I will be left alone. It is human that where there is attachment there is fear. In my family, each member has got married one by one. It was not a sudden jolt. Thoda-thoda bardasht karte karte, aadmi seekh leta hain. Today, they all are well settled. But they still take care to find out if I am all right. In the industry, I have seen one thing. All the women who have sacrificed their happiness for their families have suffered. Their children or relatives have eaten up their money and have not even recognized them. But by the grace of God, my brothers and sisters have been good. They still listen to me and respect my advice. What more can I ask for? God has been kind to me (As told to Vijay S.)