Bina Rai – Interview
The years have treated her kindly. At the age of 64, Bina Rai stands erect. Dressed in a crisp silk saree, her snowy hair neatly tied at the nape of her neck, she evokes memories of the heroine who sang Jo waada kiya woh nibhana padega to Pradeep Kumar in Taj Mahal way back in 1963. There’s a touch of the regal looks despite the mandatory passage of time. Leading a reclusive life in her terrace flat on the eighth floor of Anita building on Malabar Hill, yesteryear’s Noor Jehan is rarely seen outside her abode. It’s almost as if she had sequestered herself from the madding mob of Mumbai.
French windows lead from the terrace into a sparsely furnished living room; the sofa stretching from one side of the wall has obviously seen better days. Framed photographs of Premnath and Bina Rai with their sons’ children smile at the visitor.
Bina Rai had exuded a quiet presence when I’d gone to meet Premnath almost ten years ago. While he’d tripped down memory lane, she’d sat by silently, listening to him, content perhaps to bask in reflected glory.
Today, loneliness has set in. Premnath passed away four years ago. Her sons, Prem Junior and Monty, are busy with their careers and families.
As their mother begins to chat, I can sense that the artiste in her is still very much alive. Since she has time on hand, she’d like to resume acting… or even turn to direction. “Whenever I tell my sons this, they quickly say, ‘Sure, come and work with us.’ As you know, they’re both producing TV serials,” Ma Rai beams. Although the spirit is willing, the once popular actress doesn’t quite seem to be up to the demands of making a comeback. A slight tremble on her lower lip and a twitch in her right arm are perceptible. “I have a nervous disorder,” she explains. “It’s something I inherited from my father.”
And such afflictions act up once in a while. “Sometimes there’s a violent twitch in my leg too. Then I have to take it easy and spend time in bed,” she narrates placidly. Besides, she suffers from diabetes.
Bina Rai doesn’t harp on her health snafus though. She’d rather talk about the kind of work she’d like to do. “I miss being a working woman,” she says firmly. “I’d love to play roles which suit my age.”
So far, no film-maker has approached her to return to acting. “Perhaps everyone feels I’ve given up acting forever,” reasons the heroine of 35 films. In any case, she wonders whether she would be able to fit into today’s scheme of movies since they’ve changed so drastically from the way they were.
Why did she give up acting anyway?
“A hectic career and a home were difficult to handle,” she states sadly. “After a tiring day at the studio, I couldn’t cope with the household demands. My husband would let me take my own decisions. He would neither complain nor would he insist that I go off to the studios. I had to make my choice… Since my children needed me, I gave up acting after Taj Mahal and Wallah Kya Baat Hai…
“For a while, my husband and I did try to work things out in such a way that at least one of us would be at home. It just so happened that while his career was doing very well, I wasn’t so busy and vice versa. Finally, I had to make the sacrifice… I opted to stay at home.”
She has a faraway look in her eyes when she flashbacks, “I was in love with the movies right from my childhood. My entire family loved watching films, we would often make an evening of going to the cinema hall. Khurshid was my favourite heroine. I’d collect photographs of her and other film stars.”
After completing school in Lahore, she en rolled in a Lucknow college. “My father had a job with the Western Railways, he’d be transferred to different cities regularly, so I stayed in a hostel,” she reminisces. “I would devour articles on film stars, reading practically every word that was written about my favourites. Film magazines were banned in the hostel but once in a while a copy was smuggled in.”
Actor-producer-director Kishore Sahu had advertised in a magazine for a new heroine for his Kali Ghata. Impulsively, Bina sent in her application. Laga to teer, was her attitude. To her delight, she was called for an audition. However, she had to write back stating that she couldn’t make it to Mumbai for a month… since she had to sit for her intermediate exams.
As luck would have it, her parents were scheduled to leave for the City of Dreams to select a bride for her brother. She joined them. Once in Mumbai, she gave her audition and was finalized to play the heroine in Kishore Sahu’s project. She was paid Rs 25,000, an astronomical sum in those days. At the height of her career she was paid a princely Rs 1.5 lakhs for a film.
All this while, Bina Rai had kept her dreams of joining the movies a secret. She knew that her parents wouldn’t approve. She was right. She threatened to go on a hunger strike… her parents relented, giving her the go-ahead finally.
Krishna Sarin was given the screen name of Bina Rai. Right to this day, she is grateful to Kishore Sahu for giving her an excellent launching pad. She also remembers with affection Nandlal Jaswantlal who cast her in Anarkali and Ramanand Sagar who cast her in Ghunghat for which she won the Best Actress Filmfare Award in 1960.
The number 13 and the month of July have been significant for Bina Rai. She was born on July 13, 1932, she signed her first contract on the same day in 1950. Exactly two years later, she got engaged to Premnath.
Gently she recalls the role fate played in their marriage. Premnath and she first met on the sets of Aurat... before the film was complete, they had tied the knot.
At the time, Premnath was head over heels in love with Madhubala. But his father refused to accept a Muslim bahu. “The two even went to Haji Malang together,” reveals Bina Rai. But there were too many hurdles in the way. Premnath then met Bina Rai. And a new romance began. “We went for a shooting spell to Mysore… he’d take me on long drives to the Chamundi Hills,” she rewinds. “He had a good voice, he would sing songs of K.L.Saigal and Mukesh.
“Ours was partly a love and partly an arranged marriage. His family was on my side since I was a Hindu.”
Moreover, Premnath went on record to say, “Besides Bina’s pleasant nature and education, I was attracted to her because of her mother. She would pamper me on the sets. It was like finding the mother I’d never had.”
The actor had been motherless since the age of five.
Her parents knew that their strong-willed daughter would follow the dictates of her heart. They gave the couple their assent for marriage… only her elder brother raised some objections. He didn’t want her to marry an actor since men from show business were notorious for their reckless lifestyles.
Premnath and Bina Rai did visit Madhubala when she was ill. “Yes they were in love. My husband was very upset about her condition,” she says emotionally. “He couldn’t accept the fact that she was seriously ill. They must have shared something beautiful but things don’t always work out. Love stories don’t always have happy endings…I’m told Madhubala was very disturbed on the day we got married.”
Their wedding became the talk of the town. The ceremony as well as the subsequent parties hosted by their families were filmed and released all over India by Kardar Films. Followed a six-month honeymoon around the world. “Both of us came from large joint families,” Bina Rai tells me. “We were eight brothers and sisters while my husband had 12 brothers and sisters. My father-in-law married thrice. So we decided to keep our family small.”
Now with four grandchildren, the Premnaths number ten.
My husband,” Bina Rai says frankly, “was the dominating type. Of course, he had his good points too. He was well-read, he was into philosophy. He was a very loving and caring man.”
With a tremble in her voice, she continues, “I miss him very much. There’s a big gap in my life, I realized how attached I was to him.”
According to film lore, Premnath was a difficult man to live with. “Aren’t all husbands difficult?” she retorts. “All marriages have their ups and downs. We had our setbacks too… yet the question of a divorce never occurred to either one of us. We made mutual adjustments and that’s how our marriage… and love survived.
“Going into production proved disastrous for us. Our films (Samundar, Prisoner Of Golconda) didn’t do well and I had to return to the studios to help out financially. My second innings didn’t last very long though. The pressures got to me and I suffered a nervous breakdown.”
Bina Rai is still on medication to calm her nerves.
She believes in yoga and prayers as panaceas to any ailment… As I leave, she returns with measured footsteps to her room… and from what I can detect, a quiet, uncomplaining loneliness – (As told to Meera Joshi in 1996).