Chitra – Interview
The little kid Afsar-un-nisa, about six years old, was merrily jogging along behind her father, as they were crossing the railway lines in their home-town, Hyderabad. Suddenly she fell into a ditch and kept clinging to the railway track yelling, “Abba…”, for dear life. He was a few steps ahead.
The old man looked back, but did not see the little one in trouble. He followed the cry and found her in the ditch. He helped her out and off they went.
Minutes later a train whizzed past over the same track, and if she had not been hauled out of the ditch in time, she would have lost all her fingers under the train. “I can never forget that moment.”
If the accident had occurred, the film world probably would not have had a gifted artiste named Chitra, the Indian cinema’s answer to Hollywood’s Jane (played by Maureen O’Sullivan) in the Tarzan series, for Chitra played the jungle heroine in India’s first color jungle film Zimbo (1958), which became instantly popular.
As an added attraction, the giant chimpanzee named Pedro was a foreign “artiste”. He was specially brought to India to star in Zimbo. During the shooting of the picture, which had Azad as the hero, a sort of Indian Johnny Weissmuller, Pedro got very friendly with the young and luscious Chitra.
“It used to sit at my feet, when we were not shooting and lick my feet. I don’t know why, but it took a liking to me to such an extent that he wouldn’t let anyone come near me, or try to be friendly with me. It used to jibber and jump at the intruder.”
Zimbo was one of the several successful hits through which Chitra became a box-office name at a young age.
Believe it or not, she became a bread-winner at the tender age of seven. Born in Hyderabad, her father used to bring her to Bombay during holidays and that was how she met P. N. Arora, who cast her in Chor Bazar, co-starring Shammi Kapoor.
Chitra had hardly any education worth mentioning. Even during her school days, she used to while away her time at home dressing and making-up and singing and dancing.
“I was fond of movies even then and never cared for my studies. My father used to coax and cajole me to study with the promise of taking me to a picture in the evening. But that did not have much effect on me, though later I did my matriculation in Urdu.”
Chor Bazar was followed by a series of hits and they included Tilottama, Pak Daman, Alam Ara opposite Mahipal. Then a stint in Madras with AVM for Baap Beti; followed by Hatim Tai Ki Beti, Madari, Reporter Raju opposite Feroz Khan, Qatil with Premnath, Khazanchi with Rajendra Kumar, etc.
Her heroes included oldtimer Daljit, Pradeep Kumar, Ajit, Mahipal, Feroz Khan, Dheeraj. She worked with directors like P. N. Arora. Homi Wadia, Nanabhai Vakil, with whom she did 19 pictures, and others.
After starring in more than 50 pictures, beginning in 1954, most of which were hits, her career almost came to a full stop around 1967-68 with Bahurupee, in which she starred alongside newcomer Dheeraj Kumar. The film, directed by Shree Ram Bohra, “did not do well.
“But my downfall began a little earlier, when my parents fell seriously ill round about that time. I was mentally disturbed and before long, they both expired, and with it my career too. My business was badly handled, or rather mismanaged, with the result that producers kept away from me. I didn’t know anything then, as I was too busy with my work.”
Chitra has always been a loner and did not have any friends right from her early days, as she became a bread-winner. Being the eldest in the family, she had a heavy load which she carried dutifully. She made sure that her sisters, brothers and parents lived comfortably.
Not only that, she saw to their comfort and ensured that they were settled in life. “I have always been alone. More so, now. I am all by myself, I live alone and I look after myself. With my parents dead, sisters and brothers away, I look up to Allah. He looks after me. I’ve faith in Him.”
During the nearly fifteen years of her reign as a top heroine, for five- six years “I seldom slept or ate at home. I was doing four shifts a day, working in four pictures, eating and sleeping in the car, while going from one place to another. I always woke up at five in the morning. I still do, even though I am not that busy now.”
Chitra tells me that nobody helped her in her career or work. “I am a self-made person. I have no regrets. The only disappointment I have is that I do not feel fulfilled as an artiste.”
Chitra stayed clear away from scandal although she did have her quota of embarrassing situations and moments. One of the heroes (she does not want me to mention his name, since he is married now) wanted to marry her and “wanted to come home to talk to my father. But I was in no mood to marry then. I was so busy and for me everything would have ended with marriage. Marriage was never uppermost in my mind. Not even now. I want to work.”
Gone are the cars and the fan mail and the telephone calls and the suitors and the hangers-on.
She lives in a small but comfortable flat on Mount Mary Road, waiting, hoping that the next sunrise will bring glad tidings, a day better than today. Money is scarce, but she has to keep up a show. “I had to sell my cars. I can’t travel in a bus and taxis are costly.” Any savings? “I used that up during the rainy days.”
Chitra has not given up hope of making a come-back. “Allah is there. I believe in him. I pray every morning.”
Seen recently in a bit role in Aap Beati, Chitra has been signed by Kamal Amrohi for a role in Razia Sultan, starring Dharmendra and Hema Malini.
“Kamal Amrohi signed me as I am fluent in Urdu.” She has other pictures, but they may be just one of those no-roles, as barring the hero and heroine, a villain and a vamp, a father and mother, there is no other part available for a yesterday’s heroine of her caliber and age!
Incidentally, Chitra does not mention his name, the one who took her for a ride, emotionally and financially. He lived off her for years, ostensibly looking after her business, but he wormed his way beyond business into her life. She trusted him, since she had no one else to lean on. This went on for years.
She did not mind the money that went with the relationship, but not the slap she got as a reward for being good to someone. “During my bad days, nobody came to me. And then I learnt my lesson, but it was too late.”
The climax came when she realized that in spite of her being so good to him, working day and night, he was carrying on elsewhere too. The jolt came when he asked her to change her religion, if she wanted him to marry her. He left her when her earnings fell and when his own career in films zoomed. Then he married someone else.
Chitra made it a condition that I do not write about this, but I cannot overlook the things I know, and a lot of people in the industry too know.
She still gets a letter from a fan in Afghanistan, who had come to see her when she was a reigning heroine. He wanted to marry her. He confessed to her that he has all her photographs, right from her first picture.
“He told me that he saw a large portrait of me in a restaurant in Afghanistan which he dearly coveted, but the owner wouldn’t part with it even for Rs. 10,000! I don’t know whether it is still there.”
Financially bent, though not completely broken, Chitra is waiting for the telephone to ring and the call-sheets to come. Will they? (Chita interviewed by Krishna in 1977).