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Director Kidar Sharma talks about the famous bathing scene from Chitralekha (1941)

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Mehtaab in the famous bathing scene from Chitralekha (1941)
Mehtaab in the famous bathing scene from Chitralekha (1941)

In this film, I had even bared a beauty on the silver screen for the first time with such finesse, in a bathing scene by Miss Mehtab, that nothing was revealed, but it created an illusion of great feminine charm.

Before we started shooting the bathing scene, I took my heroine Mehtab aside and explained to her how and why I was doing the scene. She said, “If the story demands this scene, I see no vulgarity in it, and so I am not afraid to strip, because we have no ugliness to hide. However I do have one condition. I consider my director to be just like my father and I will only strip if you ask everyone to clear the set. Since you are a good photographer yourself, please ask the cameraman to set the lights and the camera using a double, and when the set is cleared of everyone, you will be the only one with me and I will gladly perform. When you say the word action I will strip and enter the marble tub and enact the scene where I have to wash my body with a lotus flower till I hear the word `cut’… but there should be no retakes.” I agreed and Mehtab gracefully and beautifully performed.

Kidar Sharma and Meena Kumari on the sets of Chitralekha (1964)
Kidar Sharma and Meena Kumari on the sets of Chitralekha (1964)

All the critics, barring K.A. Abbas and the correspondent of Deen Duniya, a magazine published from Delhi, panned it ruthlessly. They called it vulgar. Sharma, later remade Chitralekha (1964) for Ranjit with Meena Kumari in the lead. “When I went to sign Meena, her husband, Kamal Amrohi, asked me, ‘What about that bathing scene? Meena won’t do it.’ I turned round and said, ‘You don’t have to worry. I am not making this film for medical students. I too have a sense of aesthetics.’ I didn’t mean to insult Meena, but I knew she had her limitations, she was too heavy around the hips. I cast her because I needed the kind of sensuousness her eyes could exude. I camouflaged her body to make her look physically sensuous too. Using a cardboard, shaped like hips, and a clever play of lights I made her ample hips look shapely.”

Sharma doesn’t consider today’s actresses ‘sexy’ in the same sense [He is talking about ’80s actresses here]. “A lack of inhibition”, he says, “has destroyed their feminity. Those days they used to ask, ‘How many songs will you give me to sing?’ Today they say, ‘How many rape scenes?'”

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