Farida Jalal – Interview (2000)
Farida Jalal is happy and it shows. Her radiant complexion fascinates us. Isn’t she too young to play a mother, we wonder! She is shooting for her serial ‘Hum Hain Anari’ at Malad. We have a tete-a-tete as she relaxes between shots. We start at the very beginning… her entry into the film industry.
The journey began with a talent contest, she informs us. “Rajesh Khanna was also one of the contenders. We were both chosen as finalists and were presented on stage as winners at the Filmfare Awards function. Mr.Tarachand Barjatya happened to be in the audience and he approached me for his film Taqdeer. That’s how I got my first film… a Rajshri production. Thanks to this contest, I never had to go door to door begging for work!” she says.
Soon after Taqdeer came Baharon Ki Manzil and, of course, Aradhana…the film that immortalized Rajesh Khanna’s coy paramour.
She recalls working with the superstar. “I had a ball working with Rajesh Khanna! But I was a little superstar myself,” she says naughtily. “I felt like one because of the way everyone loved and pampered me on the sets! I never had a problem with anyone,” she hastens to add.
She turns nostalgic as she speaks of the film. “I was very young when I signed Aradhana. I was so shy of doing a romantic scene that I didn’t look into Rajesh Khanna’s eyes throughout the song `Baghon mein bahar hai…’ My coyness turned out so well in the film that people loved me and showered me with compliments! I suppose they got to see something different for a change… usually heroines do romantic songs with such ease,” she says.
We ask her if she ever had a crush on Rajesh Khanna. “NO!” she says emphatically. “I never had a crush on Rajesh Khanna…Puleeease underline this,” she stresses. “Did you ever hear anything of that sort? In fact, I was never linked with any of my heroes! Why even my friend Daboo, found it unusual that I should come out so clean! He would often tease me and say ‘You are ABNORMAL’! And I would tell him, ‘Well, I prefer being abnormal and you can call me that’! It’s okay if you find me uninteresting,” Farida smiles.
She is full of praise for the leading lady of Aradhana – Sharmila Tagore. “Sharmila was very caring and would look after me like a mother! She was very protective about me and was very nice to me during Aradhana. I can never forget that.”
One co-star she hit off very well with was Danny Denzongpa. They made a hit pair in well-received films like Kala Sona and Dharmatma.
“I think our tuning was very right,” says Farida. “Danny is one of the best people I have met in this industry. He too would pamper me a lot! I remember the pomegranates and juice that was ordered for him on the sets and I always ended up having it,” she giggles. Two of her films with Danny—Naya Daur and Zidd, being made by Naseer Khan — remained incomplete, she informs us.
She evinces great respect for Mehmood. “Mehmood bhai jaan was more like a father figure to me! He is the king of comedy… he has left an indelible mark in this industry. No one can take his place.”
Her admiration for the man is evident as she adds, “He never thought of stealing the limelight. Considering he was the producer of Padosan he gave Kishore saab such an important role, not once flinching that Kishore saab might walk away with the film! Indeed, Kishore saab gave a great performance in the film but this goes to prove Mehmood’s magnanimity. Today, it is very difficult to find a person with a heart like his.”
We ask her if Mehmood was the one who inspired her towards comedy?
“You can say that because, in a way, Mehmood was instrumental! In Paras, I had comedy scenes but was petrified to do them as I was standing opposite Mehmood. But he was so encouraging. He helped me through everything and made me feel so comfortable,” she recollects fondly.
We mention Amitabh Bachchan and she squeals in delight. She cannot stop raving about how good he is in ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’.
“Amitji is a great actor but more importantly, he’s a good human being! I have known him since Pyar Ki Kahani… those days he was struggling. He became a superstar much later,” she reveals.
A project of Sunderlal Nabhar, then big time producer from the South, Pyaar Ki Kahani was her first film with Amitabh Bachchan though she was cast opposite Anil Dhawan and Tanuja paired with Amitabh.
“I was doing Gopi when I was signed for this film. Of all the films I did with Amitji, Majboor is the most memorable one. I remember those days on the sets, when we would laugh all the time. Amitji is someone who can have you in splits! I was very close to him,” she gets sentimental.
The Bachchans are among the cherished few friends she has in the industry. ‘Jaya and I were great friends and still are! We would always visit each other. But after I got married and moved to Bangalore, we didn’t have a chance to meet. Now, we both are starring in Karan Johar’s forthcoming film Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. I’m really looking forward to it because we’ll be working together after so many years,” she says excitedly. Farida was one of the few privileged guests at Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan’s wedding. She has known Abhishek and Shweta from the time they were born. Not surprisingly, it was an emotional moment to act with Abhishek in Tera Jadoo Chal Gayaa. “While I was working with Abhishek in the film, I got so emotional that at times, I could cry. He constantly reminds me of Jaya and Amitabh. He is a darling boy… very sweet and down to earth. God bless him,” she says lovingly.
Her attachment to Amitabh is reaffirmed as she goes on to talk of their new projects together. “I always get a little sentimental when I meet him because all the memories flash before my eyes. I remember when we worked in Hindustan Ki Kasam, I was playing Ajay’s mom and he would keep teasing me and call me a `buddhi’ all the time,” laughs Farida. “But it was fun!”
The good times notwithstanding, Farida chose to bid adieu to films. We ask her why?
The 1970s ushered in an era of multi-starrers. It was also Amitabhji’s best phase. Those days the films included a multiple star cast like Amitabhji, Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini, Parveen Babi, Shatrughan Sinha and Neetu Singh. Since most of our roles were then being done by the big heroines, there was nothing left for us to do,” she explains.
“Actresses like Aruna Irani didn’t mind working opposite a comedian and they chose to stay back. But I had reached a certain stage in my career and after having won an award and acclaim for my performances, I wasn’t ready to compromise on my roles, so I walked away. And then I got married,” she adds.
She dotes her husband Tabrez, who, she asserts, is the only man she loved in her life. We get curious about how their romance blossomed.
“Tabrez had done films like Pyare Madina and other Muslim social cinema. We met on the sets of Jeevan Rekha. We fell in love in the course of the film and got married in November ’78. As I wasn’t getting too many film offers after marriage, I moved to Bangalore with my husband. He has his own soap factory there. Then I had a son and I got busy raising him. Time just flew,” she says.
After a hiatus of eight long years, Farida made a forceful comeback with Henna. What made her return?
“On the last day of my shoot for Bobby, I said goodbye to Rajji. He immediately retorted ‘There is no goodbye between you and me because the RK banner will produce films and you will always be a part of them’. After I got married and moved away from Mumbai, I would often think `Rajji ka vaada reh gayaa’! But the Kapoors kept the promise and the offer of Henna came to me in Bangalore,” she says.
The offer came with such love and respect that Farida did not have the heart to refuse it. “I immediately accepted the offer. Henna was Rajji’s dream. Rishi told me that Rajji had written my name in the star cast when he planned Henna. I have always been very fond of Daboo, Chintu, Chimpu and Krishnaji. I may not meet them every day but they hold a special place in my heart! I am very grateful to Daboo and Chintu for this film. People liked me in Henna and I was overwhelmed by their response. I also got the Best Supporting Actress award for this film. I couldn’t have wished for a warmer welcome back!” Farida says earnestly.
Henna was special and she had thought of doing just this one last film but destiny had other things in store for her. At the film’s premier party, I got other film offers. I discussed them with my husband and he left it to me to decide. He told me that if I was happy about the offers, then I must consider them. My son Yatin had also grown up and my mother was looking after him very well. I thought it was the perfect time for me to make a comeback,” she says.
How did she take the gradual shift from playing the heroine to a sister to a mother?
“You take it as part of life. The question about why Farida didn’t become a heroine even though she deserved to be one, troubles you people more than me,” she points out. “What’s so great about looking pretty, dancing around trees and singing songs? I was doing more than the heroine was. At the end of the film, I could walk away with the awards. So I was very happy,” she says.
Farida draws more satisfaction from the present phase of her professional life. “When I was doing the sister’s role I was young, so I would object to certain scenes. There were too many dos and don’ts on my list. As a result, I accepted lesser work. But there is nothing you can object to in a mother’s role. Of course, one feels that one has been typecast as an artiste and one’s career is stagnating. But then you do get films like Mammo ,Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kya Kehna once in a while, so it’s okay!”
We ask her about her young female co-stars in Dilwale… and Kya Kehna. “Kajol squeezes me to death whenever she meets me!” she laughs. “But that’s her way of showing affection and I love it! Preity is another little girl whom I am really fond of! She was absolutely raw when she did Kya Kehna. Though Dil Se was released earlier, Kya Kehna was her first film. We saw Preity as a beginner and then post Dil Se when Kya Kehna was near completion, we saw Preity and her star tantrums. These changes are bound to happen but I still think about how much success changes a person!”
We ask her about the difference in the industry then and now “There’s a lack of dedication and discipline on the sets today. And the fact that we don’t have good scripts anymore. A script is the backbone of every film, serial or play. Those days, every film carried a moral. There were stalwarts like B.R. Chopra who made successful films without a single song. Mehboob Khan told all about family planning in a film like Mother India. We don’t have filmmakers like them anymore! They knew how important a script was to a film. They had a story department in which four or five writers used to sit with one script! Today, dialogues are changed moments before the clap. Why aren’t actors given bound scripts like before, so that they can wear their role and come prepared,” she exclaims.
She dwells on the dedication of yesteryear stars. “Dilip Kumar learnt to play the sitar just because he had to play it in one of the songs in his film. Do we hear of something like this today? Today, heroes are happier showing their bodies! I don’t think that’s what acting is all about. What are we telling the audience? Today, we are selling something else! How many heroine-oriented films are being made these days? Why aren’t the kind of roles that Vyjayantimala, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Mala Sinha, Waheedaji did, being given to today’s heroines? They are only told to look beautiful in a film and dance around trees. More than anybody else, the filmmakers are to blame for all this,” she charges.
Farida made her debut on the small screen with her role of the corpulent chachi in the popular serial `Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’. She showcased her comic touch in another serial called `Dekh Bhai Dekh’. She was also seen as a game show hostess in ‘Star Yaar Kalakaar’.
Does she enjoy working for television as much as she does films?
In films, I only play the mother’s role. I am not even as old as I am made to look. On television, I get to portray myself. I can play the central character, which is an opportunity I’ll never get in films.”
But she knows that television means hard work. “There is no respite on the small screen. Sometimes, we don’t even get the time to eat our lunch properly. There is more effort and professionalism in TV. But then the money is also better on the small screen! The atmosphere in films is more relaxed. One gets enough time between shots and otherwise too, when working in films,” she adds.
It has been a long and fruitful journey for Farida. She humbly acknowledges the fact that life has been kind to her. She has won acclaim and received her due but the desire to deliver a better performance goads her on.
“Honestly speaking, an actor can never be satisfied. You might say that I have had my fill of both comedy and intense roles but I still feel that I can do so much more. I hope someone taps my potential and I don’t have to take it with me to my grave!”
She now plans to get into production herself. She is working on the plots of a couple of serials — a comedy and another more serious one.
At this stage of her life, she is content. Her placid countenance reflects an inner peace. Her modesty touches us as she says, “God has been very kind to me. I sometimes feel I don’t even deserve all this that He has given me. Maybe I am a little special to Him.” (Farida Jalal interviewed by Manisha-Vibhuti in 2000).