She was one of the many eager onlookers at a gala film stars’ show organized in aid of a local institution.
As she watched, the old thoughts, which she had all along suppressed, came back once again: “I wish I was on that stage now. Oh, how I wish I, too, could act!”
The compere’s clear voice cut into Indirani’s thoughts. He was announcing a beauty contest, urging the girls in the audience to try their luck.
Reluctantly, Indirani went up to the stage, wondering whether she was only making a fool of herself.
Beautiful Nutan was the judge, and as she took a good look at each of the fifteen girls who had lined-up on the stage, she asked some of them their names. She passed Indirani without asking her anything, much to her dismay.
Then, all too soon, the results were announced. Indirani could hardly believe her ears –she had won the competition!
When the winner was introduced to Nutan and Shobhana Samarth, the latter asked her if she would like to act in films. But, aware of her disapproving brother-in-law, who was standing close by, Indirani said, “No.”
Soon afterwards, however, when one of the chief guests of the evening asked her the same question, she boldly said, “Yes”—this time her brother-in-law was out of earshot!
“Actually,” says the petite, dark-haired Indirani, “I had always wanted to act. Even as a mere child I used to arrange small shows with the help of my friends. I was producer, director, stage manager and script-writer, all rolled into one. My aunt, who was an invalid, used to encourage me, and often helped us, contributing bedsheets as curtains for our ‘stage’.
“I was inclined to be shy. But the moment I was on the stage I was no longer self-conscious. Somehow neither the footlights nor the audience made me nervous. I felt completely at home”.
This poise was perhaps due to the fact that her sister Maya was an artist of Bengali screen. She would often see Maya rushing off to the studio early in the morning to report for ‘shooting’ and sometimes, if she was good, she would be taken to that magic world.
Indirani was born and brought up in Allahabad. Her childhood was a happy one, filled with warmth and laughter, and she often went for outings with her father, who affectionately called her “Pip.” (“Father was very fond of Charles Dickens, and ‘Great Expectations’ was his favorite novel,” explains Indirani.)
When Maya was working in Bengali films, Indirani stayed with her for a while in Calcutta. In her early teens she went to the Kulu Valley and blossomed into womanhood in those verdant surroundings. People took her to be a “Pahari” girl, for she has the gazelle eyes and the quick flashing grace of the mountain belle.
“1959 was a lucky year for me,” Indirani recalls, for I won that beauty competition. And then my mother wrote to Bimal Roy requesting him to give me a screen test.”
Bimal Roy wrote back promptly, asking for her photograph. But there was no time to have a fresh photograph taken and Indirani sent him one from her collection—”Probably my worst!” she chuckles.
But, in spite of the old photograph, she was asked to come to Bombay for a screen test.
“How well I remember that day,” she says. “I was a bundle of nerves! When the routine tests were over, I was asked to enact a very emotional scene, with tears thrown in. I was in a panic!
“Of course, I could have resorted to glycerine, but something urged me not to do that. I must show that I can act, I thought, I must shed real tears… .”
The scene began. She read the dialogue, trying to imagine herself as the unfortunate heroine.
The words she uttered were only the expression of her grief, and it was the emotion itself that was all important. Even as she read the dialogue she thought: Imagine how awful it would be not to pass the test. Think of going home, defeated. You’ll be laughed at and jeered—”There’s the girl who wanted to be an actress and she couldn’t act !”
The thought assailed her with such intensity that, before she knew it, she was crying— naturally, spontaneously—as she spoke her lines.
The effect was electrifying. The director watched this slip of a girl crying her heart out, just as the role required her to do.
Indirani passed the test and was offered an important role in Bimal Roy’s film “Usne Kaha Tha.”
Her dream was beginning to come true. She was an actress–“not a star, and all that the term connotes,” she says.
“I am in films because I want to act,” she emphasizes. “I was never fascinated by the glitter and the glamour, the fan mail and the flattery. Perhaps Bimal Roy recognized this trait in me, for he once said to me: ‘I want you to be a good actress first and a star afterwards. One must work hard to achieve success’.”
Fame does not mean anything to her just now. Perhaps she will win it some day, but she hopes that it will not spcil her.
“I’d like to be myself,” she says, “and, somehow, I feel that others, too, would like me to stay that way.”
Shy and reserved on first meeting, Indirani has a great fund of humor, which seems to bubble in her ready smile. Quick at repartee, she also has a disarming manner.
The glittering “Filmfare” Nite organized to introduce newcomers was another big event in Indirani’s life.
Several famous heads turned to have a second look when Indirani stepped on the stage. She seemed so refreshingly different.
Among the guests were Mr. and Mrs. Sohrab Modi. Mehtab spotted Indirani and, after asking, “Who’s that girl?” promptly turned to her husband and said: “We must have her in our new film. Persuade her to act in it.”
Came an invitation to dinner at the Sohrab Modis’ lovely flat at Cuffe Parade. Indirani wondered what it was all about. She had always been a Modi fan and was thrilled to meet him.
Sohrab-Modi offered her a role in his film “Ek Roop Do Jeevan”, which she accepted with alacrity.
“I was very lucky to be signed up by the very film makers—Bimal Roy and Sohrab Modi—with whom I had always wanted to work,” remarks Indirani.
What kind of roles does she like to play ?
“Well, I am all for being versatile,” she says, “but I know I’d be useless in a frivolous role. To each according to his ability, I suppose. Give me an emotional role every time.”
Indirani used to take part in Hindi plays broadcast by AIR at Allahabad and feels that this experience will help her considerably in films.
Her hobbies are few and anything but the fashionable ones. Lover of a quiet life, she prefers staying at home, doing something useful in the house, to going out. Pearl Buck and Daphne Du Maurier are her staple reading—she is lost to the world once she has one of their books.
She can cook a gourmet’s fare, but she is not too fond of cooking. “I prefer eating,” she adds gleefully.
Her very first scene in “Usne Kaha Tha” was a hilarious one. Laughter came readily to her and set the tone for her acquaintance with her co-stars Sunil Dutt, Nanda and Durga Khote. “I felt very much at ease with them. They never made me conscious of being a newcomer,” she affirms.
In fact, Durga Khote noticed that Indirani was not happy about the hotel food and insisted on sending her food from her own home. “Her warm-hearted gesture was so touching, I will never forget it. How wonderful people can be,” says Indirani. Then switching to her career, she enthuses: “How wonderful it is to do something that you have always wanted to do.”
Not far off, the lights of fame shine and beckon all new artists—perhaps they shine brightest for a dainty actress called Indirani. (Filmfare, July 1960)