Jabeen Jalil – Interview
She is the prototype of the ideal mother. Parents who visit the same school as her son give her a second look — she’s attractive, well-maintained and a super mother to her ten year old son, Divij. The few who look hard enough at her recognize her as the fun-loving actress of the ’60s, Jabeen.
Jabeen quit films in 1968 after wrapping up her career with the film “Sweetheart” starring Shashi Kapoor and Asha Parekh.
Today she lives with her successful executive husband in her flat in South Bombay, and divides her time between playing the devoted wife and the ideal mother. We caught up with her and her acting career which is strictly a thing of the past…
“People always mistook me for Suraiya,” remembered Jabeen “Some would think I was her younger sister. But I’m not related to Suraiya in any way. And, unlike Suraiya, despite being her look- alike, I was unlucky in my career,” she put in candidly. Brightening up, she continued, “But I’ve been lucky in marriage, touch wood!”
Jabeen’s film career began early, when she was just out of school. “I had taken part in an inter-school dramatic competition. One of the judges of this competition was S. M. Yusuf, a producer-director. He liked me in the play so much that he found out my address and came over to our house. Those days I used to live with my mother and brother. He neatly convinced them about my talent and got me to do a screen test for him. That screen test fetched me my first film, ‘Guzaara’ opposite Karan Dewan (1954).”
Three months after signing her first film, Jabeen found out that she had done equally well on another front — she had passed her Senior Cambridge and had stood third in the Board. “Two boys had done better than me in the exams,” she remembered. “I was also the head girl of my school ,Queen Mary, Bombay). In fact when I told my headmistress about my joining films she was taken aback. She insisted that I pursue my studies since I was so good in them. And so I joined Elphinstone College. But I went to college for barely two months — my shooting schedules were fixed and I had to leave college. Today the one regret I have is that I could not continue my studies.”
At that time however, her career seemed rosy enough for her to plunge headlong into it. “I signed my second film (Lutera) made by Mr. Pancholi opposite Dilip Kumar’s brother Nasir Khan. My third film was Mohan Sehgal’s ‘New Delhi’.
Unfortunately, the early start in life was not enough to make a big star out of her. Despite working in dozens of films, she remained an also-ran. Jabeen said. “I had no Godfather and so the films I got were mainly B-grade ones. I was a busy actress but was always busy with ‘B’ grade films. I kept on working in the fond hope that I’d shift into the big grade.”
It’s not as if Jabeen did not land films opposite the names that then mattered. “I did Subhash Desai’s film ‘Bedard Zamana Kya Jane’ and the song picturised on me ‘Qaid mein hai bulbul’ became a great hit. Then there was ‘Ragini’, produced by Ashok Kumar, opposite Kishore Kumar. I loved doing this film and another called ‘Raat Ke Rahi’ opposite Shammi Kapoor. This was one of the first films with a Christian background. I remember it had run into a lot of problems with the censors.
“I was thrilled when I was signed for ‘Hum Aur Tum’ opposite an ‘A’ grade star like Dev Anand. But unfortunately for me, this film was never released. I suffered a lot of setbacks in my career — every time I saw a ray of hope, even before I could blink my eyes, it would disappear.”
Jabeen insists that she could have made it to the top if she had “compromised” with her principles. “I could have made it,” she said, “but I was not ready to compromise. To really make it I’d have had to dance to the tune of some bigwig producer or director and be at his beck and call. I could never have done anything like that. And so I lost one film after the other.” It is believed that Jabeen lost even a Guru Dutt assignment because she refused to play up to the late film maker. Jabeen herself would rather remember — and talk about — an incident involving B. R. Chopra. “Mr. B. R. Chopra had come to my house along with his financier to sign me for his film ‘Naya Daur’. I was thrilled to be doing one of his films. Then he asked me what I would charge, so I honestly told him that the price didn’t matter. All that mattered was a film with him, he could pay me anything he thought was reasonable. But he kept on insisting that I quote a price and so I mentioned one amount to him. The moment he heard it he turned furious and started making a big noise. It was then that I lost my cool. Simply because I didn’t like his behavior I stuck to my price. Of course I lost the film and he signed Kum Kum later on. B. R. Chopra even tried to have me blacklisted by other producers by telling them that Jabeen was a proud girl etc. etc.”
She could afford to get away with that reputation because, “Although I was in films I had a very good family background. My father was an ICS officer, he was later a trade commissioner to Japan. So we had very high connections, we moved around in the best social circles. Being a film star gave me name and fame but my lifestyle remained that of an upper middle class family.”
Jabeen had to be content with her personal “high connections” because her stint in films was not highly successful. “I continued working in films, all the while hoping to get better films. But after a while all the offers I was getting were C-grade ones. All the offers I refused, went to Mumtaz who did all those roles with Dara Singh.”
Jabeen then remembered some of the big films she had signed and lost. “Sohrab Modi had signed me for ‘Rajhat’. Originally he had signed Vyjayanthimala but due to date problems with her he came to me. All the costumes were stitched for me when Modi Saab called me up. I went over to his office and there he told me that he didn’t know how to tell me but his financier didn’t want me in the film. The financier wanted an actress of the same category as Vyjayanthimala and so Madhubala was signed for the role.
“There was this other film called ‘Baradari’ for which I had done 15 days’ shooting. One day the producer-director asked me to stay back for dinner after shooting. Those days my mother was my constant escort and they did not ask her to stay on. So I packed up and went home. The next day I was told that Geeta Bali had been signed for the same role. I was really shocked! Those days stars didn’t verify with or get another star’s approval before stepping into someone else’s role. Both these episodes happened before my film ‘New Delhi’ was released.”
Of course not all her memories are unpleasant. She remembers the shooting of “Lootera” at Mehboob Studios “which used to bore me to tears because the first shot would be taken at 9 a.m. and the next at 4 p.m. Often Noor, a costar (Shakila’s sister), and I used to jump on the sofas and play pingpong against the wall. I am basically a friendly person but I found that nobody was really friendly with me. We had no clean friendships at that time — most of them had a motive behind their friendship and I detested this.”
However, Jabeen did make a foursome with Waheeda, Nanda and Shakila. “My friendship with them was very rare,” Jabeen pointed out. “But even there I noticed that Nanda and Waheeda never did anything to help my career. But as friends we stuck to one another through thick and thin.”
The friendship with Nanda began because of a premiere: “Those days there was a photographer cum journalist called Dhirendra Kishen. He used to constantly praise Nanda in front of me. One day he mentioned that she didn’t have a car to go to one of her premieres, so I offered mine to her on the spot. I sent my car and chauffeur to her place and that’s how our friendship started.”
Around the same time she met and became friendly with Waheeda Rehman. “I was learning Bharat Natyam from Jayalakshmi Aiwa and Waheeda was also learning dancing from the same teacher. We used to have our lessons early in the morning from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. three times a week. And so Waheeda and I became great friends. Waheeda and Nanda were working together in `Kala Bazaar’ and they became friendly. Waheeda was also friendly with Shakila. So all four of us got together and formed a clique.”
The friendship has survived through the long years though the meetings are not very frequent any more. “Waheeda has moved to Bangalore and comes down to Bombay only for her shootings. Nanda and I used to meet more often but lately she has also started working again.”
Jabeen herself is busy with her new life. Today she’s busy learning classical music. “I had a three year training and now, for the last two years, I have been practicising ghazal singing. I devote at least two hours daily for it.”
For the rest of the day she’s busy with Ashok Kak, her husband. “I first met Ashok on June 6, 1967 at the Sea Lounge. My brother and I were having coffee there when Ashok came in. My brother and he were colleagues at Esso and Ashok had just returned from a posting in Vietnam and was staying at the Taj. It may sound strange but the moment I was introduced to him I told myself, ‘This is the man I’m getting married to’. Later on I discovered that Ashok too had felt the same way at our first meeting. Ashok and I faced quite a bit of family opposition since I’m a Muslim and he’s a Kashmiri Hindu. We got married only in 1968, on October 4. Now we’ve completed almost 16 years of marriage, with absolutely no regrets!”
Husband Ashok put no conditions on Jabeen before marriage. There was no quit-films order either. “Ashok didn’t ask me to give up films after marriage but he said, ‘Please don’t return home from shootings with problems a’nd moods’. I gave up films voluntarily because I didn’t want to sacrifice my marriage for a film career.
“Now I’ve got my son Divij and my husband and I devote all our time to him. I’m fond of outdoor life, so I take my son swimming. I take him for his tennis practice etc. Since I sit and watch him play tennis I’ve got such an awful tan!”
Jabeen wound up her story with the summing up of her family “Both Ashok and I have retained our respective religions after marriage. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family, an adoring husband and a beautiful, healthy child. Frankly I couldn’t have asked for more!” (Jabeen Jalil interviewd by Sherry Nagpal in 1984).