Leena Chandavarkar – Memories
My earliest memory is of when I was in school. We were asked to write an essay and I wrote that I wanted to be a film star. My teacher punished me severely for this. She caned me and asked me to apologize. But I was unrepentant and refused to. She then asked me to sit on the last bench. In those days, films were not looked upon as a respectable profession. Moreover, she must have thought it best to nip the thought in the bud itself. She was afraid I might be led astray and get exploited. She meant well, so she punished me.
Ironically, when I got into films and went to Dharwad for the premier of a film, she came to ask for a donation. But she was happy for me. She was glad that I achieved my goal without any harm coming to me. She was satisfied to see that I was in good hands.
As for memories, I would rather talk about the memorable men in my life. First comes my father, Srinath Chandavarkar. My father was and still is, a very handsome man. Even as a child, I remember how married women used to throw themselves at him. He looked dashing when he went hunting. He was also a pilot. Whenever they had a fight my mother would say, ‘Never marry a handsome man’. I was my father’s pet. He would do anything for me. I remember one childhood incident clearly. One morning, my mother woke me up for school and I got up crying. I was having this lovely dream where my brother was eating delicious, hot idlis. My mother woke me just as I was about to eat mine. I cried because my brother had already eaten his. My dad, who was on his way to office, overheard this. Though he was late and in spite of the fact that it was raining cats and dogs, he said, ‘My darling wants idlis, she shall have them,’ and he bought me some. That was the extent to which I was spoilt!
My father raised his hand on me just once, when I refused to write my SSC exams if my parents did not allow me to enter the film talent contest. They were dead against my joining films. It was my maternal great grandfather who convinced my father. He told him, ‘Allow her to go. What if she falls into the wrong hands and get exploited? Would you like that? Let her go through the right channels. If it is in her fate to become an actress she will, no matter what. Support her and trust her. That is what she needs’. So my parents gave in to my demands. That night I heard them talking, saying, ‘Let her send her photographs. There is no guarantee she will be selected’. But I was selected. When I came to Bombay, I was rejected since I was a minor. Of course later on, Sunil Dutt took me under his wing and Nargisji trained me. That is a different story altogether.
My bond with my father is very strong. We have seen and borne so many tragedies together — my mother’s death, my brother’s suicide, my first husband’s death, then my second husband’s death. Can you imagine how it must have pained him, to see his favorite child face such harrowing experiences in life? He has been very brave. He is a very learned man and always told me, ‘You have to bear your own cross’. I remember my father’s letters to me. Each would start with, `When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, everything is lost’. I am glad that I have always maintained this. I have never abused his trust in me. He is the only surviving member I have. When we sit together, silently, each knows what the other is thinking but we don’t talk about it. Life has to go on. I guess I have emerged much stronger for all this.
My brother, Anil Chandavarkar, was everything and more than I could ask for in a brother. He was academically brilliant and scored 98 per cent in his B. Sc. That is the top record till date. But then, he sacrificed everything for me. He got a call from IIT Powai but he could not go. My mother was very ill and my father was at her bedside. I was busy with films and I needed somebody with me. So my brother gave up everything and accompanied me. Never once did he complain. Instead, if I felt bad about it he would chide me, ‘I have only one sister, can’t I do this much for her’? Real brothers are like real mothers. Just like nobody can replace your mother, nobody can replace a brother.
Unfortunately for him, life was not good. He was there through my bad films but when he was going through a rough patch emotionally, he never let me know it. He had some family problems and killed himself in May ’85. He was just 38. But even in death, he realized that I would be the one most affected. In his suicide note he apologized to me. He also said he loved his daughter very much. He has a beautiful daughter and we meet often. But nobody can fill the void Anil left in me.
I had reached a peak in my career. Bidaai was a super hit and so was Qaid. People were congratulating me, ‘Madam, you have at last reached what you have strived so hard for’. I had even worked with Dilip Kumar. That was my only ambition in life. I used to beg to my directors, ‘Just give me one scene with the thespian. Even if it is a maid’s role, I don’t mind’. But then I got to be his leading lady in Bairaag. It was really a dream come true. I was doing very well when I fell in love with Siddharth.
It is another story, how Siddharth conned me! My parents I had been looking for a good boy to get me married to. When Siddharth’s alliance came, I was not interested. My opinion was, all rich men are playboys, with no finer qualities in life. With that motive, I paid a surprise visit to his house early one morning. I met this handsome young man, polite and polished, who introduced himself as Gautam, Siddharth’s manager and he confirmed all my beliefs saying that Siddharth had all those vices which I suspected him of. I gradually fell in love with Gautam, not knowing it was Siddharth who had conned me all along. Of course when he later came out with the truth, I was furious. But he said he simply couldn’t resist it, when I had walked haughtily into his house, with my preconceived ideas.
When I decided to get married, everybody was against it. They thought I was a fool to give up my career when I was at the top. But I was in love. Siddharth was a very principled, lovely human being. So full of life. We got engaged in September ’74 and tied the knot on December 8, 1975. It was the shortest marriage and lasted exactly 11 months. While it lasted, it was like a fairy tale. Till then, I thought things like this only happened in films and story books. Siddharth was very religious. He was the eighth son. After three sisters, his mother had lost seven sons. He was the only son who survived. He would do pooja for a very long time. I would tease him, `If you do so much pooja, we will only be able to romance in our old age. Soon after our marriage, the accident took place. He was cleaning his gun and it went off accidentally. After that, it was a nightmare of running to hospitals. Eleven months later, Siddharth was no more.
At a time like this, I will never forget Dharmendra. There are some people who have godliness in them and I think he is one of them. While Siddharth was fighting for his life in hospital, the doctors said he needed a life saving drug, which would be able to digest protein. I don’t know what made me call Dharmendra. Even as a young girl, I had always thought of him as strong and dependable. Prakashji answered the phone and immediately put her husband on. While I was trying to explain how serious Siddharth was, he said, ‘Never mind that, just spell out the name of the drug and I will try and get it as fast as possible’. The drug was Tracilol, only available in London. I don’t know how he managed it but within a few hours, he got it for me. Siddharth died 11 months later. But at that time, Dharmendra really went out of his way. I shall always remain grateful to him.
After Siddharth passed away, I went into severe depression. It was too much of a shock to me. It was a long time before I was ready to face the world. It was Kishore Kumar who brought me out of that hell I had created for myself. KK taught me to laugh genuinely. He used to say it was very difficult to make someone laugh. If you succeed in making a person happy, that was a great feat. He told me to follow him blindly, I did, and then he vanished. I married KK, twice. One was a registered marriage and the other was by Vedic rites. My mother was not happy about the first and insisted that we marry by Vedic rites. She felt that a marriage was not solemnized unless the couple took saat pheras around the fire. I was nine months pregnant with Sumeet by then, so we gave the servants chhutti for the day and got married. It was very funny to see a very pregnant me taking the saat pheras and resting in between the pooja!
I was very possessive about KK. I used to cross question him and really make him very wary. He used to tell his sons, ‘My advice to you is, don’t marry. You have to be a virtual prisoner if you have a spying wife, who questions you like a detective!’ My few years with KK, were the happiest of my life.
One more person I would really like to mention, is Dr. R. P. Soonawala. He was very patient with me. I was very pessimistic and nervous about my pregnancy. I kept pestering him, asking if the baby was okay. KK had already suffered a heart attack, so I was worried about whether the medicines he was taking, would affect the baby. He repeatedly and patiently reassured me. Only once, he lost his temper with me. My blood pressure was very high and he had asked me to cut down on salt. I lied to him that I was not eating it. He was very angry and said, ‘Do you want a normal child or not? It is your baby, you decide’. That really scared me and I cut down on it. All the ladies would come alone for their check-ups. I was the only one whose husband accompanied me to every one. I would feel shy but KK insisted on coming along.
KK’s death shattered me. I went to pieces. It was Amit who taught me to face the world. He made me aware of my responsibility to Sumeet. Many women lose their husbands but I had lost two husbands within a very short span of time. I had an overdose of problems. I was treading the delicate purdah between sanity and insanity, when Amit placed Sumeet’s responsibility on me. I shall be ever grateful to him for his silent support. Whenever I went into depression he would take care of Sumeet. He has even changed nappies and looked after the child when he was sick. Amit always told me one thing, ‘Your conscience should be clear . Conscience is your connection to God. The minute you lose it, you are far away from God’.
Amit is very sensitive but he doesn’t show it. I know that people wonder why he has not yet married. He is young, handsome and a lovely human being. His not marrying has been a bone of contention between us. We have had several arguments and now I have just given up. After all, he is an adult, how much can one tell him? It is not as if he lacks girlfriends or female fans. He has a very active social life. Even when his father was alive, we had convinced him with great difficulty and he had got engaged. But that broke and even when he got engaged a second time, it didn’t work.
The core of the problem lies in his own unhappy childhood. As a child, in court, he was asked to choose between his parents. He said, `I could see their expectant faces. I didn’t want to choose. I loved them both. I will not let my child face the same trauma I did. Amit has seen his father’s unhappy marriages and has told me, ‘I don’t believe in the institution of marriage. It is nothing but a flimsy piece of paper. Earlier, there was more value to this institution. Nowadays, divorce is very common’. He has seen several of his close friends whose marriages are not working. All of us have tried to convince him to marry and have failed. Tomorrow, if he decides to marry, we will be there. All he has to do, is select the girl. But there is a hard shell inside his heart, that nobody is able to penetrate. He is very kind and loves children. His only answer is, ‘I don’t want to put my child through what I went through’. He even advises Sumeet not to get married. He has his own life and I don’t interfere. Amit has never put any restrictions on me. The only condition is, ‘Don’t neglect Sumeet, he needs you’.
Sumeet is a little brat. He has inherited one quality of mine, possessiveness. He is extremely possessive about me. He is now 15, I feel my responsibilities are over. He can take care of himself. Sumeet is extremely fond of Amit and vice versa. If there is an argument between Amit and me, he will gang up with Amit. He will do anything for Amit, his whole world is Amit.
Whenever I go into depression, it is Amit who takes Sumeet out and entertains him. I am lucky that both my children love each other so much, that an observer cannot tell they are half brothers.
One person who Amit reminds me a lot of, is Sanjeev Kumar. We shared a wonderful rapport. He was always pulling my leg. Whenever we had a romantic scene to do, he would say, ‘Oh, if only I was doing this scene with Hema Malini. How much I would have enjoyed it’! And I would retort, `Dream away, dream boy. I too wish it was Dharmendra, instead of you’! This leg pulling would go on in front of the entire unit and everybody would be in splits. He would come on the sets and say, ‘I don’t believe this, you are actually looking beautiful today. Touch wood’. And saying this, he would touch my head!
For all his tomfoolery, Sanjeev was a very kind and sensitive human being. I remember, when his mother died, he looked like a lost child. I will never forget Sanjeev. It was such a pity he never married.
I have also done several films with Jeetendra. He is 10 years older, yet in the film Sarfarosh, I played his mother. He would always tease me about it but would call me his lucky mascot. Whenever his career went through an all-time low, he would do a film with me and it would be a runaway hit. Once, I remember, we were shooting for his film. Sumeet was crying in a room nearby. The director said, ‘Take the child outside’. But Jeetendra said, `No, lights off. Give the child to his mother. Let her hold him, calm him and then we will shoot’. Few people show such consideration.
A woman who has lost her husband, is always in a vulnerable position. If I start working in films, people will talk. If I sit at home, people will talk. But if I try to please everybody, it will be very difficult for me. I do what I want to do. I have had a very unhappy life and KK was the only person who gave me a lot of happiness. I will cherish those memories till the day I die. They are enough for me. (As told to Jyoti Suvarna in 1997)