Madhumati – Memories
I was born in a Parsi family and my real name is Hutoxi Reporter. My father was a judge. We used to stay in Thana, near the railway station. My family owned a lot of land there. From the age of seven, I got interested in dancing. I would play records and dance to the music. I was a great fan of Vyjayanthimala. My daddy used to watch me dance and always encouraged me.
At school, we had a dance master from whom I took lessons. Since I was good, my master asked my father to give me professional coaching. So I started learning Kathak. After that, it was Bharat Natyam and then Manipuri. Folk dancing came very naturally to me. Since Parsis are a very orthodox people, my daddy came under a lot of pressure from friends and relatives, who asked him to stop me from learning. But my father was very different and he told them, ‘Look, she is learning a form of art. There is nothing wrong with that. Why should she not be allowed to learn it’? My mother too, was very supportive.
Those days, to join films was considered taboo and I had no intentions of doing so. One day, when I was doing a show at school, some people approached me and asked for my address. I thought they were organizers, so I gave it to them. A few days later, they came home and met my father while I was at school. My father sent for me. When I got home, these producers were sitting there and he asked if I knew them. I said no. My father got angry with me. He asked me if I wanted to join films. I said no, very loudly. But those people pestered him. They told my father that in theatre, only a limited number of people would see me. But if I joined films, I would be watched by many. He then agreed, saying, ‘For the sake of art, I don’t mind her doing so’, But I pointed out, what would the relatives say? As it is, they were making so much noise because I was learning dance! He told me, ‘Do what your mind and heart says. Don’t worry about others. Be a good person and no one can touch you’. I had worked in over 200 films by the time my father expired. He was a great source of inspiration to me.
By the age of 13, I was running a school for classical dancing. I started teaching Bharat Natyam and Kathak. It was a government recognized school, with over 300 students. I taught there for two years and we used to have regular inspection. Whenever the Inspectors asked for the teacher, they were shocked to see a 13-year-old girl with two long plaits, sitting on a stool! They would find the sight very funny. I used to manage very well. I would go to school in the morning and come home by 4.00 in the evening. After that, I used to take classes from four to six, and from six to eight. I never let anything affect my studies though and completed my Matriculation, I could not proceed any further however because by then, I had completed a few films and had quite a few on hand. My father always used to tell me, ‘Keep your head steadily on your shoulders and things will work fine’. That’s exactly what I did.
My first film was Raja Harishchandra, in the year 1959. Today, when I look at myself, I can’t believe it. Those days, I was thin and had long hair. Since my first film, I never looked back. My life has been full of struggle and sacrifice.
Competition is not something I was afraid of. I knew I had the talent and I was willing to work hard for my success. During those days, my father would never send me by car from Thana because the roads weren’t good and the Agra highway used to be jammed. So I would travel by train and had to catch the first train, which left Thana around 4.15 in the morning. Those days, the frequency of trains was bad and if I missed that train, the next train would only leave 45 minutes later, which meant I would be late for shooting. If my shooting was in town, my father asked me to get down at Dadar. And if it was in the suburbs, I was to get down at Ghatkopar. The producers would send their cars to pick me up, at any one of these stops. I would finish work late evening and just got four hours of sleep, after dancing the whole day. But I never gave up or felt tired. I enjoyed my work because I was not forced to do it.
Within six months of my father’s death, I met Manohar Deepak, my would be husband. He was a big name then. He was the person who revived the folk culture, especially the Punjabi bhangra dance. He gave it costume and status. He was a known dancer in Sitara Devi’s group and had done a couple of films, like Raj Kapoor’s Jagte Raho and Naya Daur.
I met him when he has left Sitara Devi’s group and started his own. I, too, had my own group. One day, an organizer came to me and asked if I would work with Manohar. I said no because he had a boys’ group, while mine consisted of girls. But I told myself there was no harm in meeting him, and went over to his place. He used to stay at Cadell Road and had a huge hall where his group used to practice. Since I saw he was a dedicated artiste, I later agreed to work with him and we did a lot of shows together. He was a very friendly person, a married man with four children. I was very friendly with his wife and family.
Fate, however, had something else in store for him. His wife suddenly expired. She had a major heart ailment, which no one knew about including herself. Once, when she was down in Bombay, my mother took her to the cardiologist who discovered that she had a hole in the heart. Later, when she went back to Punjab, it got worse. Manohar was left with no choice. He had to return to Punjab to look after the children, since no one was ready to take on that responsibility. He used to write to me, saying that he was not coming back. The children were very young then.
Sunil Dutt and Nargis were very close to us in those days. I used to call Nargis, aunty. It was she who called Manohar back and advised him to go ahead with his life. She quietly asked me one day, if it came to marriage, would I consider marrying him? I said no. It was not possible for me to marry an already married man. I was just 19 years old and looking after four kids, was going to be impossible for me. Everybody told me that it would be good if I could be a source of protection to the kids. Even his brother-in-law told me, that the children loved me. One day, I told my mother about this. She asked me how I was going to handle my career and the kids. I told her that some compromises would have to be made. Ultimately, I got married. I went ahead with my career, as well as brought up the kids and got them married too. Before my marriage, I made one condition; that I would not have any children of my own. Only when Manohar agreed to this, I went ahead. I felt that the moment you have your own children, you tend to neglect the others. And I was quite happy with this decision.
I was at the top, for almost 25 years. Charas was my last film. I did do a guest appearance though, in Amar Akbar Anthony. My husband told me to quit the industry when I was at the top. Because the moment you start slipping down, it is difficult to make a comeback. I was satisfied with my career. I had done everything an actress could dream of. Believe me, it was not easy being at the top for almost 25 years.
We were not pampered like the present day stars are. We were very dedicated. Today, if a star has a small sprain, he/she will not shoot for 10 days. I have danced with a fractured foot and also once, when I had a torn ligament. I did this whole film with Sunil Gavaskar and he didn’t know about it. When he got to know later, he was very upset and concerned. At the trial of the film he asked me about it, and was shocked to see me quite fit. He told me that if it was a sportsman’s foot he would have undergone a surgery. I told him that it was a dancer’s foot, which I nursed back with lot of patience and care. I have even worked when I was suffering from high fever. But the stars of today, would not do it. My hard work has brought me success.
One of my best performances, was in a film called Talash by O.P. Ralhan, It was a challenge for me, because O.P. Ralhan thought I was not a good dancer and that I would not do justice to that role. He didn’t know that I was trained in classical dancing. He told dance masters Somlal and Hiralal, to look for a good dancer for Talash. He even went to Madras and asked Padmini and Vjayanthimala but he was not satisfied with them. So masterji asked him to take me, since they had confidence in me. Ultimately, he agreed and told me, ‘Look Madhu, main tumhari life bana raha hoon’. I said, ‘Don’t make my life, I have already established myself. No one makes anyone’s life. But when the dances were seen on the big screen, it was something out of this world. I too, was surprised. In 1973, they sent this film for a festival abroad. But when it came back, my dance portions were cut and retained in their archives. O.P. Ralhan, till date, is surprised and always tells me that I was very lucky.
The stars I have worked with, are many. I can’t even remember their names. i have seen many stars come and go in front of me. Manoj Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar and Randhir Kapoor first films, were with me. Sanjeev, for instance, his first film was in Gujarati. He was playing a king and I was a dancer in his court. Now Sanjeev always had a bad hunch. When I saw him sitting on the throne, I was hysterical! I told my group dancers that he looked like a baniya sitting in his shop. When they started laughing, he knew we were talking about him. When I went close to him, he asked me to share the joke. But I told him it was a private one. When he kept persisting, I told him the truth. Luckily, he did not react. Many years later, he became my rakhi brother, I have a lot of good memories of him.
Manoj Kumar’s first two films were with me. Banarasi Thug and Maa Beta. When he first came into films, he was a thin and dark boy. He used to be very afraid of his uncle, who was a director and would only rehearse after his uncle left, I remember this incident about Amjad Khan. I was to play his girlfriend in Charas, which was my last film. I did not know him at all. By then, Amjad was a big star because of Sholay and Gabbar Singh was a household name. When I met him the first day he was in his room doing his make-up. He kept looking at me and suddenly said, ‘Madhuji, I have worked with you’. I was surprised because I did not remember him at all. He then started reciting some dialogues from the film Leader, with Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala. It was a dream sequence, where Dilip Kumar turns into a stone. But I told him he couldn’t possibly have been there, since all those in the scene were girls, with the exception of Dilip Kumar, Guess what he said? ‘I was not a dancer. Remember the boy who used to come in his shorts and say, madam aap ka shot ready hai? Well, that was me’. I was totally shocked! He was a nice person
Vaishali, my youngest sister, was also in films. She had done Teen Bahu Raniyan, Shatrughan Sinha’s first film Raaton ka Raja and then another film with Meena Kumari, which was made by my husband. It remained incomplete though because of Meena Kumari’s death. We suffered a lot of losses. Meena Kumari had done a good job in it and the film is still lying with us.
When I announced my retirement, it came as a shock to many because I was still doing well for myself. I had worked in many regional films too. I am still happy with my decision though and I have my own dancing and acting classes. I got the idea to start these classes, from O.P. Ralhan. He told me that I could use my experience to impart training to newcomers. I have had many good students. Kimi Katkar, Farha, Sonam, Chunky Pandey, Amrita Singh, Tabu and Akshay Kumar, are some of the popular ones who have been trained by me. There are many others too, who are being signed. I got this idea to promote new talent, by picturising songs and scenes on them. This will help them to approach producers directly. They won’t have to struggle much or get exploited in the wrong way, I am doing this at my expense, because in my classes, I treat my students as my children. We are one big family here. If you look at it, the student-teacher rapport does not exist anymore. I have seen how the student greets the teacher — they say hi or hello. In our times, we had great respect for our teachers. My students are very well mannered. I want to bring back this rapport.
The trend in films has also changed. There is more vulgarity and stunts. In our times, these, were considered C-grade films. This will not last long as people will tire of them. I tell my students not to follow the trends as they keep changing. Take exposure, for instance. If the stars make up their minds not to expose, they should stick by it. If each one decides not to expose, the producers will not be able to force you to.
A lot of competition existed in our time. There were so many dancers like Bela Bose, Laxmi Chhaya, Rani, Sujata, Jeevan Kala, Kanchan Mala, Heera Sawant and Helen. Each one of us had to fight it out. Producers came to us because we were good and we were known by our work. We never copied anyone and each had our own styles. The producer could have gone to anyone they wanted, if we refused a certain number. We used to have them running for us, instead of us running after them. But the competition was healthy. Today, that doesn’t exist. That’s why, a producer can exploit you. If you stick by your word and work hard, you’ll be successful.
I have worked in over 1,100 films and have done as many as 3000 stage shows. I used to be a part of the troupe that always did shows for the army. I had gone with Raj Kapoor and Sunil Dutt to the frontiers, during the Indo-Pak war and held shows for the jawans, while war was continuing at a distance. I used to enjoy these shows. I did so many films, that I don’t even remember them now. The Guinness Book Of Records authorities asked me to provide them with the names of the pictures and a letter, to prove that I have worked in them. I don’t know if that is possible, because many of the producers are no more with us. Till date, I have not received a major award. I have been very unlucky where this is concerned. Even today, I am offered many films but I refuse them. My only regret is, that I have not been able to work with Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Haasan. They are two big stars whom I consider perfect. Otherwise, I have worked with each and every one of them (As told to Dinesh in 1994).