Moushumi Chatterjee – Memories
I was born in Calcutta. My one grandfather was a judge and the other one was a landlord but he opted to educate people, as he himself was a very learned man. During the partition we came here, literally as refugees. My mother was very beautiful, she was a combination of Madhubala and Meena Kumari. My father was in the Army but when the war was over, he came to Bombay and joined the Police Force. Finding that was a risky job, he joined the railways. I have a brother and a sister and we had a very normal childhood. My mother was a housewife since in our family, no woman was allowed to work. I got married when I was in the 10th standard. Since I have grown up daughters people think I must be very old by now. I worked in ‘Balika Badhu’ when I was in the 5th standard, I was 11 years old then.
The director of Balika Badhu, Tarun Mazumdar, stayed next to our school, and next to his house, was the famous theatre studio of Calcutta. We would run there to see the well dressed heroines with their make-up on but the gate-keeper always shooed us away. One day, while I was returning from school, the gate-keeper told me his sahab wanted to meet me for some work. I looked up and saw this short, dark man on the balcony. I told the chowkidar, ‘If your sahab has work for me, ask him to come down and speak to me. Why should I go up?’ I was known for my cheeky behavior. Nevertheless, I think Tarunda was impressed. He came down and asked me my name and address.
A lot of people came to see my father on Tarunda’s behalf for Balika Badhu but he refused them all. One day, my mother was not well and my sister and I were trying to cook something, as we were hungry. Some boy came rushing in and said a heroine was looking for our house. It was Tarunda’s wife Sandhya Roy. For the first time, I saw a celebrity coming to our house and the neighbors were all peeping out of their homes. I opened the door with a ‘Kadchi’ pan in my hand. She asked me, ‘So you are Indira’ I said yes and she asked for my father, who wasn’t home. So she gave her card and left.
I even forgot to ask her in! When my father returned, he was really touched that the lady had come personally to request him to allow me to work. The next day he met her and I was signed to play a child bride at the age of 11.
Sandhya Roy, I believe, gave my father about a thousand rupees to sign me. My father asked her to keep it, as she would require it to pamper me to work! I thoroughly enjoyed the first day of work with all the attention I got. But most important of all, the chowkidar who used to shoo us away, had to salute me now That was sweet revenge. The second day of work was fine and by the third day, I began to regret it. I felt suffocated because it was all work and no play. On the fourth day, I ran away from the sets, all dressed up in bridal attire. And that wasn’t the first time. Tarunda tells Babu and my kids, that he could make an entire film based on how he made ‘Balika Badhu’ . Sometimes, I’d trip over my sari and it would open out entirely. Somendu Roy, who was the camera man, would suddenly notice that one cheek of mine was pale, as I used to just rub off my make-up! Then the director would ask me where my nose ring was and I would say it fell off. The dress designer would complain, ‘Dada, yeh gyarwah nose ring hai, dus to pahele yeh phek chuki hai’!
I irritated the director so much that twice, he thought of scrapping the film. As soon as the day’s shooting was over, I’d start taking off my clothes there and then, and Sandhya Roy would immediately rush me to my room. I was punished so many times on the sets. But now, the memories fill me with joy.
After that, I did a couple of Bengali films, because of Hemant Mukherjee, who was the music director of ‘Balika Badhu’. During the making of ‘Parinita’ , I met my husband Babu. He was not very successful so Hemantda suggested that I do a few films which would provide us with some income and we could settle down. I did not get any support from my in-laws, except for him. I faced a lot of harassment from my mother-in-law and her family. Anybody else in my place wouldn’t have been able to take it. Since I was very young, I could only sit and cry. Hemant dada was not a weak man, he was just very meek. He did not want any tension in the house, so he sent Babu and me to Bombay.
Hemantda’s death was a great loss to Babu and me. Even today I feel this loss. He was a far greater human being than he was, a music director. I sympathize that my mother-in-law did not get enough time to spend with him, as he was so busy. I was very close to him and when Ranu, Babu’s sister, got married on her own, my father-in-law and I did not attend her marriage. She settled down in Gitanjali, though it was my house. I’ve never lived there and my in-laws feel I might take the house away from them but God has already given me so much.
I can forgive them but I can never forget the way they ill-treated me. Today, my sister-in-law tries to come close to me but I can’t, because whenever I look at them, I remember those really bad times.
I’ve run my kitchen because of my films, but I wasn’t serious about my career right from the beginning. I was more keen on being a housewife. When I conceived Payal, nobody in the family except Babu, wanted the child. But I went against my in-laws and had her. I was very young. I remember the nurse telling me, ‘It is the first time in our nursing home that a child has given birth to a child’. My hairdresser left me, thinking, ‘Iska to career gaya’. I got pregnant again with Megha, during the making of ‘Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan’, so the song ‘Teri Do Takiyan ki Naukri’, which was to be filmed on me, was picturised on Zeenat Aman. I shot till the eight month of my pregnancy. I have never harmed any producer and where I was not able to keep my commitments, I returned the money.
When ‘Roti Kapda Aur Makaan’ was a hit, everybody got trophies, except me. I still can’t figure out why Shashi Kapoor said it was politics. For that matter, I don’t even have a ‘Ghayal’ trophy. I was invited to the function and even Raj Babbar got the trophy but not me. Its not as if I’m complaining but I fail to understand the discrimination. Dharamji himself came to my house to sign me. Maybe I offended the Deols in some way and this is their way of showing their anger. I am curious to know what happened as I feel hurt.
Dharmendra is a good human being, he is one of the most affectionate people we have in the industry and is very genuine. I have found this quality in Mithun, Shashi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor and Sanjeev Kumar too. They are people for whom I have high regard. They go out of their way to help you.
Our industry is full of politics. They expect heroines to pamper male egos. Babu would tell me to be diplomatic but I’m too upfront. There was this actor who said, ‘Isko to ek saal mein pack up kara deta hoon industry se’. Today, he is all packed up and I’m still there!
Yes, I’m known to be the biggest flirt in the industry. I still am and I enjoy verbal flirtation. It’s good for health. But it’s strange, that men themselves come up with proposals. They are ready to leave their wives and girlfriends. Some of these actors are good friends of mine today and some arrogant ones could not take my refusal. In fact, one of my superstar co-stars was so hurt that he made nasty remarks about me. Because of this, I lost a lot of films, one of them being Prem Kahani, which went to Mumtaz. I also had to give up Desh Premi and Koshish also. I have no regrets and proudly say I lost the films, since I could not please the heroes or the directors.
One incident I cannot forget, is how I was harassed by the producer of Zahreela Insaan. Even when I was pregnant, this man, Virendra Sinha, asked me to do lot of things like climbing a mountain. I fell down and had to be taken to hospital. The doctors advised me not to move for a few days. The producer was very upset but Rishi Kapoor really stood by me. I had to seek police protection because the producer threatened to throw acid on my face.
The industry on the whole, has given me a lot and I’ve I learnt a lot. There are certain people I’m extremely fond of, like Tanuja and Nutan. Tanu has helped me a lot and I was a great fan of Nutan, like today, I am of Kiran Bedi. I’m very fond of Helen, she’s very humane. I’m extremely fond of Ramesh Sippy, the distributor. He’s a great human being and I have great respect for him.
I should mention my hairdresser Marina and my make-up man Vedidada, who were great assets to my career. I miss them a lot. Marina is happily married with two kids but I think of her very often.
Today, I have a great family but I am alone. Nobody can really share your thoughts with you. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, to whom my father-in-law used to go cry whenever he saw me unhappy, knows everything. He tells me I should write my autobiography. Maybe someday, I will! (Moushumi Chatterjee interviewed by Pammi in 1998).