Mumtaz – Interview
Very rarely do you get the opportunity to meet someone who has reached the zenith of success at a very young age! Being part of a profession where stars fail to excite you the way they used to when you were in your teens, the mere mention of Mumtaz’s name was exciting. Images of her romantic duets with Rajesh Khanna in Aap Ki Kasam, Prem Kahani and her lively dance numbers with Shammi Kapoor, Jeetendra, and Mehmood flashed before our eyes, as we entered Shah Rukh Villa (her sister’s home which she frequents when she is in the city). And then appeared a ravishing Mumtaz from her room, dressed in a white salwar-kameez.
The first thing that hits you about this beautiful actress is that she defied convention. Unwritten industry laws claim that heroines should not do cameo roles or guest appearances; that they maintain a certain image, be diplomatic and require a godfather to make it big. Mumtaz proved all of this wrong! “I was looking for a godfather but couldn’t find one,” she laughs. “Who doesn’t want one or some help? But I was lucky. God has been kind to me.”
Does she attribute her success to destiny?
“And hard work! I don’t believe in giving up. Though there are a lot of obstacles, heartaches and disappointments, you shouldn’t allow these things to break you. I never underestimated or overestimated myself. You should know where you stand. Moreover, you should have confidence in yourself because if you don’t, what is the point of struggling? You don’t know where you are headed!
“I can proudly say that for 80 per cent of my life, I achieved what I wanted to. There were very few setbacks. I don’t remember anything that I wanted and did not get. Once I made up my mind about something, I went for it. The easiest thing in life is to give up and I didn’t,” says Mumtaz, sporting her million-dollar smile.
Confidence personified is what this actress is all about and this was reflected in her performances. When she started out with doing cameo roles, did she ever imagine being so successful?
“I knew I would make my place and my fans have also supported me, otherwise I wouldn’t have reached where I have. Look at Hrithik today. He’s an overnight sensation because of his fans. Fans can either make or break you.”
As she explains this clichéd yet true philosophy, Theresa, the lady caretaker, brings in the tea. As she places the tray on the table, Mumtaz remarks, “Theresa has been with us for years. We cannot do without her.”
Her sweet gesture had us asking how she handled success and how did it change her?
“Success didn’t change me as a person. The right people to answer this, are my directors, producers, make-up man, hairdresser and my group dancers, with whom I shared lunch when there was a dance sequence. I would sit and joke with them. I can never forget an incident of when I was shopping at Linking Road. My group dancers, Habida, Rashida, Sheela, Sujata were also shopping there. The moment they saw me, which was nearly after 15 years, they hugged me, lifted me up and showered me with kisses. That was proof of their love for me and I was very proud,” smiles Mumtaz.
“Success didn’t go to my head. I made a lot of money. I charged eight to 10 lakhs, a huge amount those days. But I didn’t chase money, I wanted to achieve something. I wanted people to remember me by my work when I died and not as a millionaire’s wife. I think I have achieved that,” smiles Mumtaz. “When I die, I am sure my name will go down in the history of Indian cinema like those of Madhubala and Nargis.
“Today, I am married to one of the wealthiest men but I don’t ask him how much money he will give me or what property I have in my name. All my bank accounts are in joint names either with my husband or my daughters. I have never felt threatened that my husband would take away my jewellery or my money. Though we did have our share of ups and downs, I know my husband will never give me a problem as far as money goes. I am confident he will take care of me. Even when I got married, I didn’t ask my family for an account of the money I had earned.”
But success isn’t easy to handle. The adulation, the star status and the money, could easily make one lose one’s sanity…
I agree that it is not easy to digest success and adulation. But a lot depends on your upbringing. My mother would often say, ‘Jab ped par phal lagte hain, ped utna hi jhukta hai’… (A fruit-laden tree always bends). She taught me to be humble and told me to respect my elders, whether rich, poor, high or low in status! That is why, though I was proud of my achievements, success didn’t go to my head.
“I feel I have the blessings of my elders. When my mother died, I was seated at her bedside in this very room. She was suffering from cancer and until her last breath she kept saying, ‘I don’t think God makes daughters like Mumtaz anymore. What Mumtaz has done for me, no daughter in the world would do for her mother’. I am so much at peace that I did my best for my mother. Once, after visiting her, I flew back to London. The moment I arrived there, my sister called me to say that mom was vomiting blood. I took the next flight back to Bombay. My mom saw me and asked if I would go back again. I assured her that till she didn’t ask me to leave, I would be with her. And I was, till she passed away”
Ask her about the enviable position she was in and Mumtaz echoes, “but that was the case with Rajesh Khanna too because he was so successful. In life, you have your share of friends and foes. There must have been people who hated my guts or envied me for my looks or luck.”
How did she cope with female rivalry?
“I was never threatened by any heroine. I had made my place through a lot of hard work and with great difficulty. In an industry where you don’t want to let go of opportunities to work with the best people, a certain amount of manipulation does exist. I might have cut down on my price because I didn’t want to let go of a good role, which otherwise would go to X actress. That doesn’t mean she threatened me. As far as dancing was concerned, Hema was the only competition I can think of. Though Rekha had just stepped in, she wasn’t a great dancer to begin with. To be fair, I wasn’t either,” smiles Mumtaz.
Her rivalry with Sharmila was the most talked about…
“The difference between us was that Sharmila gave flops with Rajesh Khanna while I gave none! I was always secure with Rajesh Khanna. Nobody could replace me. Though Sharmila did give a couple of hits with him, it didn’t really bother me. No actress, not even Sharmila could threaten me. When I gave up films, Rajesh and I were the top most pair. He felt very lost when I quit films ”
What was her association with the superstar like?
“Just because you do a lot of films together and vibe well, that doesn’t mean you are having an affair,” exclaims Mumtaz. “I am sure Juhi and Shah Rukh have nothing to do with each other but there are rumours of an involvement, which I don’t think are true. Similarly, my friendship with Rajesh Khanna was also misunderstood. He was my neighbour and we got along very well. I would pull his leg and tease him about his female fan following. Whenever Rajesh entered a hotel in Madras, there was a queue of 600 girls waiting to see him at midnight! As a result, even I would get some importance, as people would ask for my autograph as well,” laughs Mumtaz.
Isn’t that a modest statement considering she was no less of a superstar at the time?
“I was not a patch on Rajesh Khanna. He was a phenomenon and I was like his chamchi,” giggles Mumtaz. “I teased him a lot and he always called me ‘moti’, as I was generally on the plump side. I attended his wedding too. After their marriage, Dimple accompanied him to Kashmir where we were shooting for Roti. Exactly a year after his marriage, I got married. At that time, I was doing Aap Ki Kasam, Roti and Prem Kahani. I completed these films and then got married. I didn’t leave any of my producers in the lurch.”
Her wedding was also quite exceptional! Unlike stars that have hushed weddings, Mumtaz announced it to the world. Her marriage, till date, remains one of the most talked about ones.
I don’t believe in hiding things. Even today, if I am in love, you will know about it. It’s not a crime to fall in love or have a boyfriend. Nevertheless, when I got married, I underestimated my popularity,” smiles Mumtaz. “My wedding was at the Taj and little did I know that my fansand the roadside public would gatecrash the occasion.
They even broke open the grill doors and we had to be lifted away from there,” laughs Mumtaz as she recalls D-Day. “Ajit Kerkar (of the Taj) still remembers the incident and says that never in the history of the Taj Mahal Hotel was there a wedding like this!”
With reference to the myth that actresses find it difficult to move away from the limelight, was the transition of an actress to a bahu easy?
“I don’t think the myth holds good. If today I want to make a comeback it is not because I want to be in the limelight but because I am bored. Our industry is such a wonderful place, it welcomes you even after 20 years and provides you with work as per your age. Where else does this happen?
But she did make a comeback with Pahlaj Nihalani Aandhiyaan …
“Yes, I did Aandhiyaan which was a lovely film and a jubilee in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it didn’t do well here. Both Pahlaj and David kept saying they would make another film with me but I didn’t want to work. I was too heartbroken!”
Do her daughters want to follow in their mother’s footsteps and join films?
“I have never moulded them that way. Neither my husband nor my daughters are inclined towards Hindi films They wouldn’t be able to differentiate a Madhuri from a Shilpa Shetty. My husband wants his daughters to take over his business. And my daughters travel round the globe for their business. To be an actress, you have to be physically and mentally present here. So it’s not that I don’t want them to join films. I am very proud to be an actress. I was surprised, when Shah Rukh presented me with a Lifetime Achievement Award, he said he was an ardent admirer of mine. And that if there was any actress he actually loved after Gauri, was I. Considering that compliment came from Shah Rukh who is loved by the entire world, I felt great!”
Keeping in mind her superstar status, did she face any insecurity when she married? Anybody in her place would be likely to question whether people liked her for her stardom or money…
“I never felt this way because Mayur didn’t see Hindi films. He was born and brought up abroad and didn’t have a single Indian girlfriend. He was a complete angrez (foreigner). I knew Mayur wasn’t marrying me for my star status. He must have liked my personality to begin with. But the fact that he waited two years for me proves he must have liked me as a person. He often says, ‘No matter what, Mumtaz, you are a very clean-hearted and straightforward person!”
Isn’t it ironical that her talent and achievements are recognised the world over, except by her own family, since they do not relate to her field?
“That’s why I sometimes feel I should have married someone from my own field,” confesses Mumtaz. “The reason Mayur and I drifted apart, could be attributed to the fact that we were ignorant about each other’s fields. He couldn’t converse with me about my line and I about his. Sometimes, I regret marrying an industrialist! I couldn’t learn anything from Mayur because my father-in-law had this silly rule that wives should never step into the office. He believed that women should be kept away from business. Half the blame goes to Mayur for not training me in his business. I was never allowed to go to office. Perhaps that’s why God gave him two daughters. But he is a good husband so it’s okay,” smiles Mumtaz.
After a point, is the film industry a very lonely place to be in?
“Only if you allow it to be. For me, the chances of being lonely are very remote because I have a beautiful family. I have two daughters who I am very close to. I have my brothers and sisters and their children, who I am very fond of. That’s why, when you asked me if there was a question I wanted to ask Rekha, I wanted to know if she was happy without children. Because there comes a point in life, when people stop giving you importance because you are no longer at the top. When you don’t have children or family, you get lonely!”
Going back to her statement where she said that she had achieved 80 per cent of what she desired, what does the balance 20 per cent comprise of?
“I want my family to be healthy and happy. I want to see all my brothers and sisters and their children happy. I want my daughters to be successful and have good husbands. That’s it!”
As always, her happiness lies in the happiness of her loved ones! (As told to Ranjeeta in 2000)