Nalini Jaywant – Down Memory Lane
I won stardom when I was still in frocks and pigtail. That was years ago, and as I think of those days, I invariably slip into a nostalgic mood.
When “Radhika,” the first film in which I acted, was released, I was immediately acclaimed as a star. I was a “great discovery,” “a born actress,” even “a prodigy”! But these glowing terms meant little to me, for I was only a schoolgirl and didn’t know what fame was.
But those early years in films are vividly stamped in my memory. Those years belonged to the directors. Strict disciplinarians, they could get good work out of the artistes. They didn’t mince their words and didn’t hesitate to speak harshly when necessary. I work hard and strove to give of my best.
When I first started acting, I was “Baby” to everyone. I remember I was pampered at home because I was the only daughter, and at the studio, too, I was the favorite.
In the beginning acting was fun. Then, I discovered that it was serious work and I took it seriously. To laugh and cry to order was not easy. But if working in films was exacting, it was also exciting.
While working in “Sister” I was required to cry for one of the scenes. However much I tried, I couldn’t shed any tears. I merely laughed. Mr. Mehboob Khan was directing the film. After giving me several chances, he became impatient. I could see from his face that he was angry. I realized I had not come up to expectations and had recourse to glycerine. Tears came copiously to my eyes and I did very well in that scene. I think I received a few congratulatory pats on my back.
That was perhaps the last time I was careless on the set. I became more earnest and started to work with a zeal I had not known before.
As I look back today, the past seems to have been happy enough, and when there were moments of suffering my absorption in work deprived them of their sting.
Film work has not only given me maturity of mind but also opportunities to travel. I always looked forward to location shooting. Outdoor shooting is great fun and the trip itself, even if it is to a neighboring hill-station, is something of an adventure. The prospect of spending a few days in new surroundings in the midst of new people never failed to excite me.
However, I must tell about our trip to Jodhpur. We were “shooting” a few miles away from town and we were able to return every evening only after nightfall. We had heard that there were dacoits about and during the drive back to Jodhpur I used to be very nervous.
I was afraid they would pounce upon us, but I managed to put on a brave face.
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One evening after a hard day’s work, I fell asleep in the car. A crash woke me up. My body was covered with bits of glass and I saw that the windscreen of the car had been shattered. My heart sank. I was sure the dacoits had trapped and surrounded us. It was a relief to hear the driver’s voice saying that we had fallen into a ditch!
My mind was still occupied with dacoits. “They would have taken away only some imitation jewellery and that would have served them right,” I told myself.
Another memorable visit was to Cairo. To all tourists an excursion to the Pyramids is a “must”. Ancient monuments and sites celebrated in history and legend stimulate the mind.
In the case of the Pyramids, distance did not lend enchantment to the view—at least in my eyes. They seemed dull, massive structures. But when we went closer, I was overwhelmed. Perhaps it is a commonplace thing to talk about the ingenuity and engineering skill of the builders of those far off days, but that sight is unforgettable.
We went inside one of the Pyramids. Climbing the steps in the dim light, I had a strange feeling. It seemed a different world, a different age. We went up to the chamber in which at one time the mummies had been kept.
One evening I was walking on the bank of the Nile. A group of girls approached me and one of them said in English: “I am sure you are from India because you are wearing a sari. We have a wish to be fulfilled. I hope you will help us.”
“What is it?” I asked eagerly.
‘We have heard so much of Mahatma Gandhi. His life and teachings have inspired us. Our wish is to place a wreath on his Samadhi. Will you do this for us?” said the girl.
I felt proud that Gandhiji meant so much to them and readily agreed.
Talking of Gandhiji reminds me of an incident during the freedom movement. I was still schooling. One morning I was standing on the balcony when a procession came along led by girls.
The slogans that rang out and the sight of the tricolor fired my imagination. I raced down the steps and joined the procession.
In a little while there was a “lathi” charge by the police. Many dispersed, but some stood their ground, I among them. I got a blow which stunned me. The moment I recovered I shouted: “Hindustan Hamara Hai”.
A police officer came up to me and asked me to go home. He is adding insult to injury, I thought.
Memories are not always of people, places and events. One also recalls one’s thoughts, views and convictions. I have often wondered about one being called a “star,” “actress” or “artiste.”
The term “star” has always conjured up the image of a person who is aloof—one who lives in an ivory tower. I have been more simple. Acting has been more than a profession. It has been a means of self-expression. (This interview was conducted in 1960).