Neetu Singh – Memories
I was born in Delhi. We once came to Bombay to watch some shooting and met Nutan there. She asked me why I didn’t try for films. Though my parents were reluctant initially, later on they agreed and I got a small role in Suraj. Wehad to travel from Delhi to Ooty every time I had to attend the shoot. Meanwhile, I got another offer for Dus Lakh which was a big hit and I was recognised in the film. Then we heard that there was an auditioning for Do Kaliyan. Krishnan Panju was the director, who always had four shirt buttons open, wore a lungi and who always sat with his legs on the table. When I went in to meet him, I said, ‘Uncle, have you no shame? Button up and put your legs down’ He was taken aback but he liked me so much that he instantly signed me on. To shoot for this film, I would travel from Delhi to Madras. Then, I started getting so many offers that my parents decided to shift to Bombay.
Life got hectic as I juggled between school and shooting. To top it, all the boys in my school would harass me because I acted in films. They would even throw eggs in my hair. While I was in Madras, my friends would send me study notes from Bombay and I would learn from those. But I still stood first in class.
While doing Pavitra Papi with Tanuja, where I played her sister, she got so fond of me that she was seriously contemplating adopting me! She wasn’t married then.
After that, I went through Vyjayanthimala’s dance classes and other classes as I was preparing to enter films full time. I was in the ninth standard when I got an offer to do Rikshawala, with Dabboo (Randhir Kapoor). In between, papa (Raj Kapoor) had taken a screen test and wanted to cast me in a film which he was to do after Bobby, since that was already underway. He had asked me not to sign any other movie but when Rikshawala came my way, it seemed like a good offer, so my mother asked him whether I could sign it. He said, `If you are so keen, go ahead’. When Bobby proved a hit, Dimple signed a lot of films with my husband, since their pairing was really hot. But, when Dimple suddenly got married, all those films came to me, including the husband! Rafoo Chakkar and Khel Khel Mein were among the films she was supposed to do. I got so busy that my father would refer to me as a cab because of the number of shifts I was doing!
With Rishi and me, it was not a case of love at first sight. In fact, he was such a bully that he would constantly harass me. Just when I had finished doing my make-up, he would smear eyeliner all over my face! Once, while we were shooting for Amar Akbar Anthony, he emptied the contents of my hand bag right in the middle of the road. He would keep criticising my dress sense, my hair, my face, everything about me in general. He used to really irritate me!
He was going steady with someone at that time, who I wouldn’t like to name. Gradually, we became friends and when he broke off with this girl, he came crying to me. Naturally, I lent him a shoulder. After that, he had two or three more girlfriends. One of them lived in Delhi and her parents were very strict. He was scared of them so he would get me to dial her number, call her on the line and only then would he speak to her!
We were always together because we had so many films with each other. Once we didn’t meet for a few days. When I next met him on the sets he said, ‘I missed you’. I was surprised. Why would he miss me of all people? He said, ‘I don’t know but I really missed being with you’. That’s how the whole thing started. Soon after, we went to Manali for the Zinda Dil shooting. There, he put a key on a chain around my neck and said, ‘This is a key to your heart and mind You cannot be anybody else’s from now on’. I was so shocked I didn’t know what was happening! My mum was dead against this relationship since she was petrified of industry men. She thought all of them were bad, so I didn’t tell her anything. We courted each other, chhup chhup ke. When she did get to know, she beat me up, maine badi maar khayi hai! I was 17 then. My mother finally accepted our relationship but she had laid down a lot of restrictions. She wouldn’t let us go out on dates!
One day, Rishi called my mother and asked her permission to take me out on a date on July 7, the eve of my birthday. She said, ‘Fine but I will send her cousin with her’. My cousin was made to especially fly down from Madras for that one night! But we were smarter than she was. Once we were out of her sight, we dropped my cousin at a particular place and told him we would meet him there after two hours! We had a nice evening, picked him up on the way back and came home quietly. Rishi took me to five-star hotels and taught me about champagne and caviar and etiquette. I didn’t know anything at all!
By and by, work started becoming a burden. I wanted to be with him but my night and day shifts wouldn’t allow me to. I just wanted to get away from it all. He would always say, ‘I am going around with you but I will never marry you because you are an actress’. But I had so much confidence that someday we would marry that I persisted with the relationship.
After a few years in April ’79, he suddenly asked me, ‘Shouldn’t you be married by now’? I said, ‘Yeah, but where’s the guy’? That’s when he said, ‘What about me’? that was a pleasant surprise. But he quickly put down the condition that I should give my producers a year’s notice and only when I’m through with my commitments would he take me to meet his mother. I was eager to do so. So, I gave the notice. There was total panic that year because I had so much work to complete! He told me that I wasn’t allowed to meet anyone in his family during that period of one year.
In April itself, there was an engagement in the family and naturally, Rishi did not invite me. Ritu, Rishi’s elder sister, knew that I had given my producers notice. She called me from Delhi to ask me why I wasn’t attending the engagement? I told her Rishi asked me to. She said, ‘You are catching the flight to-night and are coming to Delhi’. I agreed. Mummy and I stuffed some clothes into bags and left for Delhi that night itself. At Delhi airport, we were shocked when we saw so many people present there to receive us. There was a long line of Mercedes cars waiting for us to pick us up! and I was told, ‘You are getting engaged today’!
I didn’t know what was happening! Apparently, Ritu had convinced Rishi about the engagement. That evening, papa (Raj Kapoor) came to my mother, spread out his kurta and said, ‘Menu aapki kudi dedo’ (give me your daughter). It was such an emotional moment that both my mother and I burst out crying! We didn’t even have the time to buy rings so I borrowed one from Rishi’s friend Ravi Malhotra, and Rishi borrowed one from Ritu! We exchanged borrowed rings, can you imagine? I have never been so badly dressed! I was wearing a gold saree, orange corals in my neck and diamonds on my nose! It was chaotic and I didn’t know what was happening!
I had a wonderful wedding, though. The celebrations began 11 days in advance. We were not supposed to see each other for 12 days before the wedding. We were so sincere that one day, I was returning from shooting and I saw his car approaching mine in the opposite direction. When we got close, we ducked so that we didn’t see each other!
Fortunately, I haVe not had bad experiences with any of my producers or directors. Probably since I was involved with Rishi at a very young age, people respected me because of his family.
I was very friendly with Jeetu (Jeetandra). Once, I was shooting in Kashmir and Jeetu had just come from Bombay. He was carrying a letter from Rishi for me. He refused to give it to me and I had to chase him all over the hotel to get it. He pestered me for at least an hour before handing over that letter to me! Rishi used to love to send me flowers, gifts and letters. Now, he doesn’t send anything! All the romance fades once you get married!
Jeetu was great fun. Once, we were shooting in Kashmir for Jaani Dushman. It was a long outdoor schedule and we were dying to get back to Bombay. He was missing his family and I was missing my boyfriend. There was just one song left and we couldn’t wait till the dance master got there. So we decided to do the dance direction ourselves and actually did that number without the dance master. When you watch the song, ‘Oh meri jaan…bol meri jaan.’ you will know what I mean. Its so funny that I have worked with him as a child artiste, when he was the hero of a film. A few years later, I was playing a heroine opposite him. He would get so embarrassed when I called him ‘Jeetu uncle’, that I started calling him Bhappa, which means brother.
Once, I was in Calcutta shooting for a song with Amitabh for Yaarana. It was that famous song where Amitabh was electrically lit up. If you notice I am there for the first two verses of the song, while I am not there for the other two! What happened was, during a break, I was sitting there and suddenly, I started crying. Amitabh was anxious to know what had suddenly happened to me. I told him, `I miss my boyfriend. I want to go back to Bombay’! He said, `Fine, you go back to Bombay, we will manage without you’. That was really sweet! Earlier on, I was supposed to be doing a love scene with Amitabh and he burst out laughing. I was so young that he asked me if I actually knew the meaning of ‘I love you’!
Working with Rishi on the other hand, was very irritating. He would make all sorts of faces while I was facing the camera and he was backing it. He was very naughty! (As told to Shubha in 1998)