Rehman – My Memorable Roles
In the twenty years or so that I have been acting in films, I have appeared in many roles—a whole heap of them—but not in many memorable roles. Hard to create, memorable roles are hard to come by. It takes a lot of thought, skill and imagination to conceive and evolve a living, breathing and thinking character, and these qualities, if not always in short supply, are generally in low demand in our scheme of film-making. As such, he must
be a lucky actor, more than a talented one, who can boast on his record a large number of meaty roles worth talking about and cherishing in memory.
I got into films in 1944. Before that I was training to be a pilot in the Air Force. I had piled up quite a few flying hours in my logbook when I flunked a test and crash-landed into films. My introduction to films was through the Prabhat Studios, Poona, where I became an assistant to Director Vishram Bedekar who was making “Lakharani.”
I was the “third assistant”—which is as low on the rung as you can start from—and for quite some months my remuneration was nothing more than a look of recognition from the studio brass. Prabhat was a fine studio, something made out of love. It had a homely atmosphere, lots of facilities, even a swimming-pool to splash in and horses to ride on. When “Lakharani” was completed, I moved over as assistant to D. D. Kashyap who was making “Chand,” with Prem Adib as the hero and the new-find Begum Para as the heroine. And then came the incident which became the starting point of my acting career.
A dance sequence in “Chand” required the presence of a motley crowd of spectators, one of whom had to be a Pathan. It was soon found that I was the only one in the studio who knew how to tie the Pathan turban, and I could do that only around my own head. So Director Kashyap asked me to don the turban and make-up and join the crowd before the camera. This was easy, and done.
Facing The Camera
Then I was asked to address the following words to the dancer at the end of her dance: “Wah, wah! Kitna achcha naach tha. Saaz ki lehron pe chand ka naach tha.” This. I found, was not easy, and I was still trying not to muff the lines when Kashyap called for the thirtieth re-take. When even that went wrong, Kashyap’s mounting disgust at my incompetence exploded and he ordered me off the set. Sheikh Fatehlal, one of the partners of Prabhat, feeling kindly disposed towards me, persuaded Kashyap to bear a little more with me. So I went back before the camera, and it was, I think, in the fiftieth re-take that I finally delivered those two lines to Kashyap’s satisfaction. That was my first experience of film-acting and it was awful.
Prabhat then started a sort of experimental film—with new faces—on the theme of Hindu-Muslim unity. It was “Hum Ek Hain,” the story of a symbolical mother and her four adopted children, consisting of one Harijan daughter and three sons—one a Hindu, another a Muslim, the third a Christian. It was a very good subject, among the best that I have come across. I played the Muslim son in the film.
Work on the film was stopped for some time when the man playing the Hindu son left the scene. Among the substitutes considered for the role were Karan Dewan and Kamal Kapoor. Finally the role went to a complete newcomer named Dev Anand. The direction was done by a song-writer of Bombay Talkies—Santoshi. Another newcomer in the film was Rehana. The film proved to be successful, and I got good reviews. And somewhere along the way I rid myself of the dread of the movie camera.
The next film I remember is “Nargis” which Kashyap planned with Nargis (who had done only one film before) and Dev Anand. To prepare for his part, Dev Anand carried with him the script and had with him constantly a spaniel who was to be his pet in the film. And then came my most embarrassing moment. Suddenly deciding to replace Dev Anand with me, Kashyap asked me to take over both the script and the dog from him. I refused, at first, to replace Dev, as we were good friends, but then destiny prevailed, and “Nargis” became my first “silver jubilee” hit. It was a standard role I played in the film—a lot of singing and a bit of crying—and I hated both the things.
I was in those days a permanent artiste of Baburao Pai’s Famous Pictures. So when Shaukat Rizvi wanted me to play the lead in his “Jugnu,” he approached Baburao Pai to use my services. Pai, in a mood to strike a bargain, asked in return for the services of Noorjehan who was contract-bound to Shaukat. Shaukat didn’t agree to the exchange, Noorjehan being a highly popular star at the time. In the process, I missed a popular role which was finally played by Dilip Kumar.
Quitting Famous Pictures, I did “Intezar Ke Baad”—a routine romantic role—and “Tohfa” which was directed by Agha Jani Kashmiri. In “Tohfa” I played a radio singer and as such had to sing a number of songs. Generally, I hated, and still do, the idea of the hero singing. I feel there is something effeminate, something unnatural about the way heroes are required to sing in our films. One doesn’t feel natural doing it, and it is a painful experience. Since acting depends upon feeling, the hero—the reluctant singer—looks unimpressive in such scenes. In “Tohfa,” however, my role called for singing, and so I did not mind the singing scenes.
On To Stardom
Next came Kashyap’s “Pyar Ki Jeet” (O.P. Datta-directed) in which I was for the first time teamed with Suraiya, the top star of the day. It was the usual village-boy-falls-in-love-with-the-village-girl story, and became a great success at the box-office.
It helped me to gain stardom, but, looking back, I don’t think my role in it was great— it was rather idiotic.
My next picture was “Bari Bahen,” again with Suraiya. Again a usual lover’s role with some crying to do. The picture was a great hit and did record business. Subsequently, I hated it when they started calling me, not a talented star, but a “lucky” star.
A picture I enjoyed working in was made next. It was Filmistan’s “Sanwariya,” and I played a sort of comedian-hero in it—a village illiterate who falls in love with a modern girl and makes comical efforts to educate himself in a hurry. A piece of comedy that was enacted during the making of this picture, I still remember. It was neither in the script nor in the picture. One of the female players had a scene to do lying in bed. I sat on the floor near her head. During the rehearsal, I suddenly felt my nose twitching and knew a stormy sneeze was on its way. It was too late to pull out my handkerchief, so I shot forward my hand and pulled out the lady’s handkerchief which was peeping out of her blouse. This did stifle my sneeze, but the “handkerchief” turned out to be a few yards of cotton which was there to help the lady look more womanly. The embarrassed silence that followed on the set was broken by her own sporting laughter.
Something equally funny, I remember, happened during “Bari Bahen.” Ullhas, playing my father (a retired colonel) in the picture, sported a big moustache, curled up at either end and stuck on his lip in two halves. Once, as he stood ready for a close-up shot, the clapper-boy brought the clapstick close to his face, announced the shot number, clapped the stick and jumped out of the camera field. But as Ullhas started speaking his spirited lines, all on the set burst out laughing. As he realised a little later, half of his moustache had been pulled away by the clapstick.
It is not always easy to hold fast to the make-up department’s gifts to you. I myself came pretty close to walking out of my dhoti on many of the occasions that required me to wear it. Somehow I have always felt self-conscious wearing it. It is so light and makes you feel like Adam.
Among my films that came later I remember Wadia’s “Maghroor,” a good picture on the subject of collective farming. Nigar Sultana played the heroine opposite me, and it was amusing to watch her cause, during shooting, so many retakes as she, being Hyderabad-bred, persisted in the habit of using the masculine gender in her speech. Another memorable thing about the picture was its second heroine. Working with her was a sweet experience. She was Meena Kumari.
In Promising Triangle
In P. N. Arora’s “Paras.” in which I was teamed with Kamini Kaushal, I got a role with some dramatic possibility. Playing a man who is emotionally involved with two girls at the same time gave me an opportunity to be a little different histrionically. On this picture I met a new girl. She was Madhubala, and she played a dumb character superbly. The dialogue of the picture, I remember, was painfully stagy and unnatural and it made me realize how much clumsy writing can affect the artiste’s performance.
“Pardes,” with Madhubala, was my first picture to be directed by M. Sadiq with whom I have since worked in “Chaudhvin Ka Chand” and the recent “Taj Mahal.” I had another dramatic role in the picture. “Pardes,” I sadly remember, marked the last screen appearance…
Note – Unfortunately the last page of this interview is missing. This interview was conducted in 1963.