Sadhana – Interview
Can we start at the beginning, your entry into films?
I had always been interested in acting and did a lot of plays in school and college. I was doing a play as a first year student in a Sindhi college when a producer, Mr T.N.Bihari, approached me to act in his film. It was a Sindhi film and I was to play the heroine’s younger sister. The heroine was Sheila Ramani. At this time, Mr S.Mukherjee had just started his Filmalaya School and was on the lookout for new faces and new talent. He happened to see my photograph in Screen and made a few inquiries. Mr Mukherjee suggested I join the Filmalaya School to get some training. That took about a year after which Love in Simla was launched. As you know, everyone connected with the film was new. The film became memorable for me because that’s when I first met Mr Nayyar (her husband). I signed Parakh soon after beginning Love in Simla. We, my parents and I, thought it would be nice to do a modern role in one movie and that of a simple village girl in another. That’s how it all started.
Which stars did you admire?
How about Meena Kumari?
Yes, but Nutan more.
Do you think you were influenced by her?
If I was, it was completely subconscious. I don’t ever remember trying to imitate her, but a couple of people have remarked on similarities between us. Bimalda (Roy) once said that whenever he worked with me he was reminded of her, although he didn’t explain why,
Woh Kaun Thi was a major turning point in your career. While making the film did you think it would be so successful, that it would inspire film-makers for years?
Films were made differently in those days. We just did 3-4 films a year, so one wanted to do the best ones possible. One was very careful, very choosy. As far as Woh Kaun Thi is concerned, it was Raj Khosla who persuaded me. One day he came and said, “I have a fantastic subject. Let me tell you the story.” He took several hours to narrate it to me, and at first wouldn’t tell me the ending. I liked the story very much, but when I enquired about the producer etc., he asked me to forget everyone, forget who the hero will be. “I am directing the film, that’s all you need to know.” So I signed the film. I was very impressed with the story and I was comfortable with Mr Khosla as my director.
You did some good films with Raj Khosla. Was he considered a “woman’s director”?
I don’t know about that. Most movies made in those days had one hero and one heroine. We rarely had multi-starrers, and heroes did not dominate the stories as they do now. The heroines had as much to contribute to the film, she had an equally important role. So, I don’t know whether it was Mr Khosla or the trend of films at the time.
I did the maximum number of films with Raj Khosla, four or five. Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Woh Kaun Thi, Anita (a film produced by Fali Mistry), Sajan Ki Galiyan (with Dev Anand, remained incomplete) and one other. He had become a sort of family friend, and he knew my strengths and weaknesses as an actress. I felt comfortable working with him. We vibed well together.
I remember an incident during the making of Woh Kaun Thi. We were shooting outdoors and in the evening, since I was doing nothing, I went over to his room. There the three of us—he, his wife, and I—just sat around reading whatever each of us was reading. There was complete silence in the room; just the noise of the fire crackling. It was a comfortable silence, you know the kind you only have with close friends. After about fifteen minutes of silence, Mr Khosla suddenly looked up and said, “Sadhana, what do you think of yourself? Do you think you are very pretty?” I said, “No, I don’t.”
He persisted, “Then how would you describe yourself?” “Raj ji” I replied “I’m not beautiful, but I’m very charming, utterly charming, and you can’t deny that.” He laughed and laughed at my straightforward answer.
A lot of people would disagree with you on that, you were regarded as quite beautiful.
I don’t think so. Think of Madhubala or Meena Kumari. They were beautiful, ravishingly beautiful. I was not “ravishing”, I was not a beauty as one’s concept of beauty goes, I just photographed well.
Maybe, the concept of beauty has changed.
Maybe, that’s what I’m trying to say. By the time I entered films it was no longer necessary for a woman to look beautiful. She could be charming. When you asked me who my favourite heroine was, I said Nutan. Nutan was never considered a beauty but to me she looked very beautiful.
Do you think you had any special on-screen chemistry with any particular co-star?
It’s not really a question of on-screen or off-screen chemistry. As in any profession, if you communicate well with your co-workers, if you feel comfortabe in the set-up in which you work, you’re more at ease and you work better. If there’s tension between you and your boss, for example, your work is bound to suffer. It’s the same in acting, at least it was for me. In films you also have intimate scenes, so this is even more important. I’d substitute `comfortable’ for ‘chemistry’. I felt very comfortable working with Rajendra Kumar, with Sunil Dutt. I can’t explain why. We worked in a relaxed atmosphere, tension-free, friendly. There were some co-stars with whom I didn’t get along so well. We had ego-clashes. But we managed to keep the tension from showing on screen
You seemed a bit off-colour in Dulha Dulhan. Did you have problems with Raj Kapoor?
No, I didn’t. But I was in awe of him. He was such a great actor, a great film-maker, a showman…you felt a little subdued. He was overpowering and I was too young and new at the time.
How about Shammi Kapoor? You made three films with him.
Oh, he was so full of energy, always jumping around, clowning around, constantly talking …you can’t help but be comfortable with him. I had a great time working with him. The first film we signed was Budtameez, but that got delayed, so we actually worked together for the first time in Raj Kumar.
Which film would you rate as your best?
If you ask me, I don’t think I was very good in any of my films. Sometimes one watches one’s old films on video and one thinks one was quite silly and stupid. Honestly.
Once you were established as an actress, did you feel confined by a certain image?
Basically, it was a matter of vibing with the director. If I felt confined by anything, it would be the set-up or how I worked with a director. When there was a good understanding, I would make suggestions and they might be accepted. Let me tell you about a director I definitely did not get along with. I’m not going to name him, and fortunately the film did not get completed. It was a romantic scene where a hand touches accidently, and the heroine was expected to react with a shy, tender expression. Now, the director tells me that I should look down for so many seconds, look up and tilt my head at a 45 degree angle, blink my eyes three times, and then look down again. Nothing I or the others on the set said could make him change his mind; if I failed to follow his precise instructions—including blinking thrice, not twice—he would get upset. One can’t give good performances under such circumstances. A good director works with the artiste, with an awareness of how to extract the best.
How would you like to be remembered?
That’s a very difficult question. (Thinks for a long time) I would like to be remembered as I was when I was working. I don’t want people to forget that part of my life. Everyone grows old, changes. I wouldn’t like to go back and play a sister’s role or a mother’s role. I think people will remember me for my performances, for the youthfulness of my image, for the few trends I started and the short period I worked….That’s how I would like to be remembered – Punita Bhatt