She had great fun while she worked in films. But once Shakila quit and settled down to domestic bliss in London, she hasn’t missed the arc lights.
Whenever the songs of “C.I.D.” or “Chinatown” are heard, one remembers with nostalgia the frail looking heroine of those films. More than twenty years after she left the industry, Shakila still has the same fragile face. But she is no more slim.
Shakila quit films in 1962 when she decided to get married and leave India to settle in London with her husband. She has a twelve year old daughter. She now shuttles between London and Bombay. We met her at her Marine Drive flat. “It’s years since I’ve left the industry, I don’t want to be written about now,” she protested. But once she got started, she began at the very beginning.
“I started my career in films in 1953 with a film called ‘Alibaba’. I had a small role in the film. It did extremely good business. My career took off with ‘Aar Paar° where I had a side role with Shyama and Guru Dutt. I played the heroine in Guru Dutt’s ‘C.I.D.’. I enjoyed working with Guru Dutt. He was a wonderful person and a perfectionist. In ‘Aar Paar’ I had a song sequence which he wanted me to do in a particular way. He took 30-40 takes before he was satisfied! Although I was the heroine in ‘C.I.D.’, it was Waheeda who was given a lot of importance because she was a Guru Dutt protégé. Dev Anand was my hero but there wasn’t any special rapport between us. He used to be very quiet. I was terribly shy those days.
“In fact, many people thought I was a snob because I didn’t talk to anybody. Nanda was one of them. We had worked together in a film called ‘Agra Road’. I thought she was a snob too. I’ll tell you how we became friends. Once I was driving down from one of the studios in the suburbs. I had tied a scarf round my head and was wearing dark glasses because it was very sunny. Her car was behind mine and she wanted to see who was driving the car ahead. When she drove past, she recognized me. She waved and asked me to stop the car. I still remember what she said when she got out of her car. ‘I wanted to know who this beautiful girl is.’ She got into my car and we got talking. She decided I was not a snob. We decided to meet regularly so I told her that Waheeda too had no friends so why don’t we visit her? That’s how the three of us became friends. Jabeen was also part of our group.
“The four of us went everywhere together. These days there is no craze to watch film-stars, at least, not in Bombay. Those days, you couldn’t go anywhere without collecting a mob outside. I remember the time the four of us went to have Chinese lunch at a restaurant near the Gateway of India. Half way through our meal, the owner of the restaurant came to us and requested us to leave. A huge crowd had gathered outside and wanted to meet us. Finally we were whisked away from the back door!”
“Nanda was the mischievous one amongst us. One day she suggested we go to Waheeda’s place and fool her. So we all wore burkhas and went to Waheeda’s house. Her sister opened the door and was quite surprised to see burkha clad women. We told her we had come from Pakistan and we were Waheeda’s fans, and we started giggling. Waheeda was sitting right there and called us in. She had recognized our laughs!”
“After I went off to London, Waheeda and Nanda got very close. Although I have been away, we have still maintained our friendship. Just the other day Nanda called me up. Now she’s going to feel lonely since Waheeda has shifted to Bangalore.”
Incidentally, it was Nanda who told us Shakila was in town and gave us her telephone number.
Of the men, Shakila enjoyed working most with, Raj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar and Pran. “I found Dada Moni the most intelligent of all the actors. Whenever I used to shoot with either Dada Moni or Pran, I’d sit on the sets just to watch them at work. Both of them were great fun. Even today when I meet Pran, we share the same warmth and affection. I can’t say the same about the others except, perhaps, Dilip Kumar. Yusuf Saab treats you like a queen and makes you feel the most important person around. That is something not everyone can do.
“I enjoyed working with Shammi Kapoor too. He was a very jolly person. Talking of jolly people, I can’t forget Kishore Kumar. We worked together in a film called ‘Begunah’. It was based on a Danny Kaye film called ‘Knock On The Wood’. It was a very good comedy. Unfortunately, a week after the film was released, Danny Kaye came to Bombay and heard the film was based on his film and had the film banned.”
“Working for this film was great fun because of Kishore Kumar. Once he came on the sets there would be a lot of confusion. He would jump around the place. During that film, the entire unit worked as one team and all because of Kishore Kumar. He was a nice guy. He was eccentric and one couldn’t believe him. I remember he told me that he was divorcing his wife Ruma because she left his dinner on the table and went to bed. When he got home he’d find the cats eating his food and he was left to eat the remains!”
“That reminds me of Madhubala. I first worked with Madhubala in one of my earliest films Fali Saab’s ‘Armaan’, where I had just one song and two scenes. Madhubala was the heroine of the film and already a big star. I was very young, around fifteen, and very nervous. The song sequence we were doing required me to come running down some steps and clap in front of the camera. Madhubala was standing next to the camera and each time I came down the steps she giggled and it made me so nervous I forgot to clap. I was so disheartened by her that I wanted to go home and never work in films again. That was my first encounter with Madhubala. After that I didn’t work with her. Later, she married Kishore.”
“Much later, one day, out of the blue, I got a call from her. She asked me to go and meet her at her house but insisted I go alone. I knew that nobody was allowed inside her house and I had not still forgotten the humiliation of that day. I refused to go and see her. Her family and my family knew the same ‘pir saab’. She sent a message through him asking me to go and see her. He was a respected man, so I agreed to go. I went to her house alone and as I walked in through the gate I saw someone watching me from a window above. A voice asked me ‘Have you come alone?’ It was Madhubala. When I said ‘yes’, she asked me to come up the stairs. As I climbed up, I saw her standing at the head of the staircase. I get goose pimples when I remember that day. I had seen her on the sets, at the height of glory. A woman so beautiful that everyone looked on her as some kind of goddess. And the woman standing there — was dressed in white, no make up, she looked as white as her saree.” Shakila stopped to point to a marble statue in her room. “Whenever I see this statue I think of Madhubala as I saw her that day,” and continued. She took my hand and took me inside. We sat down. She looked ill and upset. She clutched my hand and said, ‘I know you are Waheeda’s best friend. I want you to tell her to stop chasing my husband. Tell her she should never work with my husband again.’ I couldn’t believe my ears. She had called me over to talk ill of my own friend. I told her that Waheeda was not that sort of a person, and least of all she wasn’t interested in Kishore but she wouldn’t listen. She repeatedly asked me to tell Waheeda not to sign any more films with Kishore. I told her I was in no position to do any such thing and left immediately.”
“I decided to tell Waheeda about the incident. She told me that Madhubala had in fact called her up herself and told her the same thing and she didn’t know what to make of it. Later, Madhubala called me up once again. This time I refused to meet her. I went off to Bangalore and there I heard she had expired. To date I regret not having gone to meet her. God knows what she had wanted. Who would’ve ever thought that the most beautiful famous actress of our times would meet such a sad end . . .”
“There was one thing I admired about Madhubala. Her infallible love for her parents. Their happiness came before all else. Until the end, she wanted to see that they lived life in the comfort they were used to. These days one doesn’t see that kind of sentiment.”
Shakila bears no traces of her filmi connections. Unlike other star homes there are no life size portraits, there are no trophies or awards to boast of her career in films.
“I was in films for barely ten years. And just when I was beginning to get popular, I threw it all up to get married. Besides, I don’t believe in awards. Not since I met Manoj Kumar anyway! He is the man who once told me how awards can be manipulated — by buying up a large number of copies of magazines that give awards by popularity poll.”
Now, Shakila has no use for awards or trophies. She is content and happy with her small family. And nothing will make her come back into films. (Shakila interviewed by Nalini Uchil in 1984).