Shammi – Memories
The ever exuberant comedienne Shammi, shares her experiences with the stars of her generation, some which she fondly remembers and a few she would just love to forget…And some which have left behind many bittersweet memories. “I have been friendly with lots of people I’ve worked with, maybe because I am a friendly person by nature. I was equally friendly with both men and women. In fact, men used to treat me like a pal, never as a woman. Anwar, Agha, Maruti (Guddi Maruti’s father) and myself, had formed a group together. We would go everywhere together , it could be a cricket match or a picnic in Khandala.”
We have always been friends, and I am still very friendly with her. Now of course, I don’t get to spend much time with her. I am quite busy. She calls up now and then and she gives me gaalis. But I can’t help it, otherwise I would love to meet her as often as possible. We used to have a lot of fun on the sets. Contrary to her image of a sati savitri on the screen, she was quite a prankster. We would go to the horse races and take in a lot of films. Those days, we used to have so much fun together. We would constantly drop in at each other’s sets or would meet for lunch.
She was a very nice person. But there was a problem. I don’t know whether to call it masochism, but she loved feeling sorry for herself. She wanted to remain unhappy and that’s exactly how she remained all her life. Some people enjoy being sad and Meena was one of them. She used to laugh and enjoy herself with us on the sets, but only for a very little while. Then she would suddenly become quiet. Apparently there was no reason for her sadness, except that she didn’t have a very happy marriage with Kamaal sahab. But even otherwise, she was a sad person by nature. She would write poetry and always would be in that mood. Of course, while she was working, she was another person altogether. She was brilliant in front of the camera. Though she was a warm and friendly person, she couldn’t bring herself to get out and party. From the studios, she would directly head towards her home. When she was married to Kamaal Amrohi, he wouldn’t let her go anywhere. He was so possessive that he wouldn’t even let her speak to anyone. He was scared she would leave him and go. All the time he would spy on her. She used to be very frightened all the time. So much so that even after she left Kamaal, she never came out of her cocoon.
I was very close to Nargis. Nargis was a very outgoing and independent person. We were continuously going for long drives and having loads of fun in general. We would sometimes wear burkhas and go and watch films, first day, first show! Nargis and I were like kindred souls. Our tastes, our view points and our values were so similar. Once, we both wanted to see a film very badly. But unfortunately we were shooting the whole day, for Mr. Santoshi (Raj Kumar Santoshi’s father). It was a summer afternoon and we heard that Nirupa Roy, who was shooting for another film in the same studio, had fainted the previous day, as she could not bear the heat. This news gave us a wonderful idea. I told Nargis to fake illness on the sets so that Santoshi would have to call for pack-up and we could then go and watch the film. She was very hesitant because she wasn’t sure about being able to pretend sick. I coaxed her, reminding her that she was a good actress on screen, so she could definitely do it, off screen as well. At last she agreed. At 11.30 in the morning, she started complaining about the heat. The unit guys immediately got a huge chunk of ice and put it in front of the fan!! Nargis didn’t know what to do next. However, I still insisted that she go on with the act, so poor Nargis had to start grumbling all over again. At a quarter to one, she screamed, `Oh my God, I can’t bear it anymore’ and she collapsed. Everyone present rushed to her side. We carried her to the make-up room. But in spite of all the drama, the director just wouldn’t call for pack up. Nargis’ main complaint was, ‘When Nirupa fainted, they offered her juice. They are not offering anything to me!’ Then suddenly, the producer Chandulal Shah, came up to us and said, ‘You had better go home, you aren’t feeling well.’ It was almost three by this time. We walked very slowly to Nargis’ car, but once we were in, we told the driver to speed to the theatre. We were running late for the afternoon show! But can you imagine our luck, during the interval when I turned back, I saw Chandulal Shah’s son sitting right behind us! We hid our faces to the best of our ability. We didn’t even dare to go out and buy something to eat. I am sure the guy must have seen us.
Nowadays, it’s sad people don’t enjoy themselves as much as we used to. As soon as the shot is over, they go back to their make-up rooms. In those days we would sit on the set all the time. It was like a family. Nowadays, there’s this new fashion of air conditioned vans, which everyone rushes into once the shot is canned.
He used to be a very nice person. He wasn’t very cranky in those days, but he sure was talkative. He would just keep discussing each shot with the director and the others concerned. Whenever he would start on a topic, he would begin with a statement, ‘Bhai sahab….,’ and then he would just go on for at least half-an- hour. During the making of Dil Apna Preet Parayi, whenever he uttered the words, ‘Bhai saab’, Meena would say, ‘Let’s go, because now they are going to have a long discussion.’ We would all go and sit in the make-up room and relax for at least half-an-hour before we were all called for the next shot.
Nadira is another friend, whom I was I very fond of. She is a very bold person as well as being a very well read person. There were very few educated women in the industry those days. Very few could actually speak English. Just a handful of them, like Devika Rani and Leela Chitnis were highly educated. Nadira belonged to the privileged few.
Mala is one of the few with whom I have worked, but never really got close to. Her father would be protecting her all the time and nobody was allowed to go near her. I think she herself, is not a very friendly person either. Even now, when she isn’t a star anymore, she meets people with the greatest of difficulty. Just recently Asha Parekh and myself wanted to interview Mala for a serial of ours, ‘Baje Payal’. Since we couldn’t get her on the phone, we decided to go to her house, directly, without any prior appointment. She knows me very well, as I have worked in many films with her. But when we went there, her servants wouldn’t even let us inside the house. We were made to stand in the compound, while they went in to check if their madam was in. One of the servants returned and said, `Malaji is not at home, when she returns, she will call you.’
Even during those days, she would behave very strangely on the sets. She would cling to her father, all the time. And she would keep asking him, ‘Papa, yeh theek hai? Woh theek hai? Mera look kaisa hai?’ We used to get very irritated.
I would say that in comparison, Mala’s daughter Pratibha is a much nicer girl. She wants to be friendly with everyone, but the mother doesn’t let her do so. Mala keeps interfering with whatever she does. Once I was shooting for a film with Pratibha. Mala called me inside the make-up room and said, `Shammi, look what they are making Pratibha wear’. It was a normal short frock which all of these girls wear these days. She would object to everything. Even personally, Mala is just putting up a front of being a happy family. I hear, her husband doesn’t stay with her anymore, he visits them once in six months or so.
Like Mala Sinha, Madhubala was also very attached to her father. It was a kind of Electra Complex, I guess. For Madhubala, anything that the father said, was like the word of God. She wouldn’t sign any autographs only because her father was of the opinion that anybody and everybody should not have her autograph.
Waheeda is one of the nicest persons I have ever met. I have always been very close to her. Unfortunately she lives in Bangalore and I cannot really keep in touch. She is a very practical, sober and down-to-earth person. She never had that starry attitude. She never behaved like a big star, even when she was at the peak of her career. She would chat with everyone on the sets. She is highly respected also.
Asha is another person I am very close to. More than a friend, I am like a mother figure to her. She was a very protected child. She didn’t know how the world functioned, as her mother used to handle all her affairs. Her parents had protected her too much, so she was very naive when she entered the industry. Even now she gets scandalized very easily. She was so attached to her mother who was her soul mate. After her mother’s demise, she got attached to me. She knows that she can come and speak to me whenever she feels like. When her mother was alive, she would only trust me to be with her daughter.
I have hardly worked with Dev, but he has never been friendly with people. He was and is too professional. He is moving all the time, and is never static. He hates talking about the past. According to him, the future is much more important. He is so enthusiastic, that he doesn’t even sit for five minutes anywhere. In fact, at times, he goes to the make-up rooms himself to call the artistes for the shot. Recently Nirupa and myself were shooting for some film of Dev’s at Ooty. She was playing someone’s mother and I was playing someone else’s mother. It was very cold and we both were sitting in a garage in front of a fire warming ourselves. Suddenly the garage door opened and there was Dev calling us, ‘Come on girls, the shot is ready.’ It was really funny. Nirupa said, `How funny, he is calling us girls. Next, he will call himself a boy!’
Dev is very young at heart, even Chetan for that matter. The amount of energy that Chetan has, is just incredible. When we were shooting for a film of his, he would continuously run up and down a steep hill. He had us tired just looking at him.
(Kamal Sadanah’s mother)
We acted in two or three films together, but we became very close friends. Even after both of us got married, we stayed friends. We were neighbors then. Practically every day I would visit her. She knew all about me and my whereabouts. I still can’t get over the tragedy that happened in her house. The same day, I had gone shopping with Saeeda for Kamal’s birthday. I can’t get over what happened that night. Mr. Brij Sadanah was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He would get violent when he was drunk. Otherwise, he was such a cool and collected man. Such a well educated person, it was such a pleasure talking to him. Saeeda would almost bully him when he was not drunk. I still don’t understand how such a thing could happen to anyone. Which is why I still can’t believe it happened. (Shammi interviewed by Shubha in 1996)