I was born and brought up in Bombay. My father acted during the silent era. So the film industry was nothing new to me. I started my acting career from the age of four, but that was only in plays along with my father who used to direct them. Later on during my holidays, I even did a small role in a Marathi film. Still, I was never really interested in acting as a career.
One day I joined a talent scout contest. I took part for the heck of it, but to my utter surprise I reached the finals! Now this was what got my mind ticking. If I was good enough to reach the finals of this highly prestigious contest, then I surely must have some talent. That’s when I planned my career.
I always wanted to make a name for myself in the world of sports. I was an all India cycling champ. As if that was not enough, I was also the Inter-Collegiate swimming champ. I would have represented India in the Asiad for cycling, but when I was the national champ, this event was still not introduced. They had the event for men not for women. Cycling for women was introduced only lately. My only regret was not being able to represent my country
Fan mail arrived even before I joined films — due to my popularity in sports. When I won the Inter-Collegiate Swimming Competition my photo had appeared in the papers. But my name was written as Suman Khote. So I received my first fan mail which bore a wrong name. Most of it consisted of marriage proposals, men who wanted to be my rakhi brothers and also threats. One man wrote about how he would throw acid on my face! But then, it’s all a part and parcel of the game.
Leela Chitnis was producing a film with her sons. She approached me to do a role. I was naturally thrilled. At that time I was living in Gamdevi, and had to go to Mahim for rehearsals. This continued for a month. Then one day before the mahurat I was called to discuss the terms. Here she told me that I would have to sign a five year contract. Now, I knew that an actress’ life lasts for about five years. So if I was under contract, I would not be able to sign any other movies. I decided not to do the movie. Actually, I was shattered, but it only made me more determined to make a mark in movies.
Mr. Amiya Chakraborty saw my cycling photograph and decided to take me in his film. So he sent Mr. Kamat, a distributor, to speak to me. I was always a tomboy and used to be dressed up like a boy and even behave like one. When Mr. Kamat came home, I was having a pillow fight with my brother. He took one look at me and went back and told Mr. Chakraborty that the girl will never fit the role he had in mind. But Mr. Chakraborty was persistent. That’s how I got my first major role in the movie Seema. The role was memorable and I became popular instantly.
In Seema there was this scene where I had to chase a thief on a cycle. It was the highlight of the movie. I was on a racer which had brakes only in the front. Now at a high speed one can’t apply the front brakes as the cycle would topple. The thief was on an ordinary cycle. I reached him at high speed and caught him by the collar. As I was doing this I tried to stop the cycle with my leg. I lost control and was thrown right over the camera which was placed in front and I landed into the rubble! My whole face was torn. I was not sure whether I would be able to act again. But then after one-and-a-half months I got back to work.
On the morning of the premiere of Seema I had a cycling race. I completed the race, cycled home and had just enough time to freshen up and be at the theatre. The wah-wahs for my performance started right from the premiere. It was all very exciting.
I always had the habit of dressing up in shorts and taking my cycle with me wherever I went, even if it was only to the market place. But after Seema, I was forced to stop this. In fact, a week after its release I was forced to buy a car on hire purchase, even though I could hardly afford it.
Less than a year later, I had another major accident. I was shooting in Pune for a Marathi film. I was a dacoit who was Handcuffed and taken in a jeep to the police station. Suddenly, the brakes failed and the driver lost control and we were coming downhill. Everyone in the jeep was thrown out and we were heading straight for a tree. I had just recovered from the previous face injury, so that was utmost in my mind. I promptly covered my face with my hands which were handcuffed and jumped out of the jeep. People rushed to help me, but I said I was fine and wanted to go to help the others. Then I tried to get up, but I found that I could not. It was then that looked at my leg and found that it had simply opened up. The whole flesh was hanging! I was immediately rushed to the hospital. There, the doctors were very careless and my leg developed gangrene.And I had to be laid up for 6 months.
At the beginning of my career I had done a variety of roles. I had a tragic role in Champakali, I played the vamp in Paying Guest, I played a rornantic heroine in Heera Moti. Then came Chhoti Bahen where I was doing a comic role. It was from here that I was stamped a comedienne.
Mehmood, Dhumal and myself made a very good team for six years. Mostly, Dhumal played my father and Mehmood my lover. Dhumal would stop us from meeting and that would create a funny situation. But though we were such a successful team, it all became too monotonous. It was just like changing clothes and doing the same thing again and again. The producers and distributors loved it because this team was a crowd puller and they could sell their films on this. But it became very boring.
Then I went and got married. My husband D.M. Balsavar was the Vice President of Marketing in Nocil. He, was also distantly related to me. It was this that helped me break away from the Mehmood-Dhumal team. It came as a relief to all of us. Even after marriage, I was doing the occasional Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Rajshri movie. I managed to keep myself occupied. Then there was a lull in my career where I went abroad with my husband on his posting. After this came Ek Duje Ke Liye where I played an unsympathetic role. Offers started pouring in… Of course, in the course of waiting, I also made my own film…
After being in the Industry for 13 years, I got tired of doing the same thing again and again. So I decided to make a movie. I produced and directed Chimukla Pahuna a Marathi movie in
1968. This movie had my uncle Nayampalli, my brother Viju Khote, my husband D.M. Balsavar and me in the cast. Actually, I had to force my husband to do a small role for me in the movie. He was not a filmi type and could not believe his ears when I told him he was to do a role. But making this movie was a very good experience for me. It was a whole lot of fun — more like a picnic. But since I was only an artiste, I was not able to choose the right distributor for the movie. Hence it didn’t get the right kind of release and the movie didn’t do well. But since it was a small budget Marathi film, the loss was not much. This movie was released on T.V. last November and after all these years, I got an excellent response from the people. The phone would just not stop ringing with people calling to congratulate and encourage me. It was only after this response that I decided to make video films.
Actually this was an irony of sorts. At the beginning of my career, I never wanted to do any unsympathetic roles. I even refused a role in Saraswati Chandra because of this. I even played the vamp in Paying Guest because I was bound by a contract by Filmistan. But the movie that brought me back was the one where I play a negative role.
Now I am more busy directing video plays which I’m sure have a lot of potential in India. The play I’m doing presently is the Hindi adoption of the English play ‘No Sex Please, Hum Hindustani’, and its called ‘Hangama Ho Gaya’.
As far as films are concerned, I’m doing about five — Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar, Ghar Ki Laxmi, One K. Bapaiha’s film Pyar Hua Chori Chori, etc. We have a very good breed of actors today, but there is lack of talent among actresses. There are a few like Rekha, Dimple and Amrita who are really talented.
Today I am very content with my life. As a senior actress, I get my due respect. I have three children. My one son Ashwin Balsavar is a sound recordist and my daughter Bhavana acts. She’s even compared the afternoon transmission on T.V. I am very satisfied with my life. But still I will never sit back and rest. I would like to at least make one video play every Two months and keep myself busy! (As told to Vijay Shekhar in 1990).