Sulakshana Pandit – Memories
‘My childhood was spent in Calcutta — The City of Joy. Like the city, my home was a house of joy too. Ours was a big family — we were three brothers and three sisters. My father was a musician and my mother was a good singer, but she was so shy that she would sing only in the bathroom. I still remember the sound of music in my house. We children had inherited the talent of singing from our father. Every one of us was a good singer. Otherwise, it was a normal household. We had our share of happiness and sadness. But our passion was films. We used to love watching films. I was so soft-hearted that whenever a hero was beaten or there was any kind of violence, I would start howling. My elder sister would beat me and ask me to go out of the room. Two actors who figured prominently in our conversations were Dev saab and Dilip Kumar saab. My elder sister was in love with Dilip Kumar. She would warn us all, ‘Don’t take his name, any of you, he is mine!’ Her friend, on the other hand, had a crush on Dev saab and she would warn of anyone, who even remotely liked her idol. That was what my childhood was all about.
‘When I was about nine, something happened that paved my path to films. My father was invited to attend a mushaira in Bombay. He was supposed to sing there. My elder brother and I also decided to see the big city. My father readily agreed because he could not do it without the company of his two favorite children. Anyway, destiny brought us to Bombay and for the first time, we saw the city of dreams. It was here that for the first time, I performed in public at a children’s programme that was held adjacent to my father’s mushaira. After people heard me, offers began to pour in by the dozen. When my father heard people raving about my voice, he wondered what it was that I had, that had everyone in raptures. So, on his request, I sang for him one night. He was stunned. Here was a prodigy in his house and he didn’t even know about it! From the very next day my training began. We would sit by the sparkling sea right behind our house and practice. I was like a performing monkey. My father would sing and I would copy every note exactly like he sang it.
‘Days went by and I became increasingly popular. I was doing more and more shows and soon was known as Baby Sulakshana. I remember one programme where I saw Dilip Kumar for the first time. I was just a kid then and I sang this serious ghazal about the trials and tribulations of the heart. When I was introduced to Dilip saab, he picked me up like a doll and asked me, ‘Child, do you even know where your heart is placed that you are singing songs about it?’ Imagine what I must have felt, to meet a man who was a household favorite. It was on similar occasions like these that I met Mohammad Rafi saab and Kishore saab. I absolutely loved and adored Rafiji. When I saw him I went and touched his feet out of sheer reverence. He had already heard me sing and he told his secretary, ‘This little girl is going to make it very big. Make sure you have her address so we can contact her.’ The same thing happened with Kishoreji. He saw me perform at a function and was very impressed.
‘There is one thing I must mention about Kishoreda. He was a real kanjoos man. At the same time, he was a hundred different things. He was emotional, shrewd… you never knew what he was all about. He was a mad man. His lifestyle was so different from what he projected it to be. He hungered for love all his life. Often, when we used to sit together and I chastised him about his lifestyle, he would tell me, Arre, a man like me can never die of heart failure.’ He was such a fun loving person. He used to imagine what his funeral would be like — `Kitne log ayenge, kya kya reaction hoga, I can’t tell you right now.’
‘It was Kishoreda who gave me the idea of working in films. Suddenly out of the blue, one day he asked me, ‘Picture mein kaam karegi?’ I was a little shocked because the thought had never even crossed my mind. When I asked him if the public would accept a singing star, he replied vociferously, ‘Why not, I am fighting it, so now you enter the battlefield with me.’
‘What Kishoreda had said, set me thinking. When Ramesh Saigal offered me Sankalp, I was still a little hesitant. He was one of the biggest star makers at that time. He had given the industry, artistes like Dilip Kumar. I still remember what he told me the first time he met me. `I don’t want any other face for my film except yours. You have the beauty, you have the voice, why don’t you utilize it. Let the world see your talent.’ Because of that remark I decided to enter the world of films. I was just 14. The role I had to play was of a child widow. When the film was released it became an instant hit. It collected about 10 awards. I also got the prestigious Bengal Critics’ Award.
‘After that, like they say, there was no looking back. Offers started pouring in, but I decided to be very selective. At that time I had convinced myself that it was not an actress that I wanted to be, but a singer. Then I fell in love with Sanjeev Kumar. I was doing the film Uljhan with him. I was still an innocent girl. We had struck a wonderful rapport with each other. He was madly in love with Hemaji in those days. So, naturally he would come to me with all the problems of his relationship. I felt terrible but I used to console myself thinking that this was just a phase. Once he got out of it I would tell him how I felt about him. I never did get the chance. My co-artistes would tell me, `Sulakshana, you are what this man needs. You will change his whole life’. Then I heard that Hemaji and Sanjeevji were ” going to be married. The marriage would have materialized, if Jeetuji had not proposed to Hemaji. It was a rather dramatic situation. Ultimately, it was Shobha Sippy who walked down the aisle with Jeetuji. Hema and Jeetu would have been married had Shobha not staked her claim on her childhood sweetheart. She told Hemaji, ‘I was with him since the age of 14. He belongs to me and no one else.’
‘Sanjeevji and I shared a lot in common. He was a Cancerian like me and was also a very emotional human being. Together, we worked in a lot of films — Waqt Ki Deewar, Chehre Pe Chehra, Uljhan, Apnapan… We acted in seven films. Sanjeevji was basically a lonely man. He was destined not to marry. I firmly believe that marriages are made in heaven and Sanjeevji’s marriage was not destined to be. I have never loved anyone as much as him. At the time I was involved with him, his doctor told me ‘Don’t care so much for this man, I give him just two years to live.’ But what can you do when your heart is involved? Sanjeevji’s biggest weakness was drinks. He was a heart patient and still he continued to drink heavily. It was like putting acid on a raw wound. There was no one who cared enough to help him. He was surrounded by people all the time and because of that I could not help him. His friends, who were also drunkards, took advantage of him. Had I been with him I would have thrown out all his bottles, one by one.
‘I have so many beautiful memories. I feel like I have spent half my lifetime waiting for my heroes. Life went on. I got along famously with all the heroes. But Jeetuji and Vinod Khanna were very special to me. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this but I am a mad woman, so I will. I loved Jeetuji too. There cannot be a better human being than him. I remember, one day he came into my make-up room and told me, ‘Sulakshana I am getting married.’ I almost fainted. I had not realized my feelings for him until that moment. Now when I think back I realize that it was just childishness, my possessiveness, where Jeetu was concerned. We remain good friends to this day. Both Shobha and he are very precious to me. One other man I really liked was Vinod Khanna. He was so innocent and genuinely a nice person.
‘Rajesh Khanna was one actor who was very, very interested in girls. Before I met him I used to think the world of him. But when I met him, and saw what a keen interest he took in girls, I didn’t like him as much. He is the only hero, girls have given their lives for. You won’t believe this, but huge droves of girls used to come and plead with me to introduce them to him. I used to take them to my room, feed them with fruits and tell them, `Why are you burning yourself for him? He is a man not a God.’ I think his charisma lay in his voice, his eyes. But he was a very arrogant man. Two other actors who really irritate me are Raj Babbar and Shatrughan Sinha. Not that they have tried any dirty tricks with me but psychologically speaking I still identify them as villains. I think of them as rapists and bad men.
‘Two people who have made me cry buc ets of tears were dance master Kamal and Devyani Chaubal. Devi used to write vicious lies. I used to read the gossip and cry my eyes out in the bathroom. God, what a woman! ‘Kamal master used to make me cry for a different reason. He was a perfectionist. Everytime he had to perfect my dance steps he would yell at me. ‘Pata nahin kahan kahan se chale aate hain heroine banne. Dance karna to aata nahi.’ That would set me off. I was terrified of his anger. I refused to work in films if Kamal master was the dance director. Ultimately, Jeetuji counselled me and I became more comfortable with Kamalji.
‘After Sanjeevji died I went into an acute depression. I almost killed myself. But it is God’s will that I live and so here I am still leading my life, though I haven’t yet recovered totally. I have never really been able to come out of my shell. I have locked the connecting door to my room and whole day I sit and see beautiful films, listen to beautiful music and write ‘poetry. I am gathering the courage to face life and the world again. I hunger for the mike. I want to sing. But I have also decided that only after I have broken the monopoly in the music industry, will I die. Let everyone have their share of singing. When they have satisfied themselves only then will I enter. I made a mistake by trying to compete with Lataji and Ashaji when I was young. It was like a bird trying to fight a tigress. They are goddesses, avatars of Saraswati. When they were young they didn’t allow anyone to come near them. I was always entranced by Lataji’s songs. When we sang together I would inevitably forget my lines, so fascinated was I by her singing. She would then help me with the cues. She would clutch my hand just before my lines, to indicate that I was to begin now. At the end of my lines she would clap a hand over my mouth. She used to laugh and say `Sulakshana, turn mera gana mat suno. Sunogi to khud ki lines bhool jaogi.’ You give me all the world’s heroines and I will still prefer Lataji to them. I love her a lot.
‘Now, I am planning to enter films and also sing. I am still searching for my confidence. Once I gain that, I will definitely comeback. I have a lot of film offers on hand. I’ll do elderly roles. Hope and pray that I get well fast. (As told to Shubha Mini in 1996)