Sulochana – Memories
I started my career with Marathi films, 43 years ago. Along with my other colleagues, I worked for Jai Prabha Studio in Kolhapur which was owned by Bhalji Pendharkar who was our guru. He was a producer, director, writer. He was an institution in himself and we learnt a lot from him. My first film was Maharathi Karan followed by Valmiki, which I did as a junior artiste. Later on, I went ahead to do my first Marathi film as a heroine called Jai Bhavani which was also directed by Baba. This was in the year 1948.
The year which saw the release of my first film as an actress, also witnessed the unfortunate incident of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Immediately after which, people who belonged to the RSS group were attacked. Amidst all this confusion, Bhalji Pendharkar’s studio was burnt down as he too was a member of the RSS group. All the imported machinery was reduced to ashes. Of course, he did manage to recover from this setback and built his studio again at the very place and till date it stands there as one of the significant studios of Kolhapur. In 1994 he was awarded the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award. He later passed away at the age of 97.
After the incident of Jai Prabha studio, I came to Pune along with Raja Paranjpe, Sudhir Phadke and others. And it was here that I did films like Vahinichya Bangdya, Bala Jo Jo Re and Stri Janama Hi Tuji Kahani which established me as a full fledged heroine of Marathi films. During this time, I also did two Hindi films, one was Nanhe Munhe with baby Shakuntala and the other was Suhagan with Geeta Bali whom I knew since Kolhapur days. She later became a very close friend and even named her daughter Kanchan after my daughter, who was also called Kanchan.
From 1948 to 1953, I worked in Pune. My Marathi film, Stri Janama Hi Tuji Kahani was a huge success. The Hindi version of it was made as Aurat Teri Yehi Kahani and Bhabhi Ki Choodiyan was made from Vahinichya Bangdaya.
Later on I started doing a lot of mythological films like Sati Anusaya which was immensely popular. There was a time when I did 40 mythological films. But strangely, mythological films or say dharmik films at that time were considered as `C’ grade movies and in no way were a stepping stone towards mainstream cinema. So I stopped doing mythological films totally and concentrated on my Marathi film career and did films like Prapanch, Pati Vrata, Ekti, Molkarin, Maratha Tituka Melvava.
It was during this period that Bimal Roy called me at Ranjit Studio and offered me the role of a mother in Sujata. I was very hesitant because I was an established heroine in Marathi films and here I was asked to play a mother to the heroine! People advised me against it. But as I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of working with such an eminent director, I approached Lalita Pawar for advice. She told me, ‘Listen, if you want to have a long career in films, then it is better to play character roles than a heroine, whose career span is very short’. I took her advice and did Sujata which went on to be a big hit.
With Sujata there was no looking back. Offers started pouring in by the dozen. From Nasir Hussain’s Dil Deke Dekho to J. P. Dutta’s Ghulami. I have done nearly 250- odd films. Sohrab Modi’s Mera Ghar Mere Bachche, Jhula, Sangarsh, Johnny Mera Naam, Reshma Aur Shera, Aa Gale Lag Ja, Kora Kagaz, Be-imaan, Vishwanath, Rampur Ka Laxman, Andha Kanoon are just a few of the films I went on to do. I had never really stopped doing Marathi films and by now, I had done nearly 150 Marathi films too.
I have worked with nearly every actor of our times, but Dilip Kumar was a personal favorite. Dilip Kumar always worked for an afternoon shift and would not leave the studio till he had completed his work. I once asked him, ‘Why don’t you complete the shoot next day morning when it gets so late’? He replied, ‘I don’t want to carry on my work to the next day because the continuity is broken. And when you are fresh the next day, you are not able to portray the same kind of emotions, especially during an intense scene.’
Dev Anand on the other hand would never wait once the shift was over. But he was a highly disciplined and punctual to the core. I never saw his friends or relatives visiting him on his sets. The last of the trio, Raj Kapoor, who, was himself a director of such great caliber never interfered in the direction of a film once he faced the camera. When asked by his director to give suggestions in directing, he would say, ‘At the moment I am just an artiste and will do exactly what you tell me to’. The directors, all of whom were in awe of him, were immediately at ease.
I remember, while working with Dada Moni (Ashok Kumar), how I would not even look into his eyes while talking to him until he explained to me how it would affect both his and my performance. He was another co-star who put me at ease totally. The same was the case with Motilalji, who, till date remains the finest actor of Indian cinema. Well, the same can also be said about Balraj Sahani who apart from being a good actor was a good human being too. He was very gentle, polite kind of a person who had great respect for women. He also had this great urge to learn different languages. So, whenever my daughter would accompany me to my shootings, he would sit with her and try to learn Marathi.
Two of my predictions, as far as superstars are concerned, have proved right. While working with Rajesh Khanna in Raaz and Baharon Ke Sapne, I felt that he would one day be a super star. And it was the same thing with Amitabh Bachchan who I acted with in Reshma Aur Shera. I told my daughter, ‘Look, this boy will go places’. Amitabh gives a lot of respect to his elders. Once during the shooting of Majboor I had to go to Ramesh Deo’s house for lunch. Amitabh personally came along to drop me. When we stepped out of the car, he held my hand crossed the road with me and dropped me till the building staircase and did not bother about the huge crowd that gathered on the roads. Jaya is also very close to me. She still has the Kolhapuri saree which I presented to her as a wedding gift.
In fact, everyone I have worked with 1 have been very nice and cooperative. I remember during the shooting of Main Sunder Hoon, I had to go to Berlin Film Festival where my film Ekti, was to be screened. But the problem was that Mehmood, who was a busy star those days had already given the dates for this film with great difficulty. But when he learnt about my problem, he sent a message asking me to go ahead with my trip and not to worry as he would adjust his dates accordingly. Had he not co-operated, I wouldn’t have been able to go.
These are the experiences that make me feel happy as far as my professional life is concerned. But sadly there have been times in my life that have shattered me. My husband who was very supportive in my career, passed away just as my Hindi film career began. My daughter was barely eight-year-old then. There was a big age gap between my husband and me. Later, when my daughter got married to the well known Marathi actor Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar, he too passed away just after four years of marriage. And then my nephew, who was very close to me, died an untimely death.
For 30 years I have been doing character roles. And people have accepted me only in positive roles. In between, when I did try to change my image on screen by doing the role of a tamasha dancer in Bhai Dujh and Kaikai in Sampoorna Ramayan, I got huge letters from my fans asking me not to do such kind of roles. They did not like me doing negative roles.
In April this year, I was awarded the V. Shantaram award by State government for outstanding contribution to Marathi cinema. The Cine Artistes’ Association also felicitated me with a Life Time Achievement award for Hindi films. Then the Andhra Pradesh Journalist Association also awarded me for my contribution in Hindi cinema.
Speaking about today’s films, I feel our heroines expose too much unnecessarily, which does not look nice. In fact, in most of the films it is a deliberate attempt to attract the audiences. During our times also we used to expose but it was not vulgarly done. Today there is too much vulgarity. Even the dance movements are cheap as compared to what Helen did in her times, which was very graceful. But I still think all this has reached a peak and so it will naturally diminish. Among the current heroes, I like Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir Khan. I think they all are good. And among heroines, I like Kajol a lot. She is very talented and of course Sridevi who I don’t know why reminds me of Geeta Bali somehow. In directors, I like J. P. Dutta with whom I had done Ghulami.
I am still very much a part of the industry and have not quit films Although I don’t do too many of them. Right now I am doing a film called Tada with Dharmendra. Even now, I do keep in touch with my old friends and meet them quite often at social gatherings. It’s the same feeling that we used to share years ago. I have had no realization of how time has flown past. (Sulochana interviewed by Ranjeet Kaur in 1997)