Sulochana (Ruby Myers) – Interview
A beautiful woman in anybody’s language, the rave of every film man (producer, director, critic and fan) in her heyday when movie queens were exactly that by virtue of their unutterable loveliness, gaiety and extravagance, Sulochana today is all that, only more so because of her old-world manners and courtesy, her warm charm and her truly lovely personality.
Hers is a striking brunette beauty: black hair, creamy, flawless skin and eyes like soft- brown velvet, which, when coupled with poise, intelligence and humor, make up that unforgettable and glamorous character—a really exotic film celebrity, lovely to look at and to know.
Those were the days when stars had glamour and individuality and never confused temperament with punctuality and consideration for others.
Sulochana was a telephone girl in Bombay and was offered her first film role in 1920. “I was tickled pink,” she said, “but I didn’t take it,” In 1924 she got another offer and this time she accepted it.
“It” was the leading part in “Veer Bala”, which was made by the now long-defunct company, Kohinoor Films, and directed by Mohan Bhavnani, now head of the Films Division of the Government of India. Her co-star was Khalil. She did all kinds of things in “Veer Bala”; she rode, swam and jumped off cliffs, since most films those days were replete with red-blooded entertainment in the form of stunts.
Her next picture was for the same company and was called “Telephone Girl”. It was directed by Homi Master. These two were silent pictures, and later “Veer Bala” was re-made as a “talkie” titled “My Man”. After that she starred in Imperial Studios’ “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”.
Then came the famous “Anarkali” in which Sulochana outshone the alluring Pomegranate Bud of the legend and gave it a new meaning to thousands of filmgoers, “Madhuri” and “Wild Cat of Bombay”, all of which were later re-made as talkies.
“In those days films were produced in conditions which can only be described as primitive,” Sulochana said. “But,” she recalled with a happy smile, “what we lacked in technique we more than made up with our gusto and robust acting and thrills”.
“The work was hard, but we enjoyed it. There was a spirit of camaraderie and good- fellowship on the sets. We were happy and interested in whatever picture we happened to be making and we took our work seriously enough to see the films with the idea of learning just how we had ‘gone over.’”
“Audience reaction was always important to me and I used to visit the theatres, dressed in a burkha and actually sit in the lowest seats and work up to the higher classes– thus seeing one of my films as often as three times only to find out what the filmgoers thought of my portrayal and how far I had fulfilled my aim and obligation to entertain them.”
That she gave her best to every role she undertook is true, and for “Anarkali” Sulochana—the highest-paid star of those days, even these, judging by the actual value of money—learned Kathak dancing and used to practice on the sets from six to eight in the morning before shooting began and for another two hours after the cast and crew had packed up for the day.
Stars those days used to sing their own songs and Sulochana warbled blithely like the rest of the heroines, till someone from Hyderabad told her she was no good as a singer.
“It broke my heart,” she laughed, amused no end. “But there was nothing I could do, and I continued to sing my songs (I had to ) and my heart mended as hearts do.”
“Everything was more fun then,” she continued, with that far-off look of nostalgic recollection in her expressive eyes. “For outdoor shooting, we all travelled to the location together in a big bus and it was more a picnic than work.”
They helped with the costumes, too, and designed some of the clothes themselves. The directors used to tell the cast the story of the picture and try to give them the best idea of the theme, the characters and the events.
“We went all the way together and were thrilled at each step as the story unfolded and took shape, and we ourselves took a far more active part in the film than we could have done if we hadn’t known the story.”
Among the directors she worked with are Bhavnani, Misra, Master, Chaudhari and Nandlal Jaswantlal; the last helped her immeasurably with criticism and advice. Her co-stars included Jal Merchant, Khalil and Raja Sandow, but she was mostly teamed with Billimoria.
“We were known as the Vilma Banky and Ronald Colman of India,” said Sulochana of her association wtih the debonair Billimoria. (Sulochana interviewed by Patricia Pereira in 1953).