What kind of a relationship did you share with Dev Anand? Were you in love with him? What went wrong?
Oh my. isn’t this old hat by now? When Dev and I parted company (after a beautiful relationship), I didn’t raise a hue and cry. I could have done so — got publicity out of it! Like Anju Mahendru did after her break-up. And it probably would have made international news, you know! By talking about our ex-relationship. I didn’t want to hurt his image. And Dev is VERY image-conscious, let me tell you. So I kept quiet. I had always looked up to him in our association. We were so close to each other—that I think I almost worshipped him. To the extent I was totally dependent on him and in return I gave him my total obedience. Like he just had to say, sit down, I’d sit, if he said stand up, I’d stand! That’s how I felt about the man! It was an implicit trust and faith I had in him, and in our relationship. When the break came—all of a sudden I was out in the cold—naturally I was hurt, angry, disappointed, bitter maybe. But that’s all in the past now…..
Is it true that you were offered Zeenat’s ‘Hare Rama’ role? Why did you refuse it?
Yes, I was offered the role. In fact, it was, to quote Dev himself, “written and conceived” for me! But I simply couldn’t visualize myself playing Dev’s “sister”. Not after the kind of relationship I’d shared with him. I couldn’t bear the idea, and I frankly explained my feelings to Dev. I even told him that the public after having been fed with stories about our Great Romance, would never accept me as his sister on the screen. I remember when Sunil and my aunty Nargis married, people literally abused them because the mother-son images of ‘Mother India’ were fresh in their minds. I feared the public would react similarly if Dev and I tried to pass off as brother-sister. But Dev would not understand my point. He tried to persuade me a lot to accept the role. “Zaidi, I want you in my film”, he insisted. So I suggested that he give me the heroine’s role—I know it was an inconsequential role but at least it was the romantic role. But that he refused. He said that I didn’t look ‘pahadi’ and that Mumtaz suited the role. Does she look any more ‘pahadi’ than I do to you? Well, I refused the sister’s role.
Did you say that Hema and Zeenat owe their succccess to you?
Yes. It was a flippant remark, no malice intended. All that I meant was that I had refused the two roles that catapulted Hema and Zeenat to their big successes. Producer F. C. Mehra had offered me the role opposite Raaj Kumar in ‘Lai Pathar’. He showed me Bengali version of the film and I fell for the role. It was almost settled that I would play it when I was told that Raakhee, the second lead in the film, would get top billing to me. I didn’t like it. You see, at that time ‘Gambler’ with me as the heroine was running at the theatres. Raakhee’s first film ‘Jeevan Mrityu’ had been released for morning shows! So on what count were they giving me lower billing? I thought it wasn’t fair so I gave up that film.
When I refused the ‘Hare Rama’ role, it was me who recomended Zeenat to Dev for that role. I’d seen her in ‘Hulchul’ and ‘Hungama’ and thought she wasn’t much in those films—the roles were such of course. I felt that she would fit the ‘Hare Rama’ role like a glove. But Dev wasn’t very keen. He said she was Ralhan’s discovery and that she had a “very hard face”. I don’t know what made him change his mind eventually. One fine day, I found out she was IN and I was OUT!
Why do you think your career didn’t get off the ground? Who do you blame—yourself or Dev?
Blame? What’s the use of crying over split milk? Mavbe I was to blame because I had left my career almost entirely in Dev’s hands when we were together. There were so many good roles I didn’t take because I was a Navketan camp girl and Dev didn’t encourage me to take outside roles. Like ‘Saathi’ (the role went to Simi), ‘Dastaan’ (the role went to Bindu). Dev wanted me to be the heroine in ‘Guide’ and ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ but both fell through. ‘Guide’—because Dev thought I didn’t know dancing (of course I do!) and ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ because Vijay Anand wanted Mumtaz for the film.
Is it true that Vijay Anand didn’t approve of your close relationship with Dev?
I don’t know about that. All I know is that Vijay and I couldn’t ever adjust mentally to each other. Temperamentally too. We didn’t like each other from the start. I think it started when I was offered the heroine’s role in ‘Jewel Thief’. Vijay Anand took a fresh screen test of me and rejected me! Till today I have this curiosity to ask him, if I ever meet him, what he found wrong with me. Even when he used to visit the sets of ‘Gambler’ he had this habit of making me uncomfortable. He used to make me feel like a fool in my own eyes. Once I even told Dev to request Vijay to keep away when I was shooting on the sets. And Dev told me, “I know how you feel, Zaidi. When he’s around he makes me feel like a fool too!” I think it was Vijay’s superior attitude that bugged me. I didn’t ever work with him. I could never have.
How do you cope with the frustration of not having succeeded as an actress?
For some time when my career seemed to stand still, I moped around the house! Then one day I decided to shake myself up and get out of this inactivity. That’s when I remembered a shelved story which my father had written so many years ago with Nargis, Nimmi and Dilip Kumar in mind. I unearthed it and got down to working on it—right from scratch. It kept me busy. What’s more, I was my own mistress and I’ve enjoyed putting my heart and soul in it.
Is it true that Vinod Mehra ditched you in favor of Rekha?
Oh, no, I’m so bored with Vinod Mehra and Rekha!! Actually I don’t know how I got involved in this triangle. In fact, I didn’t like Vinod when we first met. It was only when we were working outdoors for a film that we got to know each other and became great pals. But no romance in the friendship! Vinod used to drop in at home whenever he felt like it — and all of us–Vinod, our friends, my sister Shahida would go for drives and movies. It was all great fun. But Vinod and I’ve never gone on a single ‘twosome’ date as such! In fact, what I liked best about him was that he never tried to get fresh with me! So you see there’s no question of his ‘ditching’ me. Nowadays he doesn’t drop in like before. Says he’s busy, doesn’t find the time …..
Somehow you’ve got yourself a reputation as a hard drinking, chain-smoking, man-chaser. Can you explain it?
Help! How on earth did I get such a wicked, wicked reputation? No, I’m definitely not a man-chaser. I’ve never chased a man in my life—never will. It’s below my dignity and not flattering to my ego. Besides I firmly believe it’s the man who’s got to do the chasing. Chain-smoking? Impossible. Hard-drinking? Impossible. Except a little brandy sometimes when I’m off-color.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m a self-respecting, God-fearing person, a misfit in the film crowd, and a believer in destiny (This interview was conducted in 1973).