B’day Flashback: Waheeda Rehman Recalls Her Debut as a Vamp in CID
Waheeda Rehman’s foray into films is an intriguing story much like her reel scripts. Rehman was a trained classical dancer who performed on stage with her sister in Chennai. One day, a producer came to their home to offer her a dance number in a Tamil film. The only reason the Rehmans agreed to the assignment was because it was an expertly choreographed folk dance. As luck would have it the dance in Rojulu Marayi became the highlight of the film.
In those days, it was customary for lead actors to travel for the promotion of a new release to the surrounding cities. On one such trip, when the cast of Rojulu Marayi were rushing inside a theatre, Guru Dutt happened to be at his Hyderabad distributor’s office on the same street and was curious about the commotion, when his distributor informed him that a new dancer was the cause of the frenzy.
Soon Waheeda Rehman was invited for an audition to Bombay and after an elaborate photo shoot, signed for a three film contract.
Waheeda Rehman recalls that her Hindi debut as a vamp in CID was far from impressive and she and her mother were surprised when she was signed as Gulabo in Pyaasa.
We began the film with the song picturisation of the song Jaane kya tune kahi, in Kolkata. I was seventeen at that time and didn’t know what a street walker meant so Guru Duttji asked me take a few steps, look back and smile. I did exactly what he asked and it worked.Waheeda Rehman, Actor
Rehman says she was fortunate to be exposed to different genres of cinema so early in her career.
I played a princess in Jayasimha opposite NTR, followed by a fantasy Alibabavum Narpathu Thirudargalum and in Hindi cinema I had a romantic Solva Saal and a dramatic Kaagaz Ke Phool.Waheeda Rehman
With the advent of colour in cinema in the sixties, many feared that Waheeda Rehman, who was considered divine in black and white movies (Chaudhvin Ka Chand and Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam) may not be as effective in the new cinematography. She proved them wrong as she balanced the courtesan in Sunil Dutt’s Mujhe Jeene Do with Vijay Anand’s pathbreaking Guide, in the same decade.
Waheeda Rehman says that while glamour is an essential part of show business, to be able to laugh and cry effectively on screen is as important part of acting, and she proved this in entertainers like Aadmi and Ram aur Shyam. Counted among the few actresses equally proficient in both dance and drama, she says learning her dance steps and dialogues were of utmost important to her, because making a mistake meant disrespecting her masters (the choreographer and the writer).
The seventies saw Waheeda Rehman both as the leading lady and the protagonist. After Prem Pujari, Darpan and Reshma aur Shera she smoothly shifted to central characters in Phagun and later as Amitabh Bachchan’s unwed mother in Trishul. She remained the first choice for directors in the eighties and the nineties, be it Gulzar’s Namkeen, Yash Chopra’s Mashaal, Lamhe or Mahesh Bhtt’s Swayam. In 2000 Anupam Kher cast her as the matriarch in his directorial debut Om Jai Jagdish, followed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s immortal Rang De Basanti.
In the last few years Waheeda Rehman has refused more films than she did in her prime time, but filmmakers continue to chase her and there were some it was difficult to refuse, like Aparna Sen’s 15 Park Avenue and Kamal Haasan’s yet to be released Vishwaroopam 2. She admits that she is still passionate about cinema and her craft, but does not want to make an effort unless something out of the ordinary comes her way.
In the olden days shootings were more personalised and film units worked like a family. Our relations with our colleagues were cordial and we didn’t view each other as rivals, because each one of us had a distinctive image and were identified for specific roles. Our generation was not as exposed to the globe as the generation today, but we relied on our instincts. We worked at a slower pace and prided in our spontaneity. Today, disconnected scenes are shot on the same day and strangely this hasn’t diffused the magic, actors do quality work and writers/directors create masterpieces. That is the power of cinema. It is changing all the time.Waheeda Rehman
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 12 books. Her Twitter handle is @bhawanasomaaya)
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 3 February 2016. It’s being republished to mark Waheeda Rehman’s birthday.)