Mamta Kulkarni turns 45 today. That’s a little hard to digest,especially if you were growing up in the early 90s, raging hormones and all. It was in September 1993 that the then aspiring actress’ topless cover for Stardust hit the stands and became an instant sellout. Copies of the magazine were smuggled into classrooms in schools and college dorms for ‘community viewing’ and heated discussions took place about how a Bollywood actress could actually be so brazen. Yes, this was before the Internet era robbed us of all that innocence.
Mamta Kulkarni’s career took off, she worked with some of the biggest actors of her time including Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn. And before fading away, the actress continued to be in the news for her off-screen controversies, rather than her on-screen talent.
But it all began with that cover shoot for Stardust and the man behind the lens that day was one of Bollywood’s most popular photographers – Jayesh Sheth. I was in conversation with Sheth as he recalled how the famous Mamta Kulkarni cover happened. Over to Jayesh Sheth now:
It was in 1993, Mamta had just entered the industry, she was a fresher and she was from a conservative Maharashtrian family, a very middle class background. During that time there was a cover shoot we were planning to do for Stardust, at the editorial meeting we decided to do something sensuous. At that time even showing cleavage was a big issue.Jayesh Sheth, Photographer
The brief was to shoot someone with a sexy body but an innocent face, we were looking at stars of that time like Madhuri, Juhi and all. But they all refused, because they had already established their image.Jayesh Sheth
So we decided to do it with a newcomer who does not have any image, which could create a sensation and people would ask ‘Who is this girl?’ A couple of names came from the magazine and I showed them pictures of Mamta, and they said, ‘Great! Lets go ahead with it’. I approached Mamta and told her that this is what we are trying to do for a cover shot. At first she was shocked, she asked ‘Are you sure it’s for the cover?’. I said yes, and told her the concept, which would involve revealing her upper body completely but in a sensuous and aesthetic way, you don’t have to show any private areas like the nipples.Jayesh Sheth
She (Mamta Kulkarni) was nervous, she said, ‘Let me give it a thought, I don’t know how much risk is involved in this. If it works it will be a different story but if it doesn’t work I will be thrown out from the house also and the industry also.Jayesh Sheth
Mamta told me, ‘Trusting you, I can go for it’, she had only one condition that these pictures will be published only once, and that too only the selected 2 to 3 shots, not more. After she entered an agreement with the magazine, we shot many pictures, and then finally we all selected the picture which would be the cover shot.Jayesh Sheth
After a month when the magazine was out in the market, I was traveling at that time and I saw newspaper vendors and hawkers selling the magazine on the road, showing the cover shot, they were so excited selling it. They were saying within 2 hours, this magazine sold out and now we are selling it in black. The magazine cost was around 20 bucks and it was being sold for 100 bucks. Mamta was very nervous about how the industry would react but everyone from Aamir Khan to Anil Kapoor appreciated it, saying that she looked so bold yet beautiful.Jayesh Sheth
After that other actresses approached me to do similar photo-shoots, but I told them, history can be made only once and cannot be repeated.Jayesh Sheth
Jayesh Sheth is planning to make a film inspired by Mamta Kulkarni’s rise to fame and drop to infamy.
(With inputs from Abira Dhar)
(This story was first published on April 20th, 2015)