Excerpt: When Jaya Bhaduri Won Over Acting Guru Roshan Taneja
Roshan Taneja needs no introduction to Bollywood buffs. The acting guru - he has literally trained everyone from Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Jaya Bachchan to Aamir Khan, Sanjay Dutt and Rani Mukerji - was pretty much the first person to introduce the concept of acting as a discipline to learn and train in as far as the Hindi film industry goes. Acting was traditionally considered to be a natural talent, and Taneja, over the years, found himself persuading stars like Meena Kumari and Shammi Kapoor otherwise.
He taught in the Film and Television Institute in India and later at the Roshan Taneja School of Acting in Mumbai. Taneja, who studied under the legendary Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, has shared his incredible journey in the recently released memoir Moments of Truth My Life with Acting.
The Quint presents an excerpt from the book:
It was the summer of 1968; we had been auditioning all day and drew a blank–not a single candidate of any worth had shown up yet. Later in the afternoon, the Film Division staff who was helping us passed on the application of a candidate named Jaya Bhaduri. In it was mentioned that she had worked with Satyajit Ray in his film Mahanagar at the age of 15. Curious, we talked to her about her experience of working with Manik da, as Satyajit Ray was fondly called. She spoke with us about it, then did the piece assigned to her, which she did well enough, but perhaps wanting to make more of an impression at the selection, she said she’d like to show us her own piece too.
She entered with the dead body of a child in her spread-out arms, and with it she, ever so slowly, moved around the room, making us witness a loving mother’s deeply moving, sorrowful lamentation. She made up for many a dry patch we had endured during the period of audition with her performance.
She easily made it into the list of selected candidates for that year.
Her work in a short film called Suman, made in the Film Institute, got her her big break in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film Guddi, in which the title role seemed to have been written keeping only her in mind. After the success of that film she made it to stardom in leaps and bounds, in only a couple of years. The films she starred in included Jawani Dewani, Koshish, Anamika, Piya Ka Ghar, Bawarchi and Mili. She appeared with her future husband Amitabh Bachchan in the hit films Zanjeer, Abhiman, Chupke Chupke and Sholay as well. After their daughter Shweta was born she retired from films, and focused on raising her children, Shweta and Abhishek. Then, after a gap of 18 years, she returned to acting with Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa.
She’d always discuss things with me and take my advice. Once, she showed me a letter from, I think, Hiren Khara, who was Raj Kapoor’s assistant. He wrote to her to give her some tips on how to break into films. One of the pieces of advice was to drink plenty of milk, for she needed to build up her body. I don’t remember whether she had written to him or how the contact had come about, but I was tickled by such homilies passed on to her. And if she had taken the advice seriously and filled up on milk, where would the school girl of Guddi be?
She also contemplated on dropping ‘Bhaduri’ from her name and just keeping “Jaya”. I said simply “Jaya” didn’t carry enough weight; she must have ‘Jaya Bhaduri’ in full for her name to be taken seriously. So she made her appearance as Jaya Bhaduri until she married Amitabh and became Jaya Bachchan.
An occurrence that once again reinforced my belief in destiny took place with Jaya, when film director Mrinal Sen was planning his film Bhuvan Shom and wanted to cast Jaya in the lead role. He was ready to shoot the movie in the two-month period of May and June, when the Institute had its summer break, so that it would not interfere with Jaya’s studies at the Institute. His calculations, in his own way, had been correct. Add to that the prospect of an internationally well-known director giving such a big break to a girl who had just completed the first year of a two year course, was a golden opportunity for both the girl as well as the Film Institute to earn laurels. Jaya, naturally, was excited beyond measure; what more could one ask for. Just a year into the course and a debut as the leading lady in a film by Mrinal Sen already in hand! ‘Chhappar Phad Ke’, as they say.
Once before, in 1963, a similar situation had arisen. Tara Chand Barjatya, the boss of Rajshri Productions, had wanted to cast Asrani and another of our students as blind and mute characters in a film he was planning. But they were still undergoing training in those days, so they could not do the movie. The film was Dosti and it became a big hit. The Film Institute would have got, in the very beginning of the Acting Course, a big boost if these two students had been allowed to be cast in that film. It was a tantalizing prospect. But then there was a catch. We had a rule that was followed by us from the beginning, that no student undergoing training would be allowed to accept any assignments whatsoever during the duration of the course. And if any one decided to do so there was no option but that s/he leave the course, even if their assignment would only be taken up during the summer vacation, thus not interfering with the course in any way.
Jaya was most upset. It seemed to her like the opportunity of a life time had been snatched from her. But I whole-heartedly approved of the rule. Not only did I believe that it was essential for discipline that students do not take up assignments from outside while pursuing this course, but having taken on the responsibility of training a student, it was also imperative for us to see that the student was fully prepared by the end of the course before they started performing outside the Institute. Any half-measures would hence be against the principles of the place.
Jaya, on the verge of tears, wanted me to intervene. She said it was so cruel of Jagat Murari to stop her from following her dreams (the poor man was never very popular with the students, for he strictly followed the laid down rules for the good of the Institution). I tried to mollify her, saying it was not the end of the world; it was just a question of time and patience.
(Excerpted with permission from Bloomsbury Publishing India. Moments of Truth My Life With Acting by Roshan Taneja is available on Amazon.)
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 10 November 2017. It is now being republished to mark Jaya Bachchan’s birthday.)
(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)