The Vintage Divas and Spice Girls Of Hindi Cinema, We Miss Dearly
They are the stuff memories are made of. As different from one another as the seasons. Truly, whatever happened to Shakila, Shyama, Kum Kum, Padma Khanna – right down to Kimi Katkar and Urmila Matondkar -- each one of whom, had a distinct screen personality, ranging from the demure to the sassy?
Evidently, they’ve chosen not to indulge in self-pity on Bollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. They’ve moved on to evolve their own lifestyles, attained financial security besides coming to terms with the fact that time and show business wait for no one.
Mummyji, auntyji, dai maa, dearest dadimaa and adorable didi roles, haven’t been an option. ‘Mature’ roles are just not written for women the way they are for the septuagenarian Amitabh Bachchan. After all, the shelf life of women rarely stretches beyond the age of 35, in contrast to the 50 years old Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir Khans.
Occasionally, Helen, Zeenat Aman, Moushumi Chatterjee may fetch up on the screen, but it’s not the same. When I met up with Asha Parekh, who scored more hits than any of her contemporaties in the 1960s, I asked what compels an actress to just give up and quit. “It’s not like that,” she responded.
Asha Parekh keeps herself busy, at the age of 70, with social causes, including the task of keeping a charitable hospital going, and looking into the welfare of film artistes and technicians fallen on lean days. So, does she know what yesteryear’s archetypal angel of mercy, Shakila, is up to?
Answer: “She hasn’t been keeping too well, I hear. Shakila lives in Bandra, and never steps out in public. I’d advise you to leave her alone.”
Almost a decade ago, I’d run into Shakila on the French Riviera, of all places. At the Cannes film festival, accompanying her husband, an NRI who’s into film distribution. When I gushed that she was so gorgeous as the winged angel in the fantasy extravaganza, Hatim Tai (1952), she sighed,
Right. So could I meet her back home in Mumbai ? Yack about those days when she with her sahelis Waheeda Rehman, Nanda and Jabeen would hang out at the movies and the Chinese restaurant Nanking? “We’ll see. Why wallow in the past?” the angel replied somewhat haughtily. As it happened, tragedy struck. Talk has it that her daughter had committed suicide by jumping off a balcony. Meanwhile, the print of the Wadia Brothers’ Hatim Tai still survives, but the colours have turned black-and-white.
Nimmi is the only yesteryear heroine of her generation, who’s glimpsed once in a blue moon at film-related functions. Her contemporary Shyama, born Khurshid Akhtar, isn’t. Guru Dutt’s leading lady in Aar Paar went on to lasso the Best Supporting Actress Filmfare Award for tormenting Meena Kumari in Sharada. She eventually married cinematographer Fali Mistry, and retired prematurely. Shyama, like Shakila, is not to be disturbed.
Kumkum nee Zaibunissa, who is remembered as much for Mother India as for shimmying to the song Chali aayee main Bikaner se in Raja Aur Runk, moved to Saudi Arabia but has returned to Mumbai. Her neighbour filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker points out,
By contrast, Padma Khanna, the cabaret sensation of Johnny Mera Naam, has settled in New Jersey where she runs a dance academy.
Preternaturally, the litany of the vanishing oomph girls spans every generation. Kimi Katkar, whom I’d met often with her ace photographer husband Shantanu Sheorey, would shush me up whenever I brought up her saucy act as Jane in the steam flick Tarzan, or even the iconic Jumma Chumma dance set piece with Amitabh Bachchan in Hum.
“I’ll never ever go back to the studios. Enough is enough,” she’d say firmly. Perhaps, she believed she had worked enough for her mother, who hadn’t made it big herself in the movies. After a stretch of years in Australia, Kimi Katkar leads a silent-as-a-pin-drop life in Pune, with Sheorey and their son Siddhanth.
Kimi Katkar continues to spice up Bollywood talk though, with Ranbir Kapoor stating that she was Bollywood’s original Spice Girl. However, starlets Komilla Virk, Faryal, Zaheera (who made a blink of an eye appearance as a Bond girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, besides featuring in Bollywood’s B-graders like Call Girl), former Playboy Bunny Katy Mirza and Persis Khambatta, the Miss India runner-up who went bald for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and kept Sylvester Stallone company in Nighthawks, are merely specks for the ‘now’ generation on Wikipedia.
As much if not more derring-do than Sunny Leone, they’re mere footnotes in Bollywood’s roster of fame.
The first Deepika, Deepika Chikhale who portrayed Sita in the mythological TV serial Ramayana, had a tryst with politics as BJP MP from the Baroda constituency, featured in a few random movies and is now missing from action.
Ditto the quintessential homely heroine, Vidya Sinha, of Rajnigandha and Chhoti Si Baat. And where art thou, Sujata Mehta, of the box office smashing vendetta ode Pratighaat? Bids to make a comeback have been in vain.
Gracy Singh, the Lagaan village belle and the doctor of Munnabhai MBBS, has now sought a perch on television, in the title role of Santoshi Maa. Gayatri Joshi, after teaming up with Shah Rukh Khan in Swades, rushed into marriage with real-estate tycoon Vikas Oberoi. Apparently, there’s no itch to return to the limelight.
Disappointingly Urmila Matondkar, who recently turned 42, is in the danger of joining the league of the vanishing heroines. Accost her with a ‘what’s-up?’ and she makes a face to riposte,
Who needs to face the camera and lights, I guess when there’s another route to do one’s thing?
In fact, Neetu Singh Kapoor, after returning with Do Dooni Char, Besharam and cameos in Love Aaj Kal and Jab Tak Hai Jaan, has stated,
Neetu Singh Kapoor may have returned, for a brief while to re-check out the scene. Others haven’t and they are missed. Kahan gaye woh log, really?