The Sharmila Tagore EXCLUSIVE: 'Even Madhuri Dixit Who Is Younger Has Not Done Work Recently, Whereras Rules Are Different For Mr Bachchan'

No actress combines the best of the East and the West so fluently in her personality as Sharmila Tagore. Veteran actress talks about movies, Taimur, Tiger Pataudi and more on her 76th birthday.

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The Sharmila Tagore EXCLUSIVE: 'Even Madhuri Dixit Who Is Younger Has Not Done Work Recently, Whereras Rules Are Different For Mr Bachchan'
Interviewing Sharmila Tagore is always a dream come true. A favourite, she ruled my heart with her glamour and talent in the films of Satyajit Ray specially Apur Sansar, then Shakti Samanta’a Aradhana and Amar Prem  and Basu Bhattacharya’s Aavishkar and Grihapravesh. No actress combines the best  of the East and the West so fluently in her personality.As Sharmila turns 76 on December 8, ie today, we caught up for another revealing and articulate interview

Sharmilaji  it's always a pleasure  speaking to  you.Sadly we don’t see much of you on the screen these days?
This is not something peculiar to me. It happens to all actresses beyond a certain age in our cinema. Even Madhuri Dixit who is a lot younger has not done anything much in spite of Dedh Ishqiya.Whereras the rules are different for Mr Bachchan. He has directors like Shoojit Sircar calling him ‘Sir’ and writing roles for him.

He has worked hard to be where he is?
I mean , Mr Bachchan is definitely an icon. But the rules are different for the  actresses. I believe Ribhu Dasgupta’s film Te3n was   a remake  of a Korean film. The original female protagonist has been turned into a male to accommodate Mr Bahchchan. Who does these things for female actors  in  Hindi cinema? But then , on the other hand, who would go to see Pink if Mr  Bachchan didn’t play the lawyer. Cinema does reflect  the reality in society.And I suppose in films they feel they cannot give a woman a role where she is so much in charge of the characters of the plot. In regional films the rules are different, though. Older female characters do get to play substantial roles.

But older actors too are sidelined, besides Mr Bachchan?
That’s because of age and health. Rajesh Khanna passed away .Others like Shashi Kapoor are ailing. Dharmendra continues to be so much in demand in spite of  his  age. He is such a good human being.I guess there are some important personality traits common to people born  on 8 December.

 Yes indeed he shares his birth date with you?
(laughs) Indeed, he does. Dharamji has worked enough, done  enough. He has earned this phase of retirement.I must tell you, Dharamji remains exceptionally popular everywhere. I was in Pheonix(US) recently.And I was asked about him everywhere. Everyone dotes on him there .There is a lot of goodwill for Dharamji. The same  goes for my other favourite co-star Shashi Kapoor. They’ve both done  a  lot for the film industry.They will leave behind a great legacy.

Do you  miss being on screen?
I don’t think so. I’ve never believed in being singlemindedly focused on my film career. Of course , I love acting and when I do a film I give all of myself. But cinema is not my be-all end-all.In that sense I am a bit of an accidental actress. I am interested in so many things. My work with the UNICEF, with NGOs, etc.I like to stand up for whatever I believe  in.

How did you manage to hold your own in such a fiercely patriarchal film industry, doing female oriented film s like Anupama, Aradhana, Amar Prem and Charitraheen at  a time when Hero was King?
Those times were different. The directors had more of a say.And the actors were very respectful of directorial impulses. Not that today a Sanjay  Leela Bhansali has any less of a say. I really don’t know how  or why some of my best Hindi films came after marriage. But  even Vidya Balan has been able to hold  her own in spite of marriage.

But not like you?
I think what went in my favour is that I didn’t withdraw from other activities after  I married Tiger. I engaged with life. The quality of my work matters. And I do whatever I like.And I’ve never isolated myself from the real world. Even when I was working as a leading lady I didn’t restrict my interaction to the people I worked with.If today some public figures like to isolate themselves being surrounded by bouncers etc  I say, that’s their  choice. One can mingle with  people without the danger of losing one’s privacy . I mean,I still can’t go to Lodhi Gardens for a picnic .But  I can meet the  people I want.

And yet there is unapproachable aura about you?
I have always wanted a normal life.I wanted to meet people from all walks of life even when I  was working on the sets , and I made sure I did. In our times we saw India through our work.We shot in places like Meghalaya and Kashmir where there were no 5-star hotels those days. Today’s generation doesn’t get a chance to see the real India.

You were regarded as quite elitist among the heroines?
I missed talking and reading in Hindi. I was the only one who’d speak in English on the sets. But now everyone speaks in English.Even the Hindi dialogues are written in English. I guess our cinema has become more globalized. Most heroines are seen in gowns at awards functions. Some  of us still prefer the saree.I think it’s desirable to  stay in touch with our roots.

How did you manage  to balance a Satyajit Ray with  a Manmohan Desai in your career?
 I never wanted to be stereotyped. I wanted to play every woman.And I wanted to enjoy every aspect of being a  woman. I wanted to be have a family because I had grown up in a  large family.I didn’t want to be only  a career woman. Though I come from a middleclass family where all  of us had to share  everything, I never felt any insecurity about my career.I am not a high-maintenance person. I don’t need to have three airconditioners and five imported cars.

Did you have to work hard to be the person you aspired to be?
I only aspired to do my best in whatever I did. Even if I go for a book launch I  want to do my homework about the author. As a public figure I feel I owe it to those who place their trust in me.Nowadays I see people so unprepared   for public events.

Any unfulfilled desires?
 I wish I could travel more. As long as there’s life there are  wishes  and desires.I just take one day at a time.As for movies if something good came  my way I’d do it . Otherwise I am fine with what I am  doing. I’ve  no time for regrets?

So no regrets about losing Khilona and Tere Mere Sapne?
(laughs) None at all.

The one thing that has changed  in  your  life  is  the  presence  of two beautiful grandchildren?
Yes, it certainly adds to my happiness , obviously. I do see them as  much as I can. But not enough because we  live  in different  cities. But I must say they re-energize me. There’s nothing like young children’s energy …They are always curious, and  enthusiastic about many different  things. So yes, being around Taimur and Inaaya makes me really happy. Though like I said , I wish  I could be with them more often.

You were  quite a phenomenal  combination  of  mother and actress  in your heydays? During  the shooting  of Aradhana you  were pregnant with Saif…
I don’t think  I was  pregnant  during Aradhana.But yes, during Safar  and Choti Bahu I was  pregnant  and  quite unwell in  the last phase  of my  pregnancy. Then  during Besharam  I was  pregnant  with Sabaa.

You now  have more time for  your grandchildren than you  ever did for   your children?
Yes  that’s true. I do   have lots  more time  for  my  grandchildren,the kind of  pressures on time that I  tackled earlier are no more there  though I do keep myself busy with professional commitments  like the random ad here and a cinema conference  there. But definitely  I now have  more  time  for not just my grandchildren but also my children.I have more time for  our ancestral home in Pataudi also.

Are  you still keen on a  bio-pic on   your husband the Nawab of Pataudi?
Well,  it will depend on who the captains  of  the ship are , the producers and  director. It is a good story, I  think,  with all  the twists and  the turns  in his life….father’s death, losing his  eye after which his average came down from 60 to 30.To  receive such a   blow at such a  young age….I don’t think anyone else has been able to make those adjustments and  that kind of  an impact with one  eye. He  not only batted but also fielded after the  eye accident.I think he was a wonderful sportsperson. God knows, what he’d have achieved if he had  both his eyes.

We never  thought of his as being visually impaired at all?
That’s  because he had a wonderful temperament. He  absorbed that loss and  moved ahead.Tiger’s life was  filled with  losses, his father, his eye ,his privy purse…In her book Soha  has written so well about her father.

Any man who wins you  over has to be special?
(laughs) I don’t  know  about that. But I learnt  so much from  him.I do miss him immensely. I  wish he was here for me . So many of my friends are still together with their soul mates.  You see  your friends celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary…But it was  not meant to be (for me). So what can I do?

But you have a lot to be thankful  for?
Oh yes!   I do practice  active gratitude. In my thoughts, actions words I am deeply grateful  for what life has given me.

Would you like Saif to play Pataudi Saab?
No, let them(the filmmakers) decide. Maybe Saif can  be in one phase  of the story. His story has so  many  phases. Even a good documentary is a  good idea. Unfortunately there  isn’t too much footage on  Tiger  available.

Sharmilaji there  is a lot  of  talk about women’s safety going on in our society. What made you so strong independent  and non-vulnerable in your heydays?
Probably my family background.We’ve always  had very strong women in my family.  Also , I had the selfconfidence. I wasn’t career-oriented. I liked the work and I enjoyed it. But I had other  interests. I had a strong sense of self derived  from my  family,and perhaps that kept me from harm’s way. Also, I had a very protective hairdresser Neena who always checked  my  behaviour. She was always saying, ‘Why are you doing this…Why are talking so loudly?’ etc , Neena was my constant companion at  outdoor shootings. She  also gave me a lot  of objective perspective .

How  do you feel about the way  the MeToo movement  is going?
I don’t want to comment on it. I don’t see how my two-bit can contribute to the discussion.  I followed a  bit of  it… But I  don’t know… Of course I’ve always supported the feminist  movement . But this naming and shaming …I really don’t know.

Sharmilaji we cannot possibly  wrap up this  interview without …
(interrupts) Without talking about Sara? I am very impressed by her… though I don’t see why her selfconfidence should surprise me. But whether  it was Koffee With Karan,Rajeev Masand, BBC…her confidence  humility and charm made me  so happy ….it’s so heartwarming to see her  the way she  has turned  out. When asked what she’s doing in films  after going to Columbia University she said the education was for her growth as a person  and not for career. She’s never tongue-tied. And how well she  stood up for her father  on Karan Johar’s show  I am really  proud of her.

Finally Sharmilaji, your grandson…the biggest Khan superstar Taimur?
(laughs) I must confess I’m worried  about  him a bit. We in this family have all had our share  of media attention. They  place  you on a  pedestal and then suddenly drop you. At the moment Taimur is not affected because he’s too young to understand  what’s going on. But later when he’s older and if the attention is taken away he  might get affected. So we are a little concerned . But as Sara said, what can we  do about it?Frankly  without the media we are  not alive  in today’s day and age.

Taimur fields the media better than all of you?
(laughs) He’s innocent and he’s young…Let’s hope he won’t be  adverserly affected. I’d like to request the  media to be a bit more senstive  to him.Otherwise what can we do?

Image source: SpotboyE archive