Everyone who knew her was badly hit by Surekha Sikri’s death. None more so than director Amit Sharma who worked with her in the brilliant Badhaai Ho.
After days of silent mourning Amit called me back on Sunday afternoon. “I couldn’t speak. The loss was very personal, sir. I can’t tell you how close I felt to Surekhaji. In her, I saw my own grandmother. My grandmother only spoke in Punjabi. When Surekhaji would finish a shot she’d look at me and ask, “Dude, kaisa raha mera shot?’ I would plead with her not to call me Dude. It came in the way of my grandmotherly image of her.”
Recalling how Surekhaji got the precious Badhaai Ho role, Amit says, “I’m embarassed to say that initially I was not convinced she was the perfect fit for Daadi’s role. Maybe because I had only seen her in salawar-kameez. I wanted to see how she looked in a saree. I asked her to do an audition, and I felt really bad asking this from an actor of her experience and stature. But do you know what her response was? ‘Chalo karte hain na’. And that was that. She came to my office and I wanted a saree look. Unfortunately the costumes person had no saree ready that day. Surekhaji had to come back for another audition. She eventually had to do three auditions. By then I was convinced no one else could play Daadi.”
Amit recalls his time on the sets of Badhaai Ho as among the most enjoyable in his life. “All of us were a family on the sets. But I have to confess I was the closest to Daadi, Surekha Ma’am. Her enthusiasm and passion at her age were very inspiring. She came fully prepared every day and even on the set she’d be writing her thoughts in her handwriting on the script.In the sequence where Surekhaji defends her daughter-in-law Neenaji’s decision to have a child, we all cried.”
Amit and Surekhaji remained close after the film was complete. “Mine was the first number on her phone and she would accidently dial me. When I’d call her back she would say, ‘Amit maine tumhe nahin phone kiya. Shaayad mere phone ko tumse lagao ho gaya hai.’ When I’d ask her if she needed anything she said, ‘Kuch bhi nahin. Sirf mujhse baat kar liya karo.’ My heart would melt, and I promised to call her as much as I can.”
Amit recalls receiving a call from his namesake Amitabh Bachchan’s office regarding Surekhaiji. “Bachchan Saab’s secretary Rosie called for Surekha Ma’am’s number and address. I called up Surekha Ma’am to tell her I had given her details to Amitji’s office. She was over-the-moon when she received flowers and a handwritten letter from Bachchan Saab.”
The Badhaai Ho director recalls his last meeting with Surekhaji. “Both of us were at the National Awards function to receive our awards for Badhaai Ho. She was on a wheelchair looking more frail than ever. I bent down to talk to her. She put her hand on my head. I still feel her hand blessing me. I can’t believe she’s gone. Whenever I’d call her she would say, ‘Amit humein kaam chahiye.’ She wanted to keep working. I’d reassure her, ‘Karte hain na. Aap theek toh ho jaiaye.’. That never happened.”
Image source: instagram/iamitrsharma/surekhasikri_/youtube/JungleePictures/SpotboyE