Cine Stuck: Shashikala No More; An Ode To Hindi Cinema’s Favourite Badwoman

Shashikala who featured in several movies with biggest stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and others passed away at the age of 88

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Cine Stuck: Shashikala No More; An Ode To Hindi Cinema’s Favourite Badwoman
The two most hated screen women in the North belt of India were Lalita Pawar and Shashikala. And we can’t really blame our emotional audiences for despising these women. Both super-talented, Lalita Pawar and Shashikala made a career out of villainy. In those days, they called wicked women on screen  ‘the vamp’. Villainy was only for men, you see.

But Shashikala was a proud villain. She played manipulative scheming red-hot evil women in hundreds of films.  In Neel Kamal she was the Sati Savitri heroine, Waheeda Rehman’s sister-in-law. Together, with her mother-in-law Lalita Pawar,  Shashikala tormented and tortured poor Waheeda Rehman until she wept at the withering welter of wickedness.

The audience hated Shashikala even more. This silsila of hatred began for Shashikala in Aarti in 1962 for which she won the Filmfare award for best supporting actress. Until then, Shashikala struggled with bit part. Unable to fit into the slots  provided by Hindi films in  the 1950s, she  played walk-on parts in long-forgotten films in the 1940s and 50s,  first as a  child actor (she was the only wage-earner in a  large  family of six children)  then as a teenager. Her fortune changed when  she met the legendary singing-actress Noor Jehan who introduced the teenaged Shashikala to her producer-husband.

  While still in her early  20s, Shashikala  met and married Om Prakash Saigal  . They had two daughters  together. This is when her  career  took off.  Playing the  vamp  suited Shashikala to the hilt. Heroine’s roles were  not coming her way. So she created her  own slot as the anti-heroine , often  trying to steal  the goodygoody heroine away  from the heroine,  Meena Kumari in Phool Aur Patthar, Mala Sinha  in Apne Huet Paraye,  Neela  Aakash and Hariyali  Aur Raasta.

Mala Sinha who repeatedly  got the brunt  of Shashikala’s  villainy  remembers her  as a  “dedicated  artiste, always  staying  in-character on screen  to ensure she was  loathsome  but a real sweetheart  in  real life…shooting was  always  fun with her.”

I loved Shashikala as the trouble-maker in  Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore’s marriage in Choti Bahu.  Shashikala’s best-remembered role is as Leela the blackmailer in B R Chopra’s Gumrah. In this memorable film Shashikala was the  woman who gets to know of Mala Sinha’s extra-marital affair and squeezes the damsel in distress out of every penny.  Shashikala’s idiocyncratic gesture of rotating a keychain in her finger while glibly talking money was a big hit in Gumrah. She won her richly deserved second Filmfare award for best supporting actress  in Gumrah. Years later Shamita Shetty played the same role in Bewafaa, Dharmesh Darshan’s awful remake of  Gumrah. 

It would be no exaggeration to say Shashikala made a career out of being bad. Hrishikesh Mukherjee who loved to change the  vamps’ image(Lalita Pawar  in  Anari and Anand, Bindu in Arjun Pandit and Abhimaan) changed Shashikala’s image in Anupama. Though she was  the  film’s Other Woman in Sharmila  Tagore’s life she was neither  wicked nor covetous.

Years later Hrishida worked again  with Shashikala in Khubsoorat . He regretted the fact that he  didn’t work  more often with her. “What happens is, you get trapped in a particular set-up with a particular  set of actors and  technicians. That’s how I missed out on working more with some brilliant actors,” he confided in me.

Shashikala  was  never  short of  her work. But  somewhere  as she grew older she  got tired of playing variations of  the  evil. She became spiritual, joined Mother Terera’s organization  and  perhaps atoned  for all the artificial sins in her film.  Now I am sure she is in heaven singing the song she sang to woo Dharmendra in the blockbuster Phool  Aur Patthar:  Zindagi mein pyar karna seekh le jissko jeena ho marna sikha le.


Image source: youtube/Shemaroocomedy