Ageless, timeless, classic beauty….All these descriptions of Bollywood’s resident dream-girl evaporate when you speak to the graceful beauty. So matter-of-point, to-the-point and comfortable in her space, you wonder is this the woman whom they called the only female superstar, who took no nonsense from any of her male colleagues and resurrected careers of many slumping male superstars from RajeshKhanna in Premnagar to Manoj Kumar in Sanyasi. On her birthday Subhash K Jha chats up with the ageless diva.
SO WHAT MAKES THIS BIRTHDAY SO SPECIAL?
You tell me. People like you make it special for me. Believe it or not, I didn’t know what a birthday was until I was 16 years old. I don’t remember any birthday party as a child. Even that 16th birthday party was organized by my producer Ananthswamy who discovered me for Hindi cinema in Sapnon Ka Saudagar. It was when he insisted that I have a birthday party I realized, ‘My God, birthday mein party hota hai kya?’
WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
My mother never celebrated my or mine or my brother’s birthday. I don’t know why! Looking back it seems so funny. Sad, no? I think birthdays are big in North India, not so big in the South.
SO AFTER 16 YOU BECAME ADDICTED TO BIRTHDAY PARTIES?
Once you become a star, everyone is eager to celebrate your birthday. There would be a cake on the sets, co-artistes singing for me. I started looking forward to my birthdays.
YOU LOOK SO HAPPY EVEN WHEN YOU ARE UNDER SO MUCH WORK-STRESS
Dukh to hai. Sabke saath hota hai. It’s up to the individual to go beyond personal setbacks.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR PLANS TO DIRECT ANOTHER FILM?
It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere(laughs). I must get a script that inspires me. Direction is not an easy job. I’ve so many other responsibilities. Dancing makes me so happy. When I enact those divine roles of Durga, Kali, Malaxmi on stage I feel a deep sense of peace and satisfaction. When I want the audience to see Radha’s purity in me, I’ve to believe in that purity. Something sublime happens inside me when I’m stage. Dancing was always my main passion. I don’t need film offers to keep me busy.
ARE YOU AS HAPPY AS YOU LOOK?
I wouldn’t say everything is perfect. One doesn’t always get what one wants in life. When one is younger one dreams of a perfect life, which doesn’t exist. I didn’t get everything that I wanted. But I never gave myself the opportunity to miss all the things that I didn’t have. I had my two daughters. The last 30 years of my life just sped by with them. Taking them to school, looking at their homework, doing their hair and managing their tantrums I relived my own childhood. Now when they’re grown up I suddenly I look back and I feel, “Arrey, I missed out on something !”
WHAT DID YOU MISS OUT ON?
(breaks into laughter). Maybe I expected more of my husband’s company. I though we’ll be together more often. I never felt that absence until now. When I married I thought we’d come to an arrangement that would suit all of us. Lekin nahin hua. But it’s okay. I accept the situation. I got my daughters. He has many problems to look after. As a human being I ‘m bound to have regrets….But he loves me like mad. When I think of his feelings for me everything seems worth it, even his physical absence.
BUT YOU’RE ENVIED BY WOMEN ALL OVER THE COUNTRY
Am I? I’m thankful for all that I ‘ve. And now that I’m in the Rajya Sabha I want to do more for the country. It’s not enough to be a beautiful admired celebrity. It’s important to use that power for social good. Even my dance performances are for charitable causes.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO SPEND YOUR BIRTHDAY THIS YEAR?
I’ve never been a birthday person. Cutting cakes makes me very embarrassed. But what to do? Earlier during my days of hectic shooting a cake would be carted in the middle of shooting with all my co-stars and technicians singing. Now it’s family and friends.
YOU ARE A YEAR OLDER. BUT YOUR RADIANCE AND BEAUTY REMAIN UNDIMINISHED?
(peals of laughter) Radiance and beauty? Thank you. But it’s well-wishers supporters like you and fans who have kept me going for so long without stopping. You know, until recently I had never thought of myself as beautiful!
WHAT IS THE SECRET OF YOUR BEAUTY?
(Straightway without a thought) Good clean honest living. I’ve always been a very straightforward and blunt person. That trait has got me into a lot of trouble specially since my political career began. But I don’t regret calling a spade a spade. I’ve never believed in hiding the truth from myself or from others. Because you lie once you go on lying to cover up for that one lie. Too much stress. I never wanted it, never opted for it.
BUT IS IT ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO TELL THE TRUTH?
It is ! All you need to do is look at any situation without fear or misgivings. You should try it some time.
YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL TO MANY WOMAN. WHO ARE YOU YOUR ROLE MODELS?
Vythanthimala. Without a doubt she has been the greatest influence on my life and career. From the beginning I modeled my career on her footsteps as a Bharat Natyam dancer and an actress. She has crossed 80. But her energy level is still unflagging. Besides Vyjanthimala my mother was my biggest influence. When she was alive she took all the decisions.
WHAT ACCORDING TO YOU IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN A WOMAN’S CAREER?
A supportive family. Specially a supportive husband. You can’t be an achiever if your husband is over-conservative, narrow-minded and jealous of your success.
BUT YOUR HUSBAND (ACTOR DHARMENDRA) COULD HARDLY GIVE YOU THAT SUPPORT AS HE HAD TWO FAMILIES TO TAKE CARE OF?
But he never stopped me from doing anything. He encouraged me to always follow my dreams and fulfil my ambitions. Even today when I achieve something he is the proudest. Sometimes, not having a spouse breathing down your neck is also very inspiring.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO PEOPLE WHO LOOK UP TO YOU?
Follow your dreams. Never say no to any opportunity. Think positive. And don’t bother with what your neighbour is doing. I never looked at the competition around me. For me my career, my family and my life are all that mattered.