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Star portraits: When Stardust brought Shabana, Deepti and Smita together

An old photograph of the three actresses shared by fans on social media sparked a search for its origins. Here is what we found.

Courtesy: Magna Publications

Sonal Pandya

The year was 1981. The three leading actresses of India's ‘new-wave’ cinema, Shabana Azmi, Deepti Naval and Smita Patil, had been assembled together by Stardust magazine for its annual cover story. That itself was a coup. And here they were, all smiling happily for the camera.

Thirty-five years later, the cover story remains buried but a blurry image of the photograph remained, shared countless times on social media. Cinestaan.com started the search with Azmi and Naval who recalled the photograph quite well. The photo shoot was done in the garden of Azmi’s parental bungalow at Juhu, Janki Kutir. Naval recalled that “it was a photo shoot done by Stardust. It was called ‘Offbeat Glamour Queens’. That was the cover story and we shot this whole photo shoot at Janki Kutir, at Shabana’s house. So we were, at that time, ruling the art scene.”

Actually, when the article was finally unearthed from the Stardust archives, the headline read: ‘The New Wave Glamour Queens’. We also received another clue. The photograph was shot by Haresh Daftary. The former Stardust photographer is still in Mumbai with his own studio and remembered several details of the shoot from 35 years ago.

In a telephone conversation, Daftary said, “It was an annual cover I had shot. It was a very big thing because all three were competing with each other. The concept of Stardust was that they have to be in their original mode and that was supposed to be captured. The credit for this picture basically goes to the editor of Stardust, Miss Uma Rao, at that particular time. The whole concept was conceived by her to get these three girls together, which was such a difficult task. Because of Uma Rao, they got together and Shabana was kind enough to allow us to have the photo shoot at her house.”

Daftary had worked with all three earlier, but was photographing them together for the first time. “All these three girls, I was on very good terms with them, probably because I was a Stardust photographer. They were very cooperative, very nice. Smita, I knew before she became an actress. I had done a lot of shoots with her before she got into films. She used to love photography because she herself used to photograph. Deepti Naval, I knew because she used to work for the New York office [of Stardust].”

Daftary joined Stardust in 1982 but shot with the magazine before that as a freelance. He left the magazine in the late 1990s and later joined G magazine.

Daftary had vivid memories of the shoot. “I had a lot of difficulty as it was a rainy day," he recalled. "We shot this picture in between when the rains stopped. The call time for the three of them was at 9 am at Shabana’s place and we shot this in the morning.”

Daftary believes that they must have shot this photograph in July that year as the annual issue used to come out in October.

The interview with the three actresses is just as interesting as the story behind the photograph. The introduction called them “today’s girls, the industry’s truly liberated women in the sense of self-sufficiency and self-esteem. They are aggressive, demanding, ambitious, too proud to accept the back-seat just because of their (weaker) sex. They are all out to give themselves a fair chance, and fight shoulder-to-shoulder against the actors, for supremacy. The industry is in for a major upheaval and Shabana-Smita-Deepti are making sure it happens in their time… and to their advantage!”

Naval called the following year the year of women while Azmi said that “the angry-young-woman is going to be a very strong possibility in Indian cinema!” The late Patil, however, said “the year of the woman will only start when people stop differentiating between the sexes, and see women not as women, but as human beings. Of course, that’s still a far-out dream, an ultimate aim. But I’m happy that things are moving forward.”

Have things really changed 35 years later? You be the judge.