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Interview Hindi

Hema Malini: I miss those close-up shots

The Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) actress, who recently released her biography, speaks about her journey in Hindi cinema, her love for dance and why she chose to join politics.

Image courtesy: HarperCollins India

Sonal Pandya

Actress. Dancer. Mother. Filmmaker. Politician. Throughout her career, Hema Malini has handled several roles and responsibilities with aplomb. Beginning with her Hindi film debut in Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968), the actress went from strength to strength with films like Johnny Mera Naam (1970), Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), Sholay (1975) and Kinara (1977). 

With Dharmendra in Dream Girl (1977)

A 1977 film with Dharmendra bestowed upon her the title, Dream Girl, which never faded. Author Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s latest book, Hema Malini: Beyond the Dream Girl, looks at her entry into films, her early fame as a dancer, and her eventual transition to direction, opening her own dance academy in Mumbai and, later, becoming a member of Parliament. 

Cinestaan.com spoke to the actress-turned-politician via email on her travels. She talked about her journey in dance and films, casting Shah Rukh Khan in her directorial debut Dil Aashna Hai (1992), and the kinds of roles offered to younger actresses today. Excerpts: 

Your first film was with Raj Kapoor and you have described your screen test at RK Studios as one of the great moments of your life. How was it like stepping into the world of films from the world of dance?

I was very nervous, not because I was being tested by [director] Mahesh Kaulji and Raj saheb, but for my mother who didn't want me to fail. I had that pressure on me, which I tried hiding. I have spoken about my experience in detail about the entire screen test episode in Beyond the Dream Girl. I think if you read the book you will get a much better idea.

How did your mother cultivate the love of dance in you? How did you grow to love it yourself?

Even before I was born, my mother decided that my name will be Hema Malini and I will be a Bharatnatyam dancer. So she had made plans way before I was born. As a child I used to feel a bit irritated with my mother's persuasive nature, but now I realize why she was so strict about my dance. I think when I grew up, and people started appreciating my skill as dancer, I started enjoying dance. It would give me immense pleasure when I would go on stage. I could see my mother smiling and father feeling proud of my achievements.

Did you have any apprehensions working with the director CV Sridhar later for Gehri Chaal (1973) as your first project together didn’t work out?

No. I don't hold grudges. I guess he understood his mistake and when he approached me for Gehri Chaal, we worked together. The film unfortunately didn't work at the box office.

You became a star overnight and have worked with all the big stars from Dev Anand to Amitabh Bachchan. How hard was it for you to choose the kind of films you worked in? Did your mother help you decide?

My mother and [producer] B Ananthaswami used to take decisions, I just followed their instructions. I worked with legends like Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar and even with contemporary stars like Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. I think my mother would keep a check on the production house and the director. But I would always listen to the narration and then decide if I wanted to act in that film. There are many interesting facts which I shared with Ram Kamal Mukherjee while he was working on the book. You will find all those anecdotes in the book.

With Dev Anand in Joshila (1973)

Looking back now, which of your films are you most satisfied with, including your performance?

I personally feel that all my films with Ramesh Sippy, BR Films, Dev Anand saheb and Gulzar saheb were my best. Of course, Kamal Amrohi's Razia Sultan (1983) remains very close to my heart.

Can you tell us about the shift to direction? How did you discover this passion for being behind the camera after so many years in front of it?

That's a long story, and I have shared the entire transition from being an actress to a director in Beyond the Dream Girl. In fact, I have mentioned to Ram Kamal that I never wanted to direct, it was Gulzar saheb who inspired me to take up direction when I wanted to do a television show Noopur. After that I gained confidence and began wanting to tell stories.

How did you cast Shah Rukh Khan in your directorial debut? Did you know at that time that he would become such a big star?

I wanted to cast Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar in the film. But somehow, due to date issues, I was not getting the hero I wanted. During that time Esha mentioned about this young boy from the serial Fauji who was becoming a popular star on television. That's when I called Shah Rukh for a look test, and I loved his face. He had something in him, a quality that is required to be a star. But, frankly, I never thought he would become such a big star. In my interview with Ram Kamal I mentioned that it was my guru ma Indira Devi who saw his photograph and mentioned that Shah Rukh will become India's biggest superstar.

Divya Bharti and Shah Rukh Khan in Dil Aashna Hai (1992)

Your journey as an actress didn’t just end with films. You also acted and directed on television when most film stars didn’t view it as a favourable medium. What attracted you to the space?

As a creative person you always want to do things that are challenging. After marriage, the offers that I used to get for movies were not interesting enough. I thought of venturing into areas that would give me creative satisfaction. That's when the idea of producing and directing films came to my mind. I also focused a lot on dance ballets and created my own world of dance and music that helped me keep my creative cells active.

Were you worried at all when Esha decided to join films? What was your advice to her?

That's again a major chapter. I think Esha spoke beautifully about the entire journey to Ram Kamal. The way she opened up to Ram for this book, it was really nice. I was surprised to read her and Ahana's chapter.

What influenced your decision to join politics?

It was the late Vinod Khanna who inspired me to join politics. I am grateful to him for showing me this path. I was very reluctant to join politics, because I am not the kind of person who ever belonged to any party. But when I discussed it with my mother, she explained that I have received so much love from the public as a performing artist that I owe them a lot. I can only serve society at large if I am in politics. I am trying to do my best as a member of Parliament.

Hema Malini with Deepika Padukone at her book launch. 
Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Do you look at the film roles being played by actresses like Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt today and think the quality of characters has got better for women?

Yes, I think Deepika is doing very good roles. I loved her in Piku (2015), Bajirao Mastani (2015), Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-leela (2013) and now Padmavati (2018). Alia Bhatt is also very young and I think she will be perfect for the Seeta Aur Geeta remake. As far as roles are concerned, I think in our time we got very good roles to portray. Now the films are technically sound, but I miss those close-up shots. Now everything is so fast that we don't get to see such moments in films anymore.