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When Zarina Wahab played the perfect village girl in Chitchor — birthday special

Anita Paikat

The actress was just 17 years old working opposite an actor almost double her age. Her acting prowess, however, couldn't be overshadowed. 

Zarina Wahab is most known for her roles as a village girl. Her sharp piercing eyes and soft soothing voice, paint a picture of a woman who is domestic, yet independent in her thoughts and actions. Born on 17 July 1959 in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, the veteran star trained in acting from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune.

On the occasion of her 58th birthday, we travel back in time to look at her most well known film, Chitchor (1976). Zahab was a 17-year-old newcomer, working opposite an almost 33-year-old Amol Palekar. One would think, the stature and age of the male lead would over shadow the young, meek looking actress’s character. However, Chitchor brought her to the limelight and she soon became a household name. This was only her second film, the first was Ishq Ishq Ishq (1974) directed by Dev Anand.

The opening credits of Chitchor carry visuals of Gita and her young play companion Deepu (Master Raju) playing lagori (a game that requires piling up of flat stones to be hit by a ball), targeting the tamarinds on a tree, and walking through the village hand in hand. She is therefore, a young girl not yet out of her childhood.

Zarina Wahab has aged gracefully.
Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Gita is always told what to do, what to wear and how to behave. Even though she is obedient to the demands of those around her, she is occasionally seen voicing her displeasure for being treated like a woman of marriageble age who is not mature enough to think straight. Her love interest Vinod (Amol Palekar) too wants her to learn chores and skills that will help please her husband when she marries. Her dislike for singing is ignored and she is trained by Vinod, who seems to be more of a singing canary rather than an ‘overseer’ in the film. The end of the film, however, proves that Gita too has a voice, a voice that she prefers to use against an injustice rather than in singing melodies. 

Wahab played the role with ease and sincerity. Some scenes reflected a lack of experience in facing a camera, however, it could be overlooked for the conviction that she brought to the role, even with minimum dialogues. The brief by director Basu Chatterjee was simple, he wanted Wahab to be Jaya Bhaduri of Uphaar (1971). “I must admit Chitchor, one of my most well-known films, had a lot of Jaya Bhaduri in it. I don’t know whether I looked like her, as many people said. But that performance was certainly modelled on Jayaji,” the actress had said in a 2010 interview with The Times of India (Lucknow).

The success of Chitchor brought many offers at her doorstep. She played the lead in many films, albiet in quite of a few of them her characterisation was cliched, that of a village girl. Wahab branched out into other regional languages and has acted in Malayalam, Tamil, Telegu and Kannada films. The versatile actress worked in several television shows and starred in a music video too. 

Watch one of the melodies from Chitchor: