The stunning actress did not find much success despite her good looks and talent. Continuing our series on the women forgotten in Hindi cinema, we take a look at Ameeta’s work and legacy.
Tumsa Nahin Dekha: Tracing the cinematic journey of actress Ameeta
New Delhi - 11 Mar 2018 14:00 IST
Born Qamar Sultana, Ameeta was the daughter of actress Sultana Begum, who appeared in films with the screen name Shakuntala Devi.
Tomboyish in mannerism but with stunning good looks and well-defined features, the young Qamar would accompany her mother to the studios. On one such occasion, director Lekhraj Bhakri spotted her and offered her a side role in the film Thokar (1953). He also christened her Jayjaywanti.
The film starred Shammi Kapoor and Shyama in the lead roles. It did only average business at the box office and the rather onerous name Jayjaywanti found no favour with the audience.
The film also featured the famous song 'Ae Gham-e-Dil Kya Karoon', based on the shayari of Urdu poet Majaz Lakhnawi, who, incidentally, was the maternal uncle of screenwriter, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar. The song was sung by Talat Mehmood and Lata Mangeshkar and is fondly hummed by aficionados to this day.
Filmmaker Vijay Bhatt then offered Qamar a role in his film Shree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1954) opposite Bharat Bhushan and proffered another name upon her, Ameeta. In a rare interview, the actress spoke of the genesis of her new name, saying, “The screen name Ameeta was given to me after Vijay Bhatt published an advertisement in newspapers and asked readers to suggest a name for the heroine of his upcoming movie Shree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”
The name stuck and after this film Ameeta appeared as the second lead and in parallel roles in films under the Filmistan banner such as Munimji (1955), Abe-Hayat (1955), Hum Sab Chor Hain (1956) and Badal Aur Bijli (1956), among others.
In 1955, she was also offered Aspi Irani’s film Shirin Farhad, which was also her chance to act with her favourite star Madhubala. The film's success ushered in more roles in Talaash (1957), Amiya Chakrabarty’s Dekh Kabira Roya (1957), and Zamana (1957); among others. But Ameeta’s career remained largely static and she wasn’t able to get on to the next rung in tinsel town.
Film historian and memorabilia collector Zafar Aabid Balani recounts how Ameeta got an extraordinary second chance at making her mark in the film industry. As fate would have it, an opportunity presented itself in the most interesting way. Tolaram Jalan, an admirer of Ameeta, took over Filmistan and wanted to restart her career. Jalan felt that her talent and beauty had not been given due prominence. Nasir Husain was a writer at Filmistan and Jalan offered him the opportunity to make a film, on the condition that the heroine would be none other than Ameeta.
Husain went to his friend Dev Anand, who refused to star opposite Ameeta, perhaps because she was not a star. Meanwhile, Geeta Bali, who had married actor Shammi Kapoor by then, was keen to promote her husband, whose career had followed an insipid path till then. Husain agreed to cast him in his film, but on the condition that he would give Kapoor a new image which he would not object to. Thus the director got Kapoor to get rid of his moustache and change his attire and mannerisms for the film, Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957).
The film completed its silver jubilee and gave us the quintessential Shammi Kapoor, with antics that became the hallmark of the star.
Sadly, however, the film did not do much for the person whom it was intended to help. Ameeta went on to star in other Filmistan productions like Mahesh Kaul’s Abhimaan (1957) alongside actor Shekhar, Sanskar (1958) with Anant Kumar, and Roop K Shorey’s Ek Ladki Saat Ladke (1961) with Ravindra Kapoor but didn’t really find the success she was looking for or, according to Balani, deserved.
After Tumsa Nahin Dekha, her next big success came with Vijay Bhatt's Goonj Uthi Shehnai in 1959, which also completed a silver jubilee at the box office. According to Balani, the film was originally intended to be made with Asha Parekh, but after one day of shooting with her, the director decided she wasn’t the right choice and Ameeta filled her shoes, giving a fantastic performance. But once again, most of the credit for the film was attributed to the hero, Rajendra Kumar, and despite all her efforts, Ameeta did not find the spotlight trained on her.
She went on to do other films, including four with Mehmood — Chhote Nawab (1961), which became a big hit, Main Aur Mera Bhai (1961), Pyase Panchhi (1961), which was a remake of the 1943 film Panghat, and Namasteji (1965). She also appeared alongside Dara Singh in the films Saat Samundar Paar (1965) and Kabhi Dhoop Kabhi Chhaon (1971), and started doing smaller or character roles.
Balani notes that two of her films shot for Filmistan never saw the light of day — Bombay Flight 415 opposite Ashok Kumar, and Jasoos with Sohan Kapila. He recounts that Ameeta was very keen to work alongside Ashok Kumar and finally got the opportunity to do so in the multi-starrer Rakhi (1962), which featured Waheeda Rehman and Pradeep Kumar as the main leads and in which Ashok Kumar played the heroine's brother while Ameeta played his wife.
In a conversation that Balani had with Shammi Kapoor many years ago, the late star praised Ameeta saying he had agreed to work with her in Tumsa Nahin Dekha as he had appreciated her work in Thokar, a film in which they worked together.
After a long and sustained struggle to find her footing in the industry that grants success only to a few while trampling upon the ambitions of countless others; Ameeta one day decided to leave tinsel town all of a sudden. Balani says with regret that though she was talented and blessed with beauty that surpassed that of many of her contemporaries, she never got any compliments or reward for her work in the industry.
Zafar Aabid Balani is the author of Sadabahar Cinema. He is currently working on a book on chorus girls in the Hindi film industry. Readers can access his articles and collection of film memorabilia on his website http://dastaan-thememoirs.com/