Fragrance Of Yesteryears: Waheeda Rehman

After a bit of a hiatus, Fragrance Of Yesteryears is back to remind you of the personalities of past, whose contributions verily built the Indian film industry as we know and love it today.

Sunday, October 07, 2012   |  Copyright: BollyCurry  |  Comments 3 Comments  |  2873 Views

After a bit of a hiatus, Fragrance Of Yesteryears is back to remind you of the personalities of past, whose contributions verily built the Indian film industry as we know and love it today. This time we are here to discuss a living legend - none other than the graceful and elegant "Chaudvin ka Chand" herself, Waheeda Rehman.

Waheeda was born 14 May, 1936 in Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu, though her birthplace is often erroneously cited as Hyderabad. In fact, Hyderabad was where the actress debuted in the Telugu film industry with two films in a row.  It was also where she came into contact with a young Guru Dutt, still in the early stages of his career and seeking a fresh face to headline his upcoming home production, but we'll get to that later.

As a child, Waheeda ji wanted to become a doctor, but a lung infection kept her away from school for too long.  She was able to keep up with her training in the fine arts, though, and grew to become an expert in Bharatnatyam.  Following the death of her father, she decided to try her luck with a film career and was launched in Jayasimha (1955).  With her folk dance number in Rajulu Maravy, shot the same year, she gained recognition in the region.

Her expressive face and overall magnetic charm caught the attention of the then novice choreographer and director Guru Dutt.  He was so fascinated by her that he instantly began to consider her his muse. Their working relationship lasted for over six years and gave the audience unforgettable films such as the masterpiece Pyaasa (1957). It was Guru Dutt's unfaltering conviction in the young woman that brought her to Mumbai for a high profile debut in Bollywood opposite Dev Anand, who had already established himself as a star in Hindi cinema. C.I.D (1956), directed by Raj Khosla, was made famous by her character Kamini and the catchy song "Yeh Hai Bombay, Meri Jaan".

Although Waheeda ji also worked with other directors, her most successful films from that Golden Age of Indian cinema were here collaborations with Guru Dutt. The two were also reported to be star-crossed lovers whose relationship could not persist due to the director's early marriage to singer Geeta Dutt. Ironically, she often served as the voice of Waheeda in Guru Dutt's productions. 

Other interesting titles she signed for other production houses were: Ek Dil Sau Afsane (1963), a romantic comedy, witty and tinged with an elegant eroticism (alongside a passionate Raj Kapoor), Kohra (1964), inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, and Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), a history of bandits produced by and starring Sunil Dutt. Two similar movies from her repertoire that inter-weaved elements of noir and romance were 12 o'clock and Solvan Saal, featuring soundtracks that have withstood the test of time and are still frequently broadcast on the radio.

Guru Dutt had committed all his energies to the autobiographical Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), in which Waheeda was the protagonist. The film unfortunately was not successful at the time of release, although it is now considered an absolute classic. The two actors reunited in Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960), a story of love and friendship within the Islamic community of Lucknow.  The scene where Waheeda lifts the burqa showing the camera her radiantly beautiful face is an iconic moment that many films have paid tribute to, including Om Shanti Om.

In 1962, she got the role of Jaba in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962), and her presence was a breath of fresh air that livened up the drama and the pessimism of the film. Jaba's zest for life provided the mainstream audience a congenial contrast to the depressive and destructive nature of Chhoti Bahu (Meena Kumari), though later on even her upbeat character breaks down during "Meri Baat Rahi" with such spontaneity that the tears seem to really have been Waheeda ji's own genuine emotions. From that point onwards, the figure lurking in the background gained prominence and emerged as a guardian in one of the most exciting moments of the entire film. Guru Dutt and Waheeda ji attended the screening of the film at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival in 1963, which was the last time in which the two appeared together in public.

Guru Dutt committed suicide in 1964. After the death of the artist who had made her a star, Waheeda Rehman's career moved through a new path. Her friend Dev Anand, with whom she shared her first film in Mumbai, recommended her for an important role in an upcoming movie. The forthcoming film was Guide, directed by Dev's brother, Vijay Anand. In it, the actress was to play a woman who, neglected by her old, bitter, and work-obsessed husband, falls in love with her local guide - a sensitive and attractive young man whose words renew her confidence in herself and in life. The actress hit the peak of her career with that film, for which she earned her first Filmfare Award and still remains the performance that defines her filmography. Its success also endowed her with a drastic change of image: the Waheeda Rehman of Pyaasa, an icon of simplicity and elegance, was replaced with the new Waheeda Rehman of Guide, a woman whose flamboyance and seductive movements exuded confidence and modernity that could inspire a new generation. No longer restricted to sober and dramatic roles, she could now lighten up and showcase her talent as a dancer - a gift that Guru Dutt usually opted to conceal.

The success of Guide brought dozens of new projects to her door. These included Neel Kamal, a supernatural love story for which she won another Filmfare Award, Patthar Ke Sanam, a lively romance, Dil Diya Dard Liya, a drama inspired by Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights,Ram Aur Shyam, an upbeat comedy in which the actress starred alongside Dilip Kumar, the costly and extravagant Prem Pujari, and the deep drama Khamoshi, a poignant love story between a patient and his nurse. Special mention goes to the nostalgic experiment Teesri Kasam, a return to the black and white era in which Waheeda acted for the second time alongside Raj Kapoor.

Waheeda has had a varied and prolific career marked by lasting popularity and vitality.  She remained one of the most popular heroines from the 50s to 70s, remaining in the spotlight for all three decades and not receding into the roles of mother, aunt and grandmother until much later in her career.

The moment her releases began to take a dip at the box office, she decided to get married and accepted the proposal of Mr. Kamaljit, with whom she had acted in Shagun. The two moved to Bangalore and she took a break from work (excluding a special request from her friend Yash Chopra, who convinced her to accept a small part in Kabhie Kabhie).

In the following decade, the actress appeared in minor roles as the mother of Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Halaal, Coolie and Mahaan; she had a part in Chandni, the romantic film with Sridevi and Rishi Kapoor; and most memorably, in a medley of past successes in the film Lamhe, she performed briefly in "Aaj phir jeene ki Tamanna hai", her most famous number from the film Guide. After that, Waheeda ji retired for twelve years and returned to acting only after her husband's death in 2000 and her return to her home in Mumbai. The film that brought her back to the stage was Om Jai Jagdish (2002), in which she plays the mother of Anil Kapoor, Fardeen Khan and Abhishek Bachchan. Among her most recent film appearances as a supporting actress were 15 Park Avenue by Aparna Sen, Water by Deepa Mehta, and Rang de Basanti and Delhi 6 by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra .

Endowed with innate grace, charm, natural talent and also known for her professionalism and versatility, Waheeda Rehman remains a role model for actresses today.  The longevity of her career is a rare feat in an industry that pushes its favorite actresses aside after only a handful of years in the limelight, and that itself is a testament to her inimitable contributions to Hindi Cinema.

Curiosity Corner
  • She began her career as a background dancer.
  • Tamil was her first language.
  • Fellow actress Nanda is her best friend.
  • She won a National Award for her performance in Reshma Aur Shera in 1974.
  • Amitabh Bachchan called her the "epitome of Indian beauty".
  • She was presented with a Padma Bushan in 2011.

Editors: Lola K. & Gunia M.
Graphics: Komal.


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  • Posted on: 08 October 2012 at 9:23aminnominate

    Finally something worth reading , one of the greatest actresses.

    Please write more articles like this . Thanks

  • Posted on: 07 October 2012 at 10:03amesmeralda111

    Waheeda Rehman belongs to an era, where actresses can not take the help of make up to look beautiful. She was a mesmerizing beauty Chaudhvin ka chand song seems like made for her. love u Waheeda ji

    5 member(s) Liked the above comment :
    cooks09, chowdhury27, -Swetha-, NandzLuv, innominate
  • Posted on: 07 October 2012 at 9:57amwithout-fathom

    Is this going to be a weekly feature? Looking forward to more =))

    5 member(s) Liked the above comment :
    cooks09, -Swetha-, NandzLuv, innominate, Jenifer.

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