Posted: 21 July 2012 at 9:53pm | IP Logged
Shammi Kapoor, Dara Singh, and now Rajesh Khanna. A week before her 65th birthday, Mumtaz revisits men, movies and marriage
Jitesh Pillai firstname.lastname@example.org
She was only 26 when she left the musty studios of Mumbai to marry Mayur Madhwani, head of one of the largest conglomerates in Uganda, and moved into manors in Mombasa and London.
The last few months have given actress Mumtaz a reason to revisit a world she left behind with ease. The deaths of Shammi Kapoor, Dara Singh, and now Rajesh Khanna, make the Mumtaz story fresh again. Shammi, who she loved intensely but couldn't marry. Dara Singh, who agreed to pair opposite a B-grade rookie, and gave her stunt princess status. And Rajesh Khanna, in whose superstardom, she shimmered. Right from Bindiya chamkegi to Jai Jai Shiv Shankar, their ditties rocked the airwaves and box office. Excerpts from a long-distance chat:
What memories of Rajesh Khanna do you carry with you?
I met him on the sets of Do Raaste. He was choosy about his friends, very reserved. I was flattered to be his close friend. I was voluptuous, so he'd always say, 'Aye moti, idhar aa…" He was a perennial latecomer. He wasn't strong on dance or rhythm, so, when we did combination shots, main sambhaal leti thi. The dance masters would cheat with his close-ups (laughs). We had trouble doing the
Chal dariya mein doob jaaye (Prem Kahani) song. But we managed somehow.
When did you last meet him?
Rajesh wasn't meeting anyone for a while. Thanks to Dimple (Kapadia) and Anju (Mahendroo), I got to meet him at his bungalow, Aashirwaad. We spoke about my fight against cancer and surviving chemotherapy. Dimple said they were ordering all the things he liked to eat, but he wouldn't eat anything. She joked that they ended up eating all the stuff. I gave him duas, and said he'd survive his ailment.
They say Shammi Kapoor and Jeetendra were in love with you…
I was lucky that men wanted to marry me. There was an attraction, yes, but I didn't act on it. I'd wake up at 4 am every day, and reach the studios on the dot at 9. I had far too many responsibilities to have affairs. There was no time for love and romance. Of course, I was fond of Jeetu. Dharmendra was an attractive man. Dev saab was so handsome. But it's not always necessary to have an affair with your co-stars. You can admire them from a distance (laughs).
But Shammiji was keen to marry you.
I was all of 18, and in love with Shammi Kapoor while we were filming Brahmachari. He wanted me to give up my career, but I wasn't ready. I had my family to look after. I had lost my mother during Boond Jo Ban Gaye Moti.
What comes to mind when I say Rajesh Khanna and Shammi Kapoor?
Jaise meri life mein doosra Rajesh Khanna nahin ho sakta…waise hi doosra Shammi Kapoor bhi nahin ho sakta.
Is it true that heroes had refused to work with you because you started as a stunt film heroine?
Yes. Dharamji (Dhamendra) refused. Later, of course, we did Loafer. Shashi Kapoor refused Sachaa Jhutha because he was cast opposite me. Later, when I was about to get married, he was keen that I work with him. We did Chor Machaye Shor just before I quit the industry.
I'm grateful to Dara Singh, who was the hero in all my stunt films. He could have said no, like the others. I'm also eternally grateful to Dilip saab (Dilip Kumar), who agreed to act opposite me in Ram aur Shyam.
You and Sharmila Tagore never got along. Is that true?
It wasn't rivalry. She was born with a golden spoon. Her first film was opposite Shammi Kapoor (Kashmir Ki Kali), and she became an instant star. I started with supporting roles opposite Shammiji in films like Brahmachari. Perhaps because both, Sharmila and I, did several films with Rajesh Khanna, the press wrote rubbish. But the fact is, heroines cannot be friends, not then, not now. We didn't do dinners or hang out together. It's always been like that. But even as a supporting actress, you got some memorable songs like Aaj Kal Tere Mere, that gave you the chance to make a fashion statement.
All credit for that goes to Bhanu Athaiya (costume designer). I was uncomfortable dancing in a saree. So, she made me one with readymade pleats, and a zipper on the side. That became the 'Mumtaz saree'. Funnily, Aaj Kal Tere Mere was a song composed for a Nasir Hussain film for Dev Anand. Dev saab rejected it, and we used it for Brahmachari. Kismet dekho! The style is aped even today. Recently, Manish Malhotra (costume designer) told me he had made something similar for Priyanka Chopra.
Apparently, producers told every heroine, including Rekha and Neetu Singh, to ape you? Any actor today who you think imitates you?
I don't think actresses today resemble me. I had too much of a pug nose. The only one who comes close is Shah Rukh Khan's wife Gauri. I'm told the director of Dhadkan asked the heroine (Mahima Chaudhary) to imitate my steps from Zindagi Ittefaq Hai (Aadmi aur Insaan) for a dance number in the film (Aksar is dunia mein). They say Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar are my fans (laughs). No, I don't ask them if they were in love with me. They treat me with so much respect.
Back then, were star wives jealous of your sassiness?
I'm not sure if I left star wives insecure. Magar ek aurat doosri khubsoorat aurat ko dekhke zaroor jalti hai. Upfront, everyone was nice to me. I never bothered to find out what they said behind my back.
And you gave it all up at the peak of your career.
There's a time for every woman to get married. You should seize that moment. Several heroines of that time didn't get married. They're still single. I found a good man who loved me, so I chucked it all. I was fed up of films. I had planned the wedding in advance. A year after I got married, Prem Kahani, Roti and Aap Ki Kasam released. I refused Safar, Haathi Mere Saathi… because I was hellbent on getting married. Despite that, the phone never stopped ringing, whether I was in Mombasa or London.
For a superstar, marriage must've been an adjustment.
Yes. My husband comes from a traditional Gujarati family, and loved his food. I learnt to make dal-dhokli, undhiyu and khandvi. Today, I'm a fairly good cook.
But your marriage hit a rough patch when your husband got involved with another woman.
I'm practical. I had two beautiful daughters and a husband who loved me immensely. I was not going to give up a marriage because of a stray incident. My husband is not a flirt; he's a good-looking man. He made a mistake. Rather than dumping him, I chose to be by his side, and we tided the rough weather together. At the end of the day, I'm his wife. That's what matters.
You had a tough pregnancy, didn't you?
After a string of miscarriages, I gave birth to my first child. I spent six months of my pregnancy stuck in bed, staring at the ceiling. So my kids mean a lot to me.
Will you return to the movies?
What will I gain? I don't want to play Shah Rukh's mom or Akshay's aunt.