Your rise in 1970 was meteoric. Then you vanished.
Ghayab nahin hui (I did not disappear). I did a lot of films. Some worked, others didn't. I had no guidance for my career. No one from my family had anything to do with the film industry. I went to the Pune Film Institute.
Career to achcha-khaasa hi raha (career remained good). When I got married I decided to take a break. The offers kept coming for a while. Not lately, though. I don't mind working. But the role should give me something to do.
How did the startling unconventionality of "Chetna" and "Dastak" happen to your career?
I didn't plan to be unconventional. It just happened. I was at the Pune institute when Rajinder Singh Bedi saw a short film of mine. He offered me "Dastak". Yeh sab ho jata hai (these things happen).
Your husband's film "Chetna" branded you as a bold actress.
I must admit that the image damaged my career. Filmmakers would come to me only with those kinds of roles. The character would be a simple girl, but she was required to do all kinds of things.
They wanted some sex in any movie that I featured. I said, no thanks. Ek simple si middle class ladki bath tub mein kahaan se pahunch gayi (how did a simple middle class girl reach a bath tub)! She wouldn't have known what a bath tub is. I had heated arguments with filmmakers. Nowadays, look at what the heroines are doing!
But for a conservative Muslim girl to do those bold shots in "Chetna" and "Dastak"...
First of all the belief that I am a Muslim is wrong. I am a Bahai. My husband is a stanch Brahmin. So I lead a completely cosmopolitan life. I did
"Chetna" because I liked the story of the rehabilitation of a prostitute. I had problem with just one bedroom scene where my character was supposed to be nude. It was impossible for me to actually do a nude scene. I kept asking Ishara saab about it until he must've thought I'm interested in doing it. My hairdresser Maria bailed me out. She styled my hair with a wig in such a way that it covered my upper torso completely.
As for the controversial shot of my legs in an inverted V, I had to do nothing, just hitch up my skirt a bit. But the effect was very bold. I'd say the bold scenes were more in the mind than body.
Were you involved with B.R. Ishaara from the "Chetna" Days?
People thought so. Lekin aisa bilkul nahin tha (it was not at all like that). We got involved after a couple of years. But I definitely admired him as a writer and director. My father had trusted me and let me enter movies.
I didn't want to do anything to compromise his name. Afterwards, when Ishaara saab and I got close I confessed to my father.
Daddy was a British-styled gentleman and Ishaara saab was a barefoot artiste. Total opposites. Daddy was shocked by the cultural difference. He slowly started liking his future son-in-law, though unfortunately we got married in 1984 when my father had passed away.
Neither of us was interested in parenthood. We saw no need to bring another human being to this troubled earth. My kid brother, who lives with us, is like my son.
I associate some of Lata Mangeshkar's best songs for Madan Mohan with your screen persona.
Jee, woh to hamari kismat achi thi ki hamein "Maai ri", "Hum hai mataye kucha-o-bazar", "Rasm-e-ulfat" and "Aap ki baatein Karen" jaise gaane mil gaye (I was lucky to get songs like these).
What do you think of today's bold actresses like Mallika Sherawat?
I wouldn't like to comment on any one actress. But all these actresses will have to prove themselves. I've nothing against actresses who flaunt a good body. It's their decision. But an artiste needs acting talent to endure.
I feel actresses who flaunt assets other than their acting talent are taking short cuts. When I signed films like "Chetna" and "Dastak" I wasn't thinking of shocking audiences for publicity. The bold scenes were part of the script. I may be wrong, but these actresses who constantly show their bodies are like those sub-standard products, which are over-sold to the public.These are signs of insecurity. No wonder some of these girls have a Friday-to-Friday shelf life.
Whom among the current lot do you like?
Rani, Preity Zinta... Among recent films I loved "Black". I don't mind working with anyone... I've worked with everyone from Sanjeev Kumar in "Dastak" to Satish Kaul in "Prem Parbat". My last release was Vijay Anand's "Hum Rahen Na Hum" where I worked with Shabana Azmi.
Were you friendly with the other trend-setting actresses of your times?
Cordial... We weren't good friends. I knew Smita Patil well. I met her a little before her death. We promised to meet after her childbirth. Sabhi apne kaam mein busy the (all were busy in their work). Both, Jaya Bachchan and me, were from the Pune institute. But we lost touch.
Don't you want to come back in a film made by your husband?
He's directing two films. But I'm not in any of them. Why don't you ask him to write something for me?