Reality: Who Will Become What!

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

When I took a look at the upper row of the picture shown, I could only make out Waheeda Rahman and Helen from their facial features.

As for Nanda and Sadhana, for the life of me I swear that there was no way I could have said that these were the two actresses who at one time, in their heyday and in the romantic eyes of my youth, made my heart go boum-pu-di-boum! Especially Sadhana, with her soubize hairstyle. This was the spread out lock of hair that was loosely brushed on to the forehead, combed slightly to one side or the other to make it – and it did – look more sexy I presume. In those days the term sexy had not yet been invented for common usage, so probably the better description is ‘attractive.’ The fashion became, like Shammi Kapoor’s hairstyle, a much imitated one.

I remember a cousin of mine, Prabha, who was particularly fond of Sadhana’s soubize and of course adopted it. As for me, I did not care much for that other icon Shammi Kapoor (who passed away recently), known for his hyperactive hip-swinging gyrations, his lock of hair and his pranks. He was admired by a late cousin of mine who would literally swoon at his sight, and I had my moments of teasing her about her remote, screen sweetheart, whom I ridiculed at leisure and pleasure – to her great irritation! This used to make her angry and me even more prodding and teasing. Many years later, after we had both got back from studies abroad and met occasionally with our respective spouses, we never ever again broached the subject of our teen screen loves. Proof, if need be, that such loves have very short lifespans and are like the colourful, attractive rainbows that soon fade away.

The first Hindi film that I saw was Sher Dil, recommended to me by my elder cousin who had viewed it at the Pathe Palace cinema hall situated in Leclezio Street – not far from where I reside now. He said that I must take a balcon seat in the first row, and lean forward on the parapet from the very start of the film so as to enjoy it thoroughly. I do not know where I got the Rs 1.50 to pay for the ticket and go watch the film, following my cousin’s instructions to the letter. I did like it, but the truth be told: I do not remember absolutely anything at all about the film, save that it was like all films in those days, the mid-1950s, in black and white. After that I recall seeing Jagriti, Taxi Driver, Awara, Aan in the following years, and perhaps a couple more. And then there was a complete break and I was only interested in westerns: for 75 cents I could watch three films on a Saturday afternoon at Ritz or Novelty, with 25 cents to spare for a pair of dalpuris and some peanuts during the two intervals. Life was indeed so happy and carefree then! Medicine and career were far, far from my mind.

Much later, when I was in HSC, and the first stirrings of calf love had started to make my heart ache, I decided to see some Indian films again because, as was well known then, their main theme was love. Love triangles were their backbone story, and they were most exhilarating for teenagers like me. Next came another reason: after I had been awarded a scholarship by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to study medicine in Calcutta, I thought I must see more Indian films to familiarize myself with Hindi and to get to know what India looked like. Little did I know that reel is not reality, and the physical shock that hit me whack! in the face when I landed in Bombay on a humid night (about 2 am) in August 1965 sent me… reeling. Two days later, as I alighted from the train after a 46-hour journey at the Howrah station in Calcutta, on a steamy afternoon, my heart sank as I waded through the crowd and met the officer of the ICCR who had come to fetch me. But that is another story…

Sadhana played in Woh Kaun Thi, and I saw the film a few times, not only because of the song of the same name, but also because of the story (mystery) and the truly glorious appearance of Sadhana in a diaphanous white saree representing the bhoot. I would definitely see it again if I get a chance, and I would sure enjoy it as well as the song – which I listen to from time to time on CD nowadays. Among my favourite actors of those days were Sunil Dutt, very briefly Rajesh Khanna, and Nargis, Nutan, Hema Malini and Asha Parekh for her eyes. I associate her with the soul-stirring song Mein tulsi teri aangan mein, one of my many favourites which I have recently learned to enjoy on YouTube: thanks indeed to modern technology that allows us to relive our passions of olden times and bask in the golden memories.

Looking at the changes that these actresses have undergone makes us also realize the vulnerability of human beings, and the transience of the body which keeps dying every moment until the final one comes. Our physical selves age. Some of us retain looks and dignity. Many are unrecognizable from their earlier appearances, either bloated up or withered, having succumbed to inappropriate lifestyles or disease that lead us inexorably towards the later of the Shakespearean seven ages of man.

Do we have a choice as to our becoming? Yes, to a large extent we do. Alas, most of us do not exercise that choice as we let ourselves give in to laziness, indifference or temptations. Perhaps we should take a good look at ourselves in the mirror, full length and naked, from time to time so as to confront our reality and be goaded into taking better care of our health.

I thank the friend who forwarded this picture to me, and gave me an opportunity to reflect upon my fragility – but also savour some powerful memories…

* Published in print edition on 26 August 2011

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