New Delhi, Oct 7: It was in the Sixties that I got to know Hema Malini. I first met her in Madras following the official announcement from Director Mahesh Kaul that he had discovered a young Bharata Natyam dancer from the South to play the female lead opposite an aging Raj Kapoor in Sapnon ka Saudagar. It was big news and the film’s publicist had coined the term “dream girl”to describe and hail the new entrant.
I therefore went with quite some expectation to interview Hema Malini at her simple residence in Madras. The interview was to be conducted under the supervision of her mother Jaya Chakravarthy.
Hema looked unspoilt, beautiful and very much a dream girl if the expression was meant to describe her as the girl any man would dream to have as a wife he could be truly proud of. She sat before me twirling her well oiled single plait, her eyes sparkling, her flawless complexion glowing naturally, her pink lips untouched by lipstick and what’s more she radiated an inherent confidence that was rare for a debutant.
“Ask me whatever you want. I am ready”, she said.
We chatted for a while, mostly in Tamil and finally when I asked her what her dreams were now that she had stepped into the glamour world, she thought for an instant, her eyes darting towards her mother. She said: “I think my mother has some dreams for me”
It is common knowledge how Hema Malini catapulted to stardom even before her first movie was released. Seeing her gorgeous photographs splashed in newspapapers and magazines producers were lining up to sign her and it became widely understood that she simply obeyed her mother and did not deviate from the rules set by her mother.
Indeed, it was obvious that even the dreams she cherished had to have her mother’s approval.
Draped in gorgeous Kancheepurams Jaya Chakravarthy sat regally in the drawing room of the house rented out temporarily in Bombay and decided every day what her daughter should do. A well-read lady, Jaya wrote poems and short stories in Tamil and shared them with those who were proficient in Tamil. An aunt chaperoned Hema to the studios when Jaya Chakravarthy was busy with something more pressing. Those were the days when the majority of leading ladies had mothers providing protection when they reported for work or made public appearances. Only a Parveen Babi or Zeenat Aman had the guts to go out without a chaperon.
All was well and peaceful in Jaya Chakravarthy’s world till cupid entered the scene stealthily and, quite unknown to Jaya Chakravarthy, her obedient daughter, now a hugely successful star, began to fall for the charms of her co star Dharmendra. While he was the most handsome man of the industry, she was the prettiest girl of Bollywod.
Even as most observers assumed it was yet another fling of Dharmendra and even as close observers thought Hema Malini, the obedient daughter, would never defy or displease her mother, a serious and intensely committed relationship was taking shape between the two stars and gossip and truth were spreading like wildfire. It was difficult in the early stages to segregate truth from gossip as stories of the growing attraction between the two very popular stars began to add spice to gossip columns. At the same time a rumour also started to confuse the eager gossip readers that Sanjeev Kumar and Jeetendra were also lining up as suitors and they had better chances since they were bachelors. Neither Hema nor her mother could be ensnared to affirm or negate the rumours.
Initially, for her own reasons, Hema declined to talk about her feelings for Dharmendra. She dodged interactions with the media, kept aloof and breezed in and out of studios without stopping to talk to anyone or giving any opportunity to anyone to catch her unawares. After all she was being linked with a married man with grown up sons and a daughter.
Producers who had teamed them as the lead pair rubbed their hands in glee seeing the potential of the real life love story fuelling audience interest in their films. As always some wanton guesses circulated alongside morbid tales about the anger of the Deol family.
Sometime in the Seventies, the strong, inherent confidence I had noticed in my first interaction with her in her residence in Madras, suddenly came to the fore and it is said Hema decided to end all speculation and make a public statement affirming her relationship with Dharmendra and within days there were images spilling out of newspapers and magazines of their marriage according to Hindu rites. There was also a baseless rumour that both Hema and Dharmendra had accepted Islam as their religion.Even if there is some iota of truth in this, then it must have been to legalize their marriage since this was the second marriage of Dharmendra.
What followed is something that only Hema Malini could accomplish and achieve in her own unaffected manner. There was as much overwhelming public admiration for the dignity and self respect with which she acknowledged and affirmed her marriage to Dharmendra as there was resentment and criticism for her intrusion into Dharmendra’s married life as a “souten”. She received both with a quiet composure. There was just outrage too from parents who feared that an undesirable example was being set by Hema by her marriage with a married man. The families on both sides endured hurt feelings, unhappiness and embarrassment: Jaya Chakravarthy on Hema ‘s side and Mrs Prakash Deol on Dharmendra’s side. Years have gone by and all wounds have healed apparently.
-Uday Tara Nayar
(The columnist is a veteran journalist and former Editor of Screen who started the much popular Screen Awards; she is also the author of Dilip Kumar’s official biography, ‘Shadow and Substance’)