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June 21, 1999


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Dream girl

Lata Khubchandani

Hema Malini
The dream girl tag came to her as part of her launch in Bollywood, but Hema Malini has more than lived up to it.

Of course, the other worldly expression, the face suggesting beatific content, even -- if you push it -- serenity, doesn't take away from the fact that she ruled a good deal of Bollywood for all of three decades.

In her own firm and gentle way, she remains one of the few stars to have lived life on her terms. That, without aggression, without mouthing feminist slogans, without losing her femininity while still maintaining her individuality.

Hema Malini remains one of the most respected stars in the industry today. In an interview with Lata Khubchandani, she candidly reviews her life and provides some insight into her charm.

What makes you the most respected star in the industry?

I don't know. I think it's because I don't ever go and fall all over men. I restricted myself to talking work and never allowed familiarity. I did have a few friends who joked around with me but once work was over I'd leave. I think this gave me an air of aloofness.

But it was never easy. It involved a lot of hard work with no time for myself. Constant shootings in the heat. Constantly in make-up. No leisure. People always expecting too much from me.

And being at the top had its own problems. I wouldn't wish it for my daughters. And being at the top has its own problems. You don't get the right person to marry. There's too much to deliver. The top position is very dangerous.

But weren't you one of the most sought-after actresses?

It was never something I wanted. My interest was dance and, in the beginning, I didn't enjoy acting at all. But after I became popular, fans started showering so much affection that I started feeling a sense of responsibility.

I realised I owed it to them to reach up further. Otherwise, I'd had enough of spending every day of my life in the studios. How many years can one do it anyway? But, again, it would be untrue to say that I didn't enjoy certain peak periods. I enjoyed them very much indeed. I wish I had done more memorable films though.

With Amitabh I did do some good films but he had become so big that after the attention was focussed on him and there wasn't a balance between our roles. Now when one looks back, only a few good films come to mind, like Seeta aur Geeta, Sholay, Lal Pathar, Dharmatma... There were others like Meera and Ek Chhadar Maili Si but these didn't do well, so no one remembers them.

Meera was a beautiful experience. I was already familiar with her life and was always taken up with it. On the sets, I remember Gulzarsaab would tell me the scene and insist on no make-up, not even powder. My face was kept completely clean. Once on the sets I'd get into the skin of the part.

It wasn't difficult and, as I said, it was a beautiful experience. Particularly so because I was shooting for Meera in the mornings and for Razia Sultan in the evenings. That (Razia Sultan) required getting into these costumes. I remember how good I felt doing the role of Meera -- romancing the Lord. It was lovely, wasn't it?

And the lack of make up added to the feeling of serenity. Ek Chadar Maili Si was also a good film. This was one role I found difficult to do. Often when the scene was given to me I used to wonder how I'd do it but I got through. It was made by Sukhwant Dhadda and I think he did a fine job.

Unfortunately, people remember only successes. In this film there were certain scenes that I hesitated to do though I was never camera shy. But even then I could never be so open as these young girls are today. They're very free in doing romantic scenes or wearing revealing clothes. I used to be very, very conscious. I used to be a real strain for me to do even a romantic scene. If you watch closely you can see the strain in my face. But that's how my nature is. I can't help it.

Have you considered doing any roles today?

I'm open to it, but all I am being offered are mother roles that aren't very exciting. The last film I did was Himalayaputra. Now I'm doing Dev Anand's Censor, but that's because we've such a good rapport.

He just called and said I was doing the film and I am. Otherwise, I've been refusing all offers that have been coming to me. I still get fan letters telling me to act but they want to see me in good roles. I would take up an assignment where the role was central and important. Otherwise, I'm not interested.

What about direction?

I enjoyed it while I was doing it but it had too many hassles. When I look back I realise I'd taken it up at a time when my daughters were growing up and needed me, so to balance everything was difficult though my brothers were always around to help me. I did Dil Aashna Hai and then Mohini for Zee TV and a television series too. I managed pretty well then, but I can't see myself doing it soon again. I've given projects for television programmes. If they come through... Let's see.

What about dance?

I am a Bharat Natyam dancer and have kept in touch with dance even when I was very busy with films. I still give an occasional performance. It always gives me a lot of pleasure. Today I am concentrating on my dance, giving shows abroad. It keeps me very creatively busy.

I am working out new ballets, working with a dance master, discussing new things with my musicians and my troupe. It's like producing and directing a film; only there's no one else ordering you about. I find a great deal of satisfaction in doing this...

Most people have this attitude, 'After films, she has reduced to doing this.' But I feel I am on a different plane. And this is very soothing. It makes me very serene and self-contained. I think it is wonderful to have a occupation that's creative and soothing at the same time. I find dancing is like meditation. It keeps me in touch with spirituality and makes me very happy. Most people have to do rituals to be religious but I feel my dance provides me with that.

How important is spirituality for you?

The need for it comes in everybody's life and one has to work very hard towards it. When I am dancing I feel spiritual. I don't have to do any other puja path etc. It keeps me engrossed and physically fit.

Sometimes I feel close to god, maybe because of my guru, Ma Indira Devi. She taught me a lot. She hails from Pune and I met her in 1974 when my career was at its peak. She became the greatest influence for me to become what I am today. A spiritual guru changes the life of a person.

When you are in films you're caught in a situation where you have nowhere to go. You're young, you are restless, there are so many things happening around you. Someone had to put you on the right track and that is something only a guru can do -- a perfect guru.

I believe everyone needs a master to guide them. What is the rest of life? It is all so temporary and meaningless. After a guru comes into your life you are able to withstand everything and you keep moving forward very happily. Whatever happens you feel thankful to the Lord. I was at the peak of my career when I met 'Ma' and she helped me a lot.

Speaking about mothers, what about your mother's influence on your career?

She was always very strict with me. Sometimes I fail to understand why. I used to be scared of her. It was she who brought me into films and who looked after my career. I remember each time a producer came to meet her, my only reaction was, 'Oh god, another year of my life gone,' Today my mother has changed a lot. But I make sure I am never strict with my children.

What about your marriage, your children?

If I have any regrets they are that I couldn't do more romantic films with Dharmendra. Though we were a hit pair we couldn't really create any impact with our films. Which is ironical because we were so much in love. I think perhaps because we were so much in love we forgot all about creating a romantic screen pair.

Now that my daughters are growing up we have become friends. I have never wanted to make my daughters feel they couldn't talk to me; in fact I encourage them to tell me everything. When Dharamji sees us together he always says, 'You don't look like mother and daughters at all'.

Esha has now started dancing and it makes me very happy that she is enjoying it. She is also getting film offers but I would rather she dance for another year or so. She has started performing with me and audiences are delighted to see us together.

Each time a producer comes she asks excitedly, 'Were they asking about me?' But she is too young yet. Her concept of films is that she'll get a lot of new clothes to wear. I tell her it's very hard work. Also even if she did join films I wouldn't want her to remain in films for too long. I'd like to see her settled. She is interested in interior designing and will take that up after school.

I don't think we'd like it if Esha was one more person in films. She must do something good, otherwise there isn't much point in joining. I wish she would study, dance and settle down. Aahna too is learning dance. She's in school and very young yet.

What is the secret of your serenity?

I have no answer for that. Many people tell me that. I think I'm a little different in that a lot of things don't affect me. Many things happen around me but I don't let myself be affected. I continue living my life. Maybe my guru guides me...

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