Free Press Journal

Hema Malini: Beyond the dream girl by Ram Kamal Mukherjee- Review


Title: Hema Malini: Beyond the dream girl
Author: Ram Kamal Mukherjee
Publishing house: Harper Collins
Pages: 219
Price: Rs 599

The book’s attractive cover justifies the ‘Dream girl’ tag that has been given to the actor with the famous amber eyes and captivating smile. The book is divided into 23 chapters with a foreword by PM Narendra Modi and an afterword by Ramesh Sippy and celebrates the journey of one of the most enduring divas of Hindi cinema who has completed 50 years in cinema. The actor’s aura was described perfectly by Sanjeev Kumar when the late actor said, “Hema Malini is neither a goddess nor a saint, but she is someone who is worshipped for both qualities.”

On the midnight of 15th October 1948, while most of the country was celebrating Goddess Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasura, Jaya Chakravarthy, a devout follower of Goddess Lakshmi went through all her 108 names and finally settled on ‘Hema Malini’ for her newborn. ‘Hema’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Hem’ which means ‘gold’ and ‘Hema Malini’ refers to ‘the garland of gold that is used to adorn Lord Vishnu’. Hema’s childhood was unusual and while her contemporaries spent their free time in play and frolic, after school she was packed off to dance classes. Jaya had always dreamt of becoming a dancer, but had to give up on her dreams of taking up dance as a full-time occupation so Jaya spent all her waking hours in channelising Hema’s talent in Bharatnatyam.

As a six-year-old Hema performed before Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and later before President Rajendra Prasad and Queen Elizabeth. By the time she turned 14, she was inundated with film offers. The experience where-in director CV Sridhar dropped Hema from his film, steeled her resolve to make it big in films and this fructified in the shape of a Raj Kapoor film. His words, “This girl will be the next superstar of Indian cinema,” helped a young girl regain belief in herself. While designing the film’s posters, the words ‘Raj Kapoor’s ‘Dream girl’ were placed just below Hema’s face by her mentor B Ananthaswami, for publicity, and the name caught on. But as offers started piling up, since they were novices, Hema and her mother Jaya in good faith left it to the man who had discovered Hema in the first place. But later they came upon a clause whereby Hema would need Ananthaswami’s consent before signing on any film.

However, when things came to a point, Hema’s mother tore up the contract – something Ananthaswami hadn’t anticipated. But if Ananthaswami was considered interfering, Jaya who went on to handle Hema’s career, turned out to be a greater impediment and she demanded a say in how revealing the costumes were, how dialogues were delivered and how the scene would unfold on the screen. Here Hema admits that she understood that her mother meant well, but she was working on an unforgiving schedule involving three shifts per day. This led to a flare-up since she felt that her over-protective mother was preventing her from giving her best to the profession. She also candidly admits, about crying scenes in film that “Yeh rona dhona mujhse nahin hota” and that the director of Sapno Ka Saudagar used to shout at her, “Ro na”.
The trajectory of most film stars is predictable and they stick to the formula that works for them and consolidate their position. But Hema had the nerve to play an out-of-the-box role –in Lal Pathar – and it proved that she was no wallflower but a woman of gumption.

About her equation with co-stars, especially Rajesh Khanna, with whom she has worked in so many films, she opined that initially she didn’t give him any special “bhaav” but that they eventually broke the ice and worked together in back-to-back movies. About Dimple Kapadia, she shares that they have a special camaraderie, and Dimple too spoke warmly about Hema, adding that she has a regal bearing and that during shoots in palaces for films like Mehbooba she seemed very much a part of the palace. Strangely, even Hema used to tell her that she felt some sort of connection with these places. Thespian Dev Anand said that if the media considered him to be an evergreen actor, then Hema would, hands down, be the evergreen actress.

In terms of her films the most popular one, Seeta Aur Geeta – the story of millionaire twins separated at birth (one servile and scared, brought up by a nasty aunt and her family, the other fearless and a motor mouth brought up by a fearless mother) – was also the most career defining and which in her 35-year-long career fetched her a Filmfare Best Actress award. Around this time, the rumour mills proclaimed that during the making of this film, both Sanjeev Kumar and Dharmendra developed feelings for their leading lady. In fact, Sanjeev Kumar (also popularly called Haribhai) was the first to profess his love and express his desire to marry her. It is believed that being turned down by Hema left him completely broken and that he never really recovered from the heartbreak. He took to drinking, his love for good food led to a weight problem and finally a heart condition. When he died in 1985 at the age of 47, he was still unmarried. About the iconic film, director Shekhar Kapur aptly remarked, “Indian film history can be divided in to Sholay BC and Sholay AD.” In the film with other towering personalities she gave what is considered to be her grandest effort on celluloid. After all, who can forget the famous Taangewaali dialogues?

As for her love life, it has been fraught with controversies – from Sanjeev Kumar, Jeetendra to Dharmendra. But it is astounding that no amount of headline-grabbing scandals ever managed to taint her image as the ideal woman. While Vyjayanthimala, Waheeda Rehman, Nargis, Parveen Babi, Shabana Azmi and Rekha, among others, were condemned for falling in love with married men, Hema actually went ahead and married an already married man – and yet she wasn’t hated or ostracised.

But there is more to Hema Malini than just her Bollywood journey. From her efforts at reviving and sustaining classical dance to her graceful handling of her personal life, and the controversies that have plagued her in her political avatar, the book covers it all. Her speech (Main Punjab ki bahu hoon…) at Gurdaspur when she was campaigning for her dear friend and colleague, Vinod Khanna, marked the beginning of her political career. Her journey as a politician is probably one of the most interesting chapters in this book. She continues to be a well-loved name in political circles and her popularity cuts across party lines. Revealing her aura in politics, MP and Trinamool Congress minister Derek O’Brien spoke in jest of an incident when Hema-ji’s earring fell on the carpet of the Parliament corridor and every minister, from the ruling party to the opposition, immediately fell on his knees to look for it.

The book with detailed interviews and exclusive anecdotes from her, friends, and co-stars, is a close look at the remarkable life of one of our greatest cinema icons, someone who has truly lived life on her own terms. In this book, she opens up for the first time, on her childhood years, her unpredictable career graph, her unconventional life choices and the steep, hard climb she has endured to get to where she is today – in complete harmony with herself.

The language has a certain flow to it and retains the reader’s attention through the various chapters. Lots of anecdotes about her various co-stars (Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, etc) are strewn throughout the book. The book also has a lot in store for filmy trivia lovers and lots of nostalgia-loaded images right from her childhood, stardom, marriage and foray into politics. A lesser known fact is that she produced two Marathi serials for TV.

The Hema Malini-Dharmendra relationship and ultimately their marriage would become a hot topic for the industry, but what the readers, apart from other aspects of the book, could take away is the fact that neither the storm nor the sensationalism would ever manage to touch the foundation of this relationship – especially the manner in which the couple have maintained their silence and dignity through years of media frenzy.