Today I thought about her as I watched Om Shanti Om. It is a flawed film, of course, but I loved it. I loved it that there are genuine touching moments where Shahrukh Khan plays the junior artiste.
Anyone who has enjoyed Hindi films and fillums will not be left untouched by those quaint references. When
I felt like Shantipriya, as I had done as a child who had been on the verge of becoming a child star. Or so I thought. One uncle said, “Achcha, filmon mein kaam karogi?” (Will you act in films?) I said, yes. Anything to escape Miss Iyer and school. What I did not realise is they were not serious. Like a fool, next day on the way to school on the bus, I told Kashmira, a Parsi girl who was not a friend just my bus companion, that I had a secret to tell her. “I am going to be a film star. I will have to stop travelling by bus.”
At the time I used to spend a lot of time at a particular actress’s house. She was a family friend. She adored me and I can still smell the biryani being cooked and her mother sitting with a paan-daan and the khuch-khuch sound of the supari being cut. I would wait expectantly to see if Amma would give me some and she would pass a few shavings, saying, “Daant kharab ho jaayenge (your teeth will get ruined),” as her lips turned red and she spoke from one side of her mouth. Later, she would urge, “Tau bete kuchch shairi sunao (So now recite some poetry).” I thought I was a poet since I began speaking. On my uncle’s office table I would sit and extending my hand chain words together. They called it “gadhapuri shairi”. At Aunty’s house there would be laughter and voices saying, “Wah, wah, kya baat hai.”
Then, Aunty would take me close to her and I could feel the warmth of her smile. I knew she was a film star but it did not strike me as important. She had never been in the absolute big league and was on her way out. I remember her so vividly because there are wedding pictures of the family and the striking difference of one in which I am sitting in her lap and she is feeding me ice-cream with a later picture where she is with her head covered, a married woman, a producer’s wife.
Now when I look back, she was not pretty in the simpering way. She had distinctive features and wasn’t terribly fair. I think she ached for a family and that was where I came in. I remember Amma’s hookah and the sound it made and how I would want to blow into it. Once when I tried, I heard her stern voice, “Bachchee, door raho…(Stay away)” Then she sat down opposite me. I gave her an angry look.
“Apni badee-badee aankhein apne paas rakho! (Keep your big eyes with you)”
I would probably put up a tantrum and she would tickle me. “Gudgudee hoti hai!” and I would run with her trying to chase me. They had this old marble top table. I forget the number of times I must have hit my head against it.
She would bring out lots of mithai. I was too shy, so I would break a piece. “Yeh toota hua tukda kaun khayega? (Who will eat this broken piece?)” I would happily finish it off and since she was not very particular about manners crumbs falling on my clothes did not bother her.
She kept in touch although her daughter had begun leading a caged life.
Years later I was at a beachside café in
“Yes.” It was a known fact, so no surprises.
“Well, I have sat in your mother’s lap before the thought of creating you even occurred to her,” I told him.
He laughed. I wanted to reach out and ruffle his hair. I saw him looking at my T-shirt. There were a few brown specks of bread. I brushed them away and as they fell into the sand I thought about Amma.
And the mithai crumbs on my ‘frock’.
Om Shanti Om took me back and forth, and that is the magic of films and life.