Very little is known about your childhood.
I was born in Calcutta. My grandfather was a judge during the British era. My father was in the army and my mother is a housewife. My maternal grandfather was from present-day Bangladesh. And my father-in-law is Hemant Kumar.
You didn’t come from a background of acting at all. So how did you become an actor?
In our house, women didn’t work. They could only become noble professions like teaching.
Acting isn’t a noble profession? (laughs)
It is a lovely profession. I got so much name and fame. I had so many opportunities. I am grateful to the film industry.
God has given you so much!
Yes, but then I also gave my child to God. But then also, I am happy because every day a mother is losing a child, especially our soldiers. That’s why we sleep at night properly. And when a mother loses her soldier-son, she gets the other son ready. So our pain is nothing in front of them. That’s why I could laugh, I could smile. I always say that you should be the source of happiness. Sadness is not something you should share. I feel I am a brave person. I have been brought up well. Sanjeev Kumar once said to me, ‘You are the first person I have met who enjoys being alone. You are happy all by yourself’.
How did you become an actress?
It was fate/destiny. My father had a house in Tollygunge. So, in a row, there were 3-4 studios. And I was a movie buff. I loved to see Hindi movies especially. It was like another world to me. I loved Asha Parekh Ji in film “Ziddi”. I watched it five times. I used to come home and act in front of the mirror. And I love fashion things. I liked to wear sunglasses, scarfs etc. Sometimes I used to go and see the shooting at the nearby studio. I was spotted by director Tarun Mazumdar. He is no more. His wife Sandhya Roy was a very big actress. She went to my father. My father said to her, ‘I’m not going to take any responsibility. She is very unmanageable and naughty.’
I was in class 5th at that time. I was 11 years old. When the shooting got over, I was 12. I was not a teenager also when I did my first film (Balika Badhu).
How did you get married so early?
I was in 10th standard when I got engaged because Hemant Kumar’s family knew my family.
My father was very close to his elder sister. And she was in the last stage of cancer. Her last wish was to see me getting married. So, my father-in-law suggested that the wedding should happen. I even skipped my exams. I also got a film around the same time. Everything was just falling into place.
At the age of 17, I became a mother. I got my own Mercedes. I didn’t even understand the meaning of success at that time. I just used to get happy seeing my face on the big screen.
You got success very early without even going after it.
Yes, I didn’t even know how to say ‘Hey’. I came from a conservative family where you say ‘Namastey’ to elders and say ‘Halo’ to people of the same age. But in Bombay, they said, ‘Heyy!’ and even came forward to hug. I used to get stiff. Once my husband’s female friend once even taunted me saying that I am very conscious and my mind is not clean. I was like, why should I hug and kiss unnecessarily? It is not even our culture. And I am embarrassed by this because I have not been brought up in that way. You can be nice with a smile and holding hands.
You need to have body sanctity. After pack-up, I don’t want an actor to keep his hand on my shoulder. Once my husband’s friend tried to put his hand on my waist. I was like ‘Don’t!’ He said, ‘But your husband has put his hand around my wife’s waist’. I said, ‘It’s because your wife has allowed it, but I haven’t.’
You left some films on your own terms?
Sometimes, yes! Because I don’t like to compromise anything. I don’t mind adjusting. I also tell my children to never compromise because otherwise, you’ll be a sad soul. So, when I saw that I am in a situation where I have to compromise, I left it.
Was ‘Desh Premi’ one of those instances?
Yes. Not only ‘Desh Premi’. ‘Barsaat Ki Ek Raat’ as well. I signed it but then I was out of the picture.
Because I never compromise. I had to be ‘yes woman’ on everything. And I can’t do it. Even a lot of elder heroines adviced me that you have good looks and talent but you are not in the good books of the heroes. They told me that I shouldn’t be like that. And I used to pretend at that time that I wasn’t aware of anything.
Hemant ji always told me that once you are in the film industry, it doesn’t matter that you were whose wife, daughter, or daughter-in-law. You are only a heroine. He said, “Laugh with everybody but don’t trust anybody.” He said that I shouldn’t be carried away if someone tells me that he is like my brother or uncle.
Did your father-in-law advise you or questioned you when you got out of so many films?
Never. Neither my husband nor my father-in-law. But my mother-in-law did. She suggested why I don’t wear swimming costumes in films. But let me tell you, I didn’t even wear it on holiday. I used to fear that if someone clicks my pic and publishes it in the newspaper. I left a film with Vinod Khanna also because it required me to wear a swimming costume.
I think if your face and smile don’t have a sex appeal, then it wouldn’t matter if you remove all your clothes.
When you walked out of Desh Premi, did it upset your equation with Amitabh Bachchan?
Not at all. Because I saw Amitabh Bachchan struggling. He always tried his level best to come up to the A’grade category.
I never gave my 100% as an actress. Mahesh Bhatt once said that whenever your career goes up, you become pregnant. He said that these are the obstacles in my career. I corrected him and said that they added colors to my life.
When you became pregnant, you never thought that it will affect your career?
I never thought that I had a career. I was never under any pressure because I already had what I wanted. I never valued my career and my stardom.
Can you list your best performances?
Till today, I don’t think I delivered anything of which I am very proud of. People appreciated me for Kacche Dhaage, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan etc. Manoj Kumar was very upset with me because I got pregnant during Roti Kapda aur Makaan. He gave the trophy to everyone except me.
Shashi Kapoor told me this. He said that you have upset the entire industry, “Everyone got a trophy but you didn’t. Who’ll spend 20-30k on you?”
For Ghayal, everyone got an award. I told Dharam ji. I was called for the award function but I was not given the trophy.
Who is your favourite actor?
If you ask about the colleagues I worked with, and with whom I had many fights also, they are Rishi Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty. I saw Mithun struggle a lot at every stage of life. But they never treated me like a heroine.
Rishi Kapoor was very honest. He admitted that he paid money to get an award for ‘Bobby’. How many people have the guts to admit this? Even I got offers to buy awards, but I said no. I got an offer for ‘Anuraag’ and ‘Roti Kapda Aur Makaan’. I said that I’ll not pay for my award.
You worked with Amitabh Bachchan in a film and then you didn’t work with him for a long time. And much later, you did ‘Piku’ with him.
I did it only for Shoojit Sircar, the director. He was adamant to bring our jodi together.
What was it like to reunite with Amitabh Bachchan after so long?
Less said the better. But I enjoyed working with Shoojit. I was already his fan. I like the way he works.
Your first foray into politics was not very good.
Number 1, I didn’t understand politics. Number 2, I still don’t understand it. I realised there’s a very deep playing and all. It’s a risk. You either become one of them or you leave gracefully. Otherwise either you’ll die in a road accident or your child will be taken away. Today, by God’s grace, Modi Ji Zindabad.
You thought politics was a dangerous game at that time?
Yes. Even now. If you are a winner, you have more enemies than friends. When you step up the ladder, even your own people or spouse can’t take it. It is all because of ego. Even your own children get complex because you are so famous. Relatives and children of famous people think that they are tolerating their popularity and glamour.
How much help you had of having Hemant Kumar as a father-in-law?
There was a sort of protection. People will think ten times before doing something to the daughter-in-law of a big personality. Even at that time also, the underworld used to put money in Bollywood. But openly, nobody could pounce or hug me. They had to think before. So that protection was always there.
So you were happy to join the BJP because you liked their ideology?
Yes, and because of Mr. Modi. I have lost many relations because of it. I am like, you can abuse any minister of BJP all you want, but don’t say a word about Modi Ji and Ratan Tata in front of me. It’s because they have always given to the nation. I am a very big fan of Ratan Tata and I still get attracted to seeing his photo of younger days. After my parents and my in-laws, I have tremendous respect for Ratan Tata and Modi Ji.
Were you involved with Vinod Mehra even though you were a married woman?
He was the best man at my wedding. He used to study with my husband at Xavier’s college. And we lived in the same building.
So how were you involved with him?
I was involved with everybody.
It is said that you were romantically involved.
In those days, people in Calcutta used to say that I was romantically involved with Ranjit Mallick. I never lacked anything in my married life that would look outside for something. It’s not like that. But that doesn’t mean that I was never wrong in my life. But the minute I understood that I am in the wrong part, I tried my level best to come back to the right path. Vinod Mehra would be the last person for me to be romantically involved.
What has kept you and your husband going for such a long time?
We are Tom and Jerry. I think we grew together. I didn’t understand what marriage was all about. I had my foot in too many fields- films, motherhood, household. So, I couldn’t understand. It’s not like I got the best husband. If you ask me if I want the same husband again, I would say no. Maybe, he’ll say the same thing.
Career-wise, why are you not doing web series? Even from your generation, actors are doing it now.
It is hard work. I am lazy.
Tell me a little bit about what happened with Payal and what did you go through?
I don’t like to talk about it now because Payal is not around. But Payal made a wrong choice and she paid the price. And we all paid the price. But I can’t just say that only Payal was wrong. Because if only she was wrong, why are we suffering?
She was such a lovely child. She suffered so much. In 2017, she went into coma. She came back in between. We were forbidden to see her also. We had to via police, court etc. So, on this subject also, the less said the better because it’s not a nice thing we are talking about.
How did you handle the loss of a child?
We handled it together as a family. My mother also died during that time. She didn’t know why Payal is not coming to see her. I couldn’t tell her that she was in coma. My child-like dog also gave his life.
I had to pray to god that please take her away because I couldn’t see her suffering. We all have to leave our body one day. What is the point of suffering? If you love the soul, you should set it free. My younger daughter was most damaged. My husband has still not gotten over it. He still sees Payal’s photo and gets choked. But we also celebrate Payal’s birthday with much joy. We bring her favourite Pineapple cake.