NIRMAL KUMAR BETCHOO
At a time when the Thursday Hindustani feature film was the favourite evening meeting for a large number of viewers, Mauritians enjoyed watching two and a half hour long movies that started at around a quarter past eight and could end beyond half past ten, a time too late to stay awake for people in those days. Hindi movies were shown in ‘black and white’ while they might be earlier screened in flamboyant ‘Eastmancolor’, a colour film processing done by ‘Kodak’ in India. Actors were ‘demigods’ on the screen and each movie had its share of appreciation from the public who could speak of it days after it was broadcast on television.
Hindi movies had every ingredient for the public namely the chocolate hero, a handsome man in his twenties, a ravishing actress known as heroine in those days with bountiful hair, a villain with less attractive looks as well as several supporting actors. Actresses, who could not get the chance of being selected as heroines, played such roles quite often as their looks were slightly less appealing or not so actress-like than their colleagues. In this sense, Shashikala, a yesteryear favourite supporting actress, was famous for negative roles in movies although from a first look, she would appear very close in sensuality to any heroine. This condition created a stereotype for such actors who had to bear the burden almost throughout their professional life to limit themselves to negative roles.
Shashikala was an icon in a very similar way to other leading ladies like Bindu or Lalita Pawar who were obliged to curse the so-cute heroines. Since Hindi movies were melodramatic in the sixties, main actresses played tear-jerking roles always sobbing on the wide silver screen because of ill-treatment from sisters-in-law as well as mother-in-law. The term ‘belle-mère’ was badly coined in those days seen from the stout negative roles played by Lalita Pawar, for instance. Regarding the sister-in-law who was always in a fix with the main female characters, Shashikala was a genuine one of the sort. Attractive and dressed to kill in a pearl glittering saree, dark piercing looks that transgressed her natural beauty, the wonderful actress was a ‘mama dife’ for most Mauritian viewers. The audience was struck by her gestures, dialogues, demeanour and obviously acting. In any movie where she starred, sooner or later, her dark side would be revealed.
Bollywood has always been a nightmare for beautiful girls who could not make it as the leading actress. Helen was forced to dance in sexy outfits, Padma Khanna had to drop long bits of clothes to villains, Shashikala had to reveal inflamed jealousy and disdain both to the actors and the audiences. This is what enthralled viewers although it was known that acting is just a ‘make believe’ attitude only for the movie purpose.
Shashikala’s reputation rose to high standards as she played against all the top actors in her own time. Whether it was Dharmendra, Manoj Kumar or Rajesh Khanna, her roles brought waves to the scenario as she continuously emphasised negativity. She rarely enacted beautiful roles that won her awards in movies like ‘Gumrah’ and ‘Aarti’. At other times, her radiant beauty drove audiences to ecstasy like the eternally beautiful song ‘Koi bulayee aur koi aaye’ in Manoj Kumar’s piano-performed song in ‘Apne Hue Paraye’ (1964).
The Shashikala style was well adapted to the Mauritian reality. In family-related trivia, ladies would utter: Aret fer to rol Shashikala ar mwa, or Sa enn mama dife sa, enn vre Shashikala. These would understate ladies playing some covert mischief within family relations that were patriarchal and archaic… in a recent past.
Shashikala remained nice though she was ageing and she moved to positive characters later in her long career spanning some 200 movies. She won the Padma Shri Award in 2007 recognising that this achievement had come a little late in her life. Internet users have been through various ‘tweets’ of Bollywood superstars who speak so nicely when actors die. Dharmendra’s tweet is by far the most sensible one. He quotes: ‘Reputation comes from the unknown and later reverts to the unknown.’ This was spoken just after the demise of the actress. But who could ever forget the wonderful dance performed by Shashikala in ‘Phool aur Patthar’, the ‘Phisigala Phisigala’ song copied from ‘I see a bird on my tree top’. There was the brilliant acting, the tainted humour, the wit, the vamp style, the piercing looks and the synchronised twist movement that drove the audience nuts. All that came from Shashikala, a famed actress playing it negatively for thousands of admirers in the sixties.