By Anuja Ghosalkar
Originally published on 27 December 2015.
This is the account of an evening I spent with Sadhana and my grandfather on October 29, 2007.
In 2007 I received a Sarai fellowship to chronicle the life of my grandfather, Ram Tipnis a makeup artist in the Hindi film industry from 1941 to 2000. The project was titled ‘Papaajoba’, meaning father-grandfather in Marathi. I interviewed him extensively over many months and documented his early professional life at Raj Kamal Studio with V. Shantaram to his time at Filmistan Studio. There was a sharper focus on the 1960’s- when he worked with Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh, Sadhana and Saira Banu. The project documented film history from the point of view of a technician who might lacquer it with his own stories. The transcripts of my interviews with him and the actors he worked with were uploaded on the blog www.papaajoba.blogspot.com
“Do you know that even today little girls go to beauty parlors and ask to get a Sadhana Cut, if they want a fringe on their foreheads?” says the charming Sadhana when I went to meet her with Papaajoba in her very seventies looking Bungalow at Santacruz in Bombay. She continues, “You know I have a very big forehead and before I did my first film with S.Mukherjee, Nayyar Sahab (RK Nayyar who she later married) and I were great fans of Audrey Hepburn so we decided that I would have a fringe like her, to hide my forehead. That time nobody in India had a fringe. So we went to a Chinese hairdresser and got it cut. So that’s how the Sadhana Cut came in to fashion.”
In 1960 her first film, Love In Simla was released. But she says her debut film was actually, Parakh, where she was playing a “gao ki ladki” so RK Nayyar advised her, that they should release Love In Simla first, so when Parakh released she says, “all the people were very impressed because they felt that this girl can do glamorous as well as gao ke roles.”
When she and Papaajoba talk I sense a great camaraderie. But the power dynamic between a star and a technician are obvious. My granddad refers to her as Sadhana-ji and she lovingly calls him “dada”. They both are sitting down sipping their drinks, she drinks vodka and he is drinking whiskey. She is also constantly chewing some sort of gum. I am afraid to ask, but my grandfather brusquely asks her why she is chewing so much gum. She pauses and replies in her husky voice, “Dada maine bahut saalon se cigarette chod di hai, toh yeh uske liye hai”.
I continue, and ask her what the advent of the color film meant to her. She says she was doing two films at the time, one was Woh Kaun Thi (released in 1964) and Mere Mehboob (released 1963). She says, “we were all very thrilled that we would be seen in color and every one of us wanted to look good in color, and I was bit hesitant then to do a black and white film after that”. My grandfather did her make up in both films. She says that make up was a little too white, even pink at times.
Papaajoba interjects and explains why it had to be slightly white or pink and gives the example of the several runs trial with the film Nagin. He continues to tell his stories, many of which I have heard over the last several months. In fact, I won’t be wrong in saying that he hardly allows Sadhana to talk. I am irritated at first, thinking it’s the whiskey but slowly through the course of the interview I remembered what he said to me at the beginning of this project, “I don’t want to be an also-ran,”. I also realize that perhaps this is the first time in front of her that he is the center of attention. This project is about him, she has to merely add to the stories, not be the focus. It’s also the first time she realizes that he knows a lot more, technically, and his memory is far better than hers, he is 85 and she is about 69.
“You know in Dulha Dulhan, a film I did with Raj Kapoor, I remember him telling me that my makeup was too white while his face had a nicely tanned look. You know though when colour films became popular everybody thought everything in the film should be colourful. There was so much colour that it would hit the eye. They would put a girl in a pink dress in front of a pink wall! It took them a little time to get used to colour film, but they were learning slowly and the idea was that, agar color film hai toh there must be a lot of colours in it.”
We are interrupted by a plateful of kebabs which she abstains from eating as she is watching her weight. She continues, “Colour film was bloody expensive therefore sometimes they would only have one song in colour and they used to have only about 20-30 prints of a film for the state of Maharashtra.” Papaajoba continues by telling Sadhana that, “at that time there were no baby or dinky lights, so the artist’s skin used to burn. She takes it from there saying, “There were no air conditioned studios also.”
“You know during Waqt, this was soon after Mere Mehboob I had discussion with the dress designer and said what is this? We actresses have only two choices when it comes to clothes, either we wear saris or salwars. Why don’t we try churidars? But my designer said no it’s a Muslim dress. So I told her let’s do a fusion, a churidar and a kurta with embroidery here,” she points to her bust line. She continues, “I told Yash (Chopra) I am supposed to be a young ladki so why can’t I wear a churidar? He said, “meri picture mei nahin chalega”. Anyway I got the tight churidar made with a tight kurti on top, with embroidery and wore mojris and showed it to him. To that he said, “Wow, that looks fantastic!”
Sadhana clearly was a trendsetter, after the Sadhana Cut and churidars she says she sparked off another fashion trend, the mojris. She points to her foot and says, “see look at this toe of mine, it is smaller than the rest and I have ugly feet. I was very conscious of my feet so to cover them I started wearing mojris. There is one more reason I had to wear them, see I am 5 feet 6 inches tall, the Bouffant then added a little more to my height, and if I wore heels I would be 5 feet 10 inches tall and you know most of our heroes are short. Once Raj Kapoor was given a stool to stand on, it was for a film called Dulha Dulhan, it was a very bad film. You know but when you wear mojris your walk is very different, than when you wear heels. In those days the shoe shop, Metro, in Colaba used make special mojris for me and the owner once gave an interview to the press and told them that I had a little crooked toe. But do you know Waheeda has crooked toes on both her feet?”
By now she is on her third vodka and I have finished off my granddad’s left over whiskey, so we are all nicely warmed up. So I try to ask her about the casting couch in those days. Sadhana says, “Those were innocent days. Today of course there is a casting couch. Those days you fell in love, sometimes with a married man even, but you got married to him.” I was hoping to hear a little more gossip than that. A little more prodding perhaps, so I ask her who her favourite male co-stars were. She says, “Oh! I was very comfortable with Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor. They were the nicest two guys in the industry and I really enjoyed working with them. But can I tell you this? But please don’t write this, Shammi had a real reputation so I was really scared to work with him in Rajkumar so at first I kept my distance. But then I realised what a wonderful person he was. One day Shammi told me, “Sadhana, you are not my cup of tea and there are two women in the industry who are like a Frigidaire, you and Saira.” But I turned round to him and said, “Shammi, I think you are not my cup of tea.” She tells me a couple of more stories but I must keep my promise to her by not putting it on record.
I ask her about star rivalry in those days and she very calmly replies, “See, it was very simple if you wanted a pretty looking girl for your film, they would cast Saira (Banu), if they wanted a good dancer then it would be Asha (Parekh) and of you wanted an actress then you chose Sadhana. I was very punctual. I would be ready with my makeup sharp at 9.30 a.m. in the morning. For the shooting of Rajkumar we were staying nearly two hours away from the location, so we would wake up at 2 a.m. every night, get ready with makeup and costume by 4.30 a.m. and reach the location at 7 a.m. sharp. And that time we didn’t have air conditioned vanity vans like today. So a lot of times we had to use the jungle as the loo. Nowadays they shoot in Switzerland and Australia.”
There are stories that I have grown up hearing, of how Sadhana would come and pick up Papaajoba in her Buick and that was probably the only Buick in town. To that she says, “Oh! Yes everyone knew that was my car.” I had also heard this story where my brother accompanied my grandfather on a shoot to Lonavala with Sadhana and it was her birthday. My brother was told to wish her but he refused and said like any three-year-old would, “it cannot be a birthday until there is birthday cake.” On hearing that Sadhana sent her driver all the way from Lonalava to Bombay to buy a birthday cake just for my brother. Sadhana doesn’t remember this story and many others that my granddad tells her. I guess it is just that some stories the stars will never remember or maybe that my granddad has a superb memory.
This evening though, is about the star so it ends with her telling us about her crazy fans who would stand outside her bungalow for hours and , “once there was a mad fan who would throw gifts into my compound, he would throw watches, radios,” says Sadhana. But as we leave her bungalow, located in a dark lane, nobody stands outside it. It is quiet and lonely, Papaajoba and I get into a rickshaw and leave.
Anuja Ghosalkar is a theatre actor, writer and director. And with what time she has left, she samples rums and gins from local dive bars in Bangalore.
Image credit: Imprints and Images of Indian Film Music