Sunday, January 13, 2008

‘I was scared of Satyajit Ray’

Sharmila Tagore speaks to Sandhya Iyer about her association with mentor Manik Da (Ray) and how she has finally learnt to relax as an actress

Beyond the fact that Sharmila Tagore happened to be one of Hindi cinema’s most beautiful leading ladies, one tends to overlook her eminence as an actress who got cast in one Satyajit Ray film after another. Thanks to Zee Studio’s initiative, a whole new generation has rediscovered the beauty of Bengali cinema and Sharmila of another time.Yet, being a part of intellectual Bengali cinema never prevented her from donning buns, flashing her dimples and serenading with her heroes in Hindi commercial films.

She says it came quite easily to her. “I was young, very adaptable. I was also a quick learner. I remember not being able to lip-sync for Kashmir Ki Kali as I’d never done it before. Also, I have an accent and was hardly fluent with Hindi. But all that improved with time,” said the actress, looking radiant in a sea-blue floral top and trousers.Elaborating on how she created the right balance for herself, she said, “Manikda’s (Satyajit Ray) cinema involved pauses and silences. There was more naturalness. In commercial cinema, you have to play to the gallery. You learn the techniques of slightly manipulating your audience.

You learn the adaas, etc.”Her move towards commercial Hindi cinema was also in keeping with the fact that she wanted to explore the glamourous side of the profession, not to add the national visibility it entailed. “Manik da changed my life. He was so methodical, well-prepared about every department of filmmaking. There’s a scene in Apur Sansar, where my husband brings me to my home in Mumbai and I cross the threshold and look around nervously. That was exactly the state I was going through in real life as I worked with him. When I worked with him in Nayak, he said I’d have to wear specs. I asked him if I was long-sighted or short-sighted in the film. He found it funny but observed that I was starting to put thought into my roles. As for me moving towards commercial Hindi cinema, I feel that nothing grows under a big tree. Manik da was the be all and end all of his films. I had to venture out and discover things for myself, which I did. But yes, I miss him. There are times when I feel, I could consult him on acting. And today, I could have really interacted with him well. Those days, I was scared of him as he was more like a father-figure to me. What did he think about my Hindi films? He was amused for sure but he was always supportive.”

She says the move to Hindi cinema only required a slight change in gears. “I had good exposure to music, literature, and fine arts since childhood. I mean I could read a Jeffery Deaver with as much pleasure as a Tagore or an Amartya Sen. Similarly, I can listen to any kind of music from jazz to Hindi film music. So my taste has been quite eclectic. I’ve been able to adjust with different things well.”

Even as both her children Saif and Soha continue to do well in the profession, she’s happy to see that she’s herself more relaxed and natural as an actress now. “Earlier, I would build this artificial tension which would work as a barrier between me and my audiences. Today, I’m more bindaas as I have no compulsions to prove anything. I’m enjoying working with new directors. I’m doing Tasveer with Nagesh Kukunoor. I’ve been a perfectionist, so I want everything from my script to dialogues to clothes in place. But these young people are so cool about everything yet they get things done when time arises. Just like they’ve learnt something from me, I too have learnt to be bindaas from them and I’m liking it,” she smiles.


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