On Hema Malini’s birthday check out this Stardust Interview from the sets of Razia Sultan
I’m Immune To Box-Office Now –Hema Malini
Kamaal Amrohi was strolling down the streets of Paris, when his eyes fell on a beautiful painting in a famous art gallery. He stood transfixed at the portrait of a woman, painted by a French artist. She looked Indian, familiar and regal – she was Razia Sultan. Kamaal stared at the painting of the Indian queen which adorned an alien wall, and read ‘Immortality’ written on her face. He knew instinctively that he had to fly back home and find out enough about this famous historical figure to make a film which would not only live for posterity, but would also make him immortal. He looked at the face again, and there was an instant flicker of recognition – she had a striking resemblance to Hema Malini. Kamaal Amrohi had found his Razia Sultan!
A close friend-cum-confidante of Hema Malini once stated that if Razia Sultan, for any reason, bombed, she would be emotionally shattered. I wanted to know if this was true. “Rubbish!” she exclaimed. “In this particular film, it’s the actress in me which has been satisfied. I don’t care whether it’s a hit or a flop. As far as I am concerned, I have tasted both flops and hits. I’m immune to box-office now. I know how it is. Films that you think are terrible, click and are considered great hits, and the ones for which you work so hard, and in which you think you have given a good performance, flop. I have enjoyed working for Razia Sultan, and at this stage of my career, I am more bothered to satisfy my urge to act than to get box-office returns. Besides, by the time this releases, I’ll be out of the industry,” she added matter-of-factly. She winked at me and flashed her smile again.
Did that mean that Razia Sultan would be her last film and that she would gracefully drop the curtain on her career with a film that would immortalise her as Razia Sultan? “How can I say that?” she counter-questioned. “Actually, I was advised by my well-wishers to make Meera my last release, but things like these are not possible in our industry,” she said and hastily added, “I am tired.
I would love to end it all with this film but …” she broke off and looked vaguely into space. And since ‘buts’ are never questioned, especially when they come from Hema Malini, we can only wish Hema gets what she wants.
Just for the information: this interview happened on the sets of Razia Sultan, which was a typical Kamaal Amrohi set; an exquisite, exclusive and expensive replica of the palace of the old Slave Dynasty. The courtyard was filled with warriors on horse-backs with their steel armours glittering in the afternoon sun. Pathans in colourful costumes stood on one side, waving their silk scarves as the war hero, Vijayendra Ghatge, rode in victorious. A mosque stood in a corner. The massive palace gates were thrown open. Guards in red uniforms walked up and down with their baronets. The horses lazed in the sun, their coats shining with sweat.
Sitting in the Diwane-e-Khaas of Razia Sultan’s palace, I was trying hard to recall history lessons from school. In the background, I could hear a ghazal in a deep voice. I was lost in the realms of the past. Just then, Kamaal Amrohi walked towards Hema and a warm smile broke on her lips when her director bent low and wished her, “Salaam Walekum, Razia Begum.”
“He refuses to call me Hema,” she explained. “He insists that everyone calls me Razia, not only on the sets, but also at home!” Sitting on the bejeweled throne, she continues, “Just sitting on this throne gives me a terrific feeling. I feel like a shehzadi.” Her hovering dress designer interrupted to show ‘Her Highness’ her war costume which she was to wear for the next shot. She looked at it and said, “It’s nice,” with approval and admiration.
Her dress designer bowed and walked away. She then looked at the dress she was wearing and said, “Shamim, the dress designer of this film, is really good. As soon as I get ready for my shot, with my wig and my dress, I change from Hema Malini to Razia Sultan. And then, I forget my real identity. I’m a queen and I behave like one. Once I’m out of the sets, I’m not even Hema Malini, just Hema.” With that, she flashed her ‘Hema Malini’ smile. “A true actress should be good at switching on and switching off otherwise, if she lives her part even after pack-up, she will go mad in no time. Can you imagine me going around town relieving the role of Razia Sultan? People will throw stones at me.”
While she signed autographs for a few fans, I pictured Razia Sultan with a feather and an ink-pot, signing royal charters. “All my costumes are simple. I don’t wear jewellery while Parveen Babi wears beautiful dresses and a lot of ornaments,” she said. I asked her if she would have preferred to wear attractive costumes and if she feared being overshadowed, and she replied, “I’ll stand out with my simplicity. Everyone around me will be richly dressed except me, so I will get more attention. Of course, the credit for all this should go to Kamaal saab.”
When told that most heroines feel that she was lucky to bag the role, she beams, “Oh yes! I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been selected for this, especially at this stage of my career. Working with Kamaal saab is wonderful. He’s not only a good director, but a unique filmmaker. It’s fascinating how much he knows about the subject he’s dealing with.” Pointing to her dress, she continues, “Can you believe it? He goes to the market to buy the material for our costumes.”
Hema feels that Razia’s role was an open challenge thrown in her direction to prove her acting talent. The way Raj Kapoor accepted Zeenat Aman’s challenge as his own while filming Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Kamaal accepted Hema’s challenge as his own. He personally wanted Hema to make her own study of Razia by reading up history. But he realised she was a busy star and he couldn’t expect her to do the homework. Eventually, he studied Razia Sultan in such depths that he says, “I feel I’ve known Razia all my life!” He moulded Hema according to his knowledge.
“I’ve left it in his hands. I do what my director wants me to do,” she says, adding, “If I’d read some books on Razia, my conception could have differed from Kamaal saab’s. Our views would have conflicted, and created problems. So, don’t you think it’s best this way?” Not that Hema didn’t work on her character; she devoted time to listen to Kamaal Amrohi’s tapes of her Urdu dialogue and improve her diction. It helped that he had shortened and simplified her lines, leaving no scope for her south Indian accent to creep in.
Hema cautiously didn’t claim that. She instead said, “Razia is the best and biggest film ever made. This is a role of a life-time. It can make one immortal.” Optimistically, she added, “This film will go down in the history of Indian cinema.” People who’d seen the rushes felt Hema was not only terrific, but the role also fitted her like a glove. The film so far was made beautifully, and it was a surefire hit.
I asked her if it would be a personal victory for her if this film became a hit, and she says, “No. Everyone is working hard, so how can I possibly take it as a personal victory? It will be a victory for all of us.”
Kamaal, who shares the ambition, knows that a lot of Razia Sultan’s future depends on Hema. He said, “I’ve already warned Hema that the responsibility of the film lies on her shoulders. All the critics, especially the Muslims, will be sitting in the theatres, waiting for her to make one small mistake, and if they find even one word mispronounced, they’ll tear her apart with their criticism. But if on the other hand, she can win over their sympathy and their emotions as the film proceeds, she’ll get the loudest acclaim, and a thunderous applause. This will be the best performance of her career!”