I was not into film journalism as such. Except for this series on the greats of yesteryears, I was not too keen on writing gossip columns. I was tempted at one time to join the editorial staff of a film magazine but the prospect of reporting the great escapades of stars, all the time, was not very attractive. My friend Ram Datta of the Malayala Manorama group wanted me to profile Sridevi for their women’s magazine. He often gave out these assignments to me. I had to go to Juhu, to meet her on the sets of a film. It was raining heavily and by the time I reached, I was dripping wet. Sridevi is a fabulous looking woman but very expressionless when you talk to her. We sat in her jeep while the crew was getting ready for the shot. She is not very articulate and makes bad copy. I had to do a lot of ‘cooking up’, to make the article readable. But she is an amazing actress. The minute the cameras start whirring, her face becomes mobile. The word ‘cut’ is enough to get her back into the dumb doll look. She is very much like her favorite dish combination-Chicken and thair saadam(curd rice)!
I am saving the big story for the finale. The interview was to be spread over several meetings as he was busy editing his film Prem Rog. Warm blue eyes smiling out of deeply lined and puffed up face, chubby fingers gesticulating while he spoke; heavy body heaving with smoker’s cough and irrepressible mirth- Raj Kapoor.He did not treat me like a journalist. More like a friend. His well modulated voice, rising and dipping for effect, told fairy tale-like story of his life. It wasn’t the content so much as the way he narrated his story that mesmerized me. Somewhere along the line, the interview became secondary. We spoke as two thinking, feeling individuals, of life and love as we see it; I remember the cozy chats we had in his cottage. It was sparsely furnished with a low seat and desk on the floor covered with a straw mat and a spittoon by the side.The walls sported black and white pictures of Vyjayantimala, Nargis and Padmini…. The three women in his screen life. My sons Arjun and Anil accompanied me to these interviews as RK Studies was far from where I lived. At one such meeting, Rajji told Arjun, ‘Beta, cosmetics can give beauty to a woman’s face but only good children can keep a woman beautiful at heart’.
Rajji invited me to the recording studio when he was recording Lata Mangeshkar singing the swinging number sun saibha sun’. There we were, in a cramped room, the music director Ravindra Jain, Rajji and I, listening to the flawless rendering of the song by the most melodious voice of India. I think there was only one take. There is magic in Lataji’s voice. I asked Rajji which heroine would be singing it in the film. He replied he was looking for one. ‘Are you looking for a mother of the heroine’?! I asked him casually and he said,’ maybe’.
Late one night, I got a call from Moscow. It was Rajji, asking me to go to RK Studios the next day, for a screen test for the role of a mother! He had found the heroine, Mandakini, for his film Ram teri Ganga Maili Imagine my excitement. Arjun went with me. It was late in the evening and the camera was ready. A costume assistant handed me a fabulous saree and blouse on a hanger, a tailor was in attendance in case the blouse needed alteration. A tray loaded with costume jewellery was on the dressing table. The make-up man tried to make me look like a millionaire’s wife and the flower girl arranged some in my hair made into a bun. I walked to the sets, looking like a mascot of tinsel town. I felt like a pampered star, reeling off the script as the cameras whirred. I was in RK Studio, giving a screen test. That’s all the mattered. I did not feel disappointed when I did not get the role. Winning has never been the goal in my life. Playing the game is more fun. Stardustthe most popular film magazine, wrote about how a middle-class housewife almost became a star, with my picture next to Raj Kapoor’s.