Be it flaunting a bikini in the 60s, being a top actress of her times, marrying a nawab, or becoming the Censor Board head, Sharmila Tagore has always been special in her own way. The actor in conversation with our correspondent.
People still keep guessing how you are related to the Tagore family? (Smiles) I am more closely related from my mother's side. My grandmother (mother's mother) Latika Tagore was the granddaughter of (Rabindranath) Tagore's brother Dijendranath. So that's how I am related.
As a child, were you conscious of growing up as a Tagore? I think so. Obviously as a child I was not conscious of the fact. But looking back, I think we were a little different.
In what ways? We had a different lifestyle altogether. Take for instance, cooking...we had our own recipes. We didn't make the dal the way others will prepare it. Then there was this Tagore way of dressing...men used to wear jobba like Rabindranath Tagore used to wear.
Did you ever meet Rabindranath Tagore?
"I balanced glamour and serious acting"
No (Sharmlia Tagore is 1946 born). But my mother did. She went to Shantiniketan where he (Rabindranath) taught her. She had got wonderful collections from Tagore like little couplets, drawings, et cetera in her book. But she would never give those to me.
Why? She lent me Gora (novel) autographed by Tagore when I was 12 and I wanted to show off and took it to school. And I lost it. My mother didn't speak to me for months after that.
You started your career as an actor very young in a Bengali film (APUR SANSAR). What was it like for a Tagore to face the camera? I was too young. I don't think at that age you are conscious of the camera. I just did what Manikda (filmmaker Satyajit Ray) wanted me to do.
Do you remember the first shot? Yes, I do. It was the scene just after Apu and Aparna get married. He brings her to his new home and we (Soumitra Chatterjee and me) are standing just outside the door, waiting for Manikda to say 'Action'. The door is closed and the camera is behind it. Soumitra whispered to me: 'Are you feeling nervous?' I said: 'No'. Then Manika said 'Action'; Soumitra opened the door and said Eso (come). I cross the threshold and looked around the room; Manikda said 'Cut. Excellent. Let's do the next shot'.
In 1964 you entered the Hindi film industry with KASHMIR KI KALI. What was your expectation from Bollywood? I just wanted people to take me seriously as an actor. The glamour side was always there...I was as comfortable in a saree as in a western outfit. But I always knew that glamour will be short-lived and so tried to balance it with serious acting, like there was an ANUPAMA to balance AN EVENING IN PARIS.
Who were the co-stars you were most comfortable working with? They were all wonderful human beings besides being excellent actors. Sanjeev Kumar always completed his work meticulously, Rajesh Khanna was a phenomenon, Shammi Kapoor was very supportive, but a little maverick. Dharmendra was very generous and open-hearted like a pucca Punjab da Puttar.
Now we hardly see you in films. Latest, there was ANTAHEEN (Bengali), SAMAANTAR (Marathi)...and now LIFE GOES ON (English). Why is that? See, I am no longer in any kind of race. Sometimes I like the script, sometimes it's the people associated with the film...but mostly I go by my instinct and my character in the film.
Did you ever think of trying your hand at directing a film? Job of a director is not easy. It's not that I don't want to direct films. But it's just that I have to wait for the right time. It's not an actor's job that you give a shot, remove the make up and go home. A director needs to be with the film 24x7.