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Dinesh Raheja

Hema Malini has played romantic heroine in over 100 Hindi films --- few other heroines, like Rekha, can boast of this feat.

In her heyday, Hema was never in danger of being mistaken for a thespian. But for sheer screen presence, she was hard to beat. With her takes-your-eyes-prisoner beauty and tinkling laugh, Hema had scores fans. She was truly the heartthrob throughout the 1970s and a good part of the 1980s.

Even now, in her fifties, she is Dreamgirl emeritus. Recently, when she made a comeback to films with Baghbaan opposite Amitabh Bachchan, the spotlight continued to adore her. She had everybody oohing over her grace and beauty.

Hema Malini's Landmark Films
 Year  Film  Hero
 1970  Johnny Mera Naam  Dev Anand
 1971  Andaz  Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh  Khanna
 1971  Lal Patthar  Raaj Kumar
 1972  Seeta Aur Geeta  Dharmendra, Sanjeev  Kumar
 1973  Jugnu  Dharmendra
 1974  Prem Nagar  Rajesh Khanna
 1975  Khushboo  Jeetendra
 1975  Sholay  Dharmendra
 1976  Dus Numbri  Manoj Kumar
 1981  Kranti  Manoj Kumar
 1986  Ek Chaddar Maili Si  Rishi Kapoor

But this south Indian actress is more than just a beautiful face --- she's like an exquisite piece of lace threaded with steel. Hema has insisted on living her life on her terms, taken an unconventional step and become the second wife to Dharmendra, regularly worked after her marriage and the birth of her children and shifted gears from acting to direction to television to stage dance shows.

It has been a full life and career.

Hema met with failure at the onset of her professional life. She was considered for a Tamil film when she was 15 only to be rejected by director Sridhar because she was too thin. This early stumble only spurred the teenager to heed her mother's advice, guzzle tomato juice, hone her dancing and bide her time.

Sure enough, producer Ananthaswamy offered her a dream break opposite the legendary Raj Kapoor (almost a quarter of a century older to her) in his Sapno Ka Saudagar (1968), even if he did bind her to a strict contract. The film's publicity also gifted her the Dreamgirl tag though it took a few years for this nomenclature to become a fact.

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Within two years, her pivotal role of the hapless gangster's pawn in the Dev Anand blockbuster Johnny Mera Naam (1970) saw her shoot straight to the top.

Hema did take her share of career risks. Sixties heroines were unwilling to play the deglamourised role of the sari-clad widow in Andaaz (1971). No heroine was willing to play the black-shaded role of Raaj Kumar's scorned and vengeful mistress in Lal Patthar (1971).

Mumtaz was not willing to lower her price for Seeta Aur Geeta (1972).

Hema took on all these films and they changed the course of her career. Hema's purely instinctual histrionics as the elemental, fire-and-brimstone-spewing virago of Lal Patthar is an underrated achievement --- in the scene where she mocks Raaj Kumar's new wife, Raakhee, as merely a gudia, she evokes both her character's rage as well as hurt.

The outstanding box office success of the rumbustious Seeta Aur Geeta, where Hema played two roles --- as the meek Seeta and the fisticuffs-ready Geeta made Hema the No 1 heroine. Jeetendra remembers shooting for Gehri Chaal (1973) soon after Seeta Aur Geeta was declared a blockbuster.

Suddenly, Jeetendra and costar Amitabh watched in the sidelines as Hema fought the villains now.

Famous songs of Hema Malini
 Song  Film  Singers
 O mere raja  Johnny Mera  Naam  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Kishore Kumar
 O saathi chal  Seeta Aur Geeta  Asha Bhosle,
 Kishore Kumar
 Gir gaya jhumka  Jugnu  Lata Mageshkar,
 Kishore Kumar
 Tu kya jaane  wafaa  Haath Ki Safai  Lata Mangeshkar
 Jab tak hai jaan  Sholay  Lata Mangeshkar
 Chal sanyasi
 mandir mein
 Sanyasi  Lata Mangeshkar
 Mere naina
 saawan bhadon
 Mehbooba  Lata Mangeshkar
 Naam ghoom jayega  Kinara  Lata Mangeshkar
 Zindagi ki na toote  Kranti  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Nitin Mukesh
 Mere naseeb mein  Naseeb  Lata Mangeshkar
 Aye dil-e-nadaan  Razia Sultan  Lata Mangeshkar

Hema's box-office dominance continued as she starred in a spate of hits. In 1975 alone she was part of five successes --- Sanyasi, Dharmatma, Khushboo, Prattigya and most significantly, Sholay, where she was unforgettable as the chatterbox Basanti.

In the testesterone filled late 1970s Hema helped keep the door open for female-centric movies especially with her three Gulzar films --- Khushboo (1975), Kinara (1977) and Meera (1979). Gleaned of her almost patented commercial film mannerisms, Hema was perfectly cast as the straight-backed, self-respecting Kusum of Khushboo and she brought serenity and a dancer's shant bhaav to Meera.

The polarised extremes of feminity and masculinity, Hema and Dharmendra had long formed a highly-popular pair in back to back hits like Naya Zamana, Raja Jani, Jugnu, Sholay, going on to do a jaw-dropping 28 films in all.

An attraction between the stars seemed almost fated. In 1980 Hema defied convention and became Dharmendra's second wife. Her spotless reputation and regal demeanour saw her facing little flack for this act of societal defiance.

In the early 1980s Hema starred in such major films as Manoj Kumar's Kranti, Manmohan Desai's Naseeb, Kamal Amrohi's Razia Sultan and Vijay Anand's Rajput. But increasingly, her attention shifted to bringing up her young daughters, Esha and Aahna.

Hema may have never been a vociferous feminist, but she has always remained a working mother. Successful films like Aandhi Toofan and Ramkali in 1985 saw her polishing her action image while Ek Chaddar Maili Si (1986) and the bold exploration of marital infidelity, Rihaee (1990), showcased an artiste revealing an unsuspected maturity.

Seeing a woman director like Aruna Raje competantly handle her actors in Rihaee gave Hema the confidence to direct a film herself: Dil Aashna Hai. It didn't do well and Hema's film career tapered off as she chose to concentrate on her dance ballets, television serials, editorship of a Hindi woman's magazine, and piloting her daughter Esha's nascent film career.

Today, Hema is teaming up with Amitabh Bachchan once again, 19 years after their last together film, Nastik, for Baghbaan. After a long hiatus, she has on her own accord chosen to return to active film acting.

Hema Malini still prefers to exercise her options. She is one person who can truly say she has lived her life her way.

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