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'I am alive because of Amitabh Bachchan'

Last updated on: October 30, 2014 16:01 IST

Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar'I was sitting in a wheelchair and conducting the show as my leg was fractured. Suddenly there was a fire and that caused a stampede. 

'I started shouting for help. Nobody responded. They were all running for their lives.

'Then Amitji came...'

If you were a Hindi film buff in the seventies and the eighties, there was one television show you would wait for every week... Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan, anchored by Tabassum, that aired on Doordarshan.

You may have not known that she was a popular child actress in her time.

You may have not known that, as a child, she was pampered by actors like Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari, Nargis, Madhubala and Vyjayantimala.

But you would have definitely known that, every week, she would get a star -- be it an actor, producer, director, music composer or singer -- to sit across from her and share their secrets.

And she did it for 21 years.

That's how you learnt of the generosity of Dara Singh.

Of Manoj Kumar's passion for cooking.

Of Amitabh Bachchan's selfless gesture.

The veteran actress, television personality and anchor, who has completed 67 years in the industry, shares her insights about the stars of the past.

Catch the first part of the interview here.

'My mother said I started saying my own shayaris before I knew how to read and write'

Tabassum with her fan mail

Tabassum shares a glimpse of the fan mail she used to receive during the years Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan was aired on Doordarshan.

I started doing a radio show called Phulwari on All India Radio when I was three. In 1948, I was on the cover of a magazine published by AIR.

Only two playback singers were famous and sang for AIR -- Lata Mangeshkar’s father Dinanath Mangeshkar and Govinda’s mother, Nirmala Devi Arun.

My mother said I started saying my own shayaris before I knew how to read and write. She would write down whatever I said and get it published. So, technically, I have been a writer for the last 67 years as well. I have been editor of the magazine Grihalaxmi for the past 17 years.

My second innings in radio started in 1970, when I was married and had nothing to do. Ameenbhai (Ameen Sayani) brought me back.

He was doing a show called Saridon Ke Saathi, where one star would come on radio and talk about three other actors.

Ameenbhai asked me to do a show on Radio Ceylon called Maratha Darbar Ki Mehkti Batein. It was a jokes-based programme and I was good at telling jokes.

I did that show for 18 years.

'Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan was telecast one week after Mumbai Doordarshan was launched'

Tabassum with Shatrughan Sinha

'Nobody can touch Shatrughan Sinha's chin like that, he was my neighbour,' says Tabassum.

I have completed 45 years in television. 

When television first came to India, it was only telecast from Delhi. Many years later, in 1972, Doordarshan came to Mumbai. Before that, I would go to Delhi to do television programmes. I would conduct mushairas (poetry reading sessions) for Doordarshan, where I would tell jokes and read out my poetry. 

Mumbai Doordarshan was launched on October 2, 1972. Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan was telecast one week later, on October 8. It ran for 21 years.

It was a one-woman show. I wrote, researched, coordinated and decided who would come on the show. 

I had a good relationship with actors, directors, music composers and singers. There was no one in the industry whom I did not know. I had sat in the laps of all the senior actors as a child artiste and had seen my juniors grow up.

The proof of my bond with the industry is the show I am doing currently, Abhi Toh Main Jawaan Hoon. It is based on the golden era of Hindi cinema. 

Even after doing shows for so many years on Doordarshan, I did not do well financially. 

You will be shocked to know that Doodarshan paid me Rs 70 per show. When the show ended 21 years, I was being paid Rs 750.

Ameen Sayani and I S Johar told me I was being exploited. But I wanted to do the show because it had made a household name. I stayed back just because of that greed.

But when the younger generation was asked to do shows in the same format, they were paid in thousands. It hurt me and I left.

Shatrughan Sinha came on my show thrice. His interviews were very good.

Khane peene ka Kapoor parivaar bahut shaukeen hain'

Tabassum with Sanjay Dutt

'As a child artiste, I sat on the laps of all the senior actors. I have seen the star kids grow up and they have played on my lap,' says Tabassum.

I liked to have Shammi Kapoor on my show. I once told him that Saira Banu was his heroine in Junglee (1961) and, in Zameer (1974), he played her father. He should have maintained himself better as she still looked young.

Shammi Kapooor remained silent for a while. Then he said, ‘Khane peene ka Kapoor parivaar bahut shaukeen hain (The Kapoors love eating and drinking), so this had to happen'.

He added, ‘I dieted all my life to earn and be at the top, but how long can I sustain that? I don’t know if there is agla janam (life after death) so why not eat and live in this life?’

Shashi Kapoor said the same thing: ‘People diet their whole life and don’t live their life.’

As a child, I worked with him in Sangram. He was a child artiste then. He played the younger Ashok Kumar and I played the younger Nalini Jaywant.

Manoj Kumar cancelled his appearance on my show one day. He said he had a bad backache. I frantically started calling other actors to come on the show, but nobody was free that day.

I called Dara Singh and explained the situation and asked if he could be ready to shoot in an hour’s time. He immediately agreed and helped me out.

Manoj Kumar came on my show another time. He is a very cute person. He loves cooking. He even shared a culinary secret... he said that, in order to make mutton soft, all you need to do is add a small piece of betelnut.

Dharmendra never came on my show. I think I did not approach him. But I worked with him in many movies. I played his sister in Dulhan Ek Shaam Ki and did many stage shows with him.

Rajesh Khanna came on my show too.

Sanjeev Kumar came on my show twice. He was a darling. I have worked with him in films too.

'Meena Kumari actress toh bahut acchi thi lekin biwi achchi nahi thi'

Tabassum with Shah Rukh Khan

Tabassum's even pally with the younger lot of actors like Shah Rukh Khan.

One day, I interviewed Aruna Irani. Afterwards, Mehmood called me and said, ‘What did you ask Aruna and what did she say? People are flocking around wherever I go and they are upset with me, they even blocked my car.’ 

I had asked her, ‘Why did Mehmood ditch you?’ (Rumours had then abounded that Mehmood and Aruna Irani were having an affair.)

Before I interviewed (director of classics like Pakeezah and Mahal) Kamal Amrohi, he told me I could ask him questions about anything except (his wife) Meena Kumari.

I told him my audience would abuse me if I didn’t. He agreed, but said I could only ask him what kind of actress she was.

I agreed and said my last question would be, ‘Comment on Meena Kumari.’

During the show, he replied she was a very good actress. I immediately asked him, 'How was she as a wife?'

He was shocked. He said, ‘Woh actress toh bahut acchi thi lekin biwi achchi nahi thi, ghar main bhi woh apne aapko actress he samajhti thi’ (She was a good actress but not a good wife. She thought she was an actress at home as well.)

When I interviewed Rakhee, I asked her, ‘Kamal saab said a lady could either be a good wife or a good actress, not both. What do you have to say?’

She replied, ‘Tum bhi toh biwi aur actress ho, tum batao na’ (You are also a wife and an actress, so you can answer that).

Amitabh Bachchan would not come to the television studio; he would call us to the sets of his film.

I never had to prepare; I knew everything about the actors and would just think up a few questions while going to the studio.

One day I was travelling by taxi when I saw someone begging at a signal. I realised it was Parshuram! He was a very big actor of his time. He was a child artiste with Prabhat Studios and later the topmost villain, as popular as Amrish Puri was. He had played the role of a father in some of my films.

I was shocked to see him begging.

I took him to my director, who immediately recognised him. He told me to interview Parshuram.

People loved the show so much that they sent lots of monetary help. Even Shankar Rao Chavan, the then chief minister of Maharashtra, gave money from the chief minister’s fund.

Due to the success of this episode, DD did another show on out-of-work actors and crew members. The show was called Parikrama and was hosted by Kamleshwar (Kamleshwar was a well-known Hindi writer who had also scripted films like Aandhi, Mausam and Chhoti Si Baat. Parikrama proved to be a hugely popular show).

Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan was the pioneer of chats shows. All the shows that came later were inspired by or copied from this show, whether it is Koffee with Karan or Rendezvous with Simi Garewal. The Anupam Kher Show is a ditto copy of my show.

I like all the shows. They all have different styles. Simi is sophisticated, Karan is chatpata.

'Dilip Kumar would be sitting on the stairs of his house, eating khichidi and pudiney ki chutney'

Tabassum with Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar

Tabassum with the two superstars of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar.

Dilip Kumar loves sher-o-shayari. He loves different cuisines. He never throws a tantrum.

His elder sister, Sakina, was my mother’s friend, so I went to his house often. He would be sitting on the stairs eating khichidi and pudiney ki chutney.

I worked in Dilip Kumar’s Jogan. He did not cut my scenes. He appreciated my work. Kidar Nath Sharma, the director of the film, also gave breaks to Madhubala, Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and Geeta Bali.

In one scene I had to say, ‘Om Prabhu Shanti.’ As a child, I could not pronounce ‘Ra’ so I kept saying ‘Om Palbhoo Shanti’.

Kidar Nath Sharma got angry and yelled at me. After three takes, I started crying and said, ‘Hum mal (mar) jayenge agal hum se leetake hogaye’ (I’ll die if you make me do another retake).

Dilip Kumar saw this and said, ‘Aap kyun malengi (marengi), malna (marna) toh chahiye Sharmaji ko jo chhote se bachche se jabardasti ‘Ra’ bulwaa rahe hain. Beta, tu palbhoo bol, wahi achcha lagta hain. (Why should you die? Sharmaji should die for forcing a small girl to say ‘Ra’. You say ‘palbhoo’, it sounds nice.)'

Jeetendra was my childhood friend. I lived in Byculla and Jeetendra stayed in Girgaum (both Byculla and Girgaum are located in southern Mumbai). I would go to his place to play.

I went frequently to play at Joy Mukherjee’s house in Hasnabad Lane in Byculla. Parikshit Sahani and Shashi Kapoor were also my childhood friends.

We would all go to Ashok Kumar’s house to play and chat non-stop.

I will tell you an incident with Amitabh Bachchan which is not related to Phool Khile... I have done many live shows with him and Kalyanji-Anandji in India and abroad.

This took place at Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai. I was sitting in a wheelchair and conducting the show as my leg was fractured. Suddenly there was a fire and that caused a stampede. 

I started shouting for help. Nobody responded. They were all running for their lives.

Then Amitji came.

 He took me to a safe place. Today, I am alive because of him. I truly believe:

Hamesha dekha gaya hai mahan jhukta hai,
Zameen nahi jhukti hai aasman jhukta hai.

(It is always seen that the great bend down,
The Earth never bends, it's the sky that bends down.)

Back to the present

I have published 11 books on jokes and Urdu shayaris.

My son did not do well in films. My granddaughter Kushi too did not do well in the industry because, in films today, you have to expose a lot.

She was offered Dev D. We said no to it. Now, she is working in a corporate firm.

I am currently doing a television show called Abhi Toh Main Jawan Hoon. It’s been on air for four years, on TV Asia in the USA and Canada.

I have a stage show called Tabassum Hit Parade. I also host a show called Bhakti Main Masti, Tabassum Bhajan Sandhya. I do lots of charity shows now.

I never ran after money. I like to do things that satisfy me. After all,

Khoob kamao paisa, heera, moti,
Yaad rakho, kafan main jeb nahi hoti

(Earn lots of money, diamonds, pearls,
But remember there are no pockets in the shroud.)

Patcy N/Rediff.com in Mumbai