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Moushumi Chatterjee: I was always a superstar

Last updated on: May 28, 2015 18:44 IST

'I have been dropped from many movies. I did not want to compromise my self-respect.'

'I was born in a house with all the facilities. I had a car and servants. I got married into a family that had everything. So there was no need for me to compromise.'

'I was never ambitious about being the number one actress.'

Moushumi Chatterjee, one of the biggest stars of her time, gives us a peek into her life.

Moushumi Chatterjee is quite like her live-wire character in Piku.

She chats open-heartedly about her life and movies, laughs frequently, and has a friendly vibe. 

She lives in a big house, on the top floor of a building in the posh locality of Khar, in suburban Mumbai. The building stands where Moushumi's famous father-in-law Hemanta Kumar's bungalow and recording studio once stood. Moushumi lives with her husband Jayanta, daughter Megha and dog Dodo.

Wearing cotton Pallazo pants and a T-shirt, and no makeup, Moushumi is probably the humblest superstar one has ever met.

In this first part of a vibrant conversation with the actress, Moushumi tells Patcy N/ Rediff.com who she really is:

'I had to put on a lot of makeup for Balika Badhu, and didn't get any play time. I hated it'

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee and Partha Chatterjee in Ballika Badhu

My grandfather was a judge in British times. My father was in the Army and later worked for the Railways.

Director Tarun Mazumdar's house and studio were near my school. He offered me a film but my father said no.

Tarun Mazumdar's wife Sandhya Roy then convinced my father. She said they had been holding on to the script of Balika Badhu for a long time, and they felt I was just right for the part.

Sandhya Roy gave my father Rs 1,000 or Rs 2,000 for the film but my father said, 'Keep the money; you will need it to pamper her'.

During the shoot, I think I gave them a lot of trouble because Tarun Mazumdar said, 'Whatever is shot let it be, I will burn all the negatives, I don't want to make this film'.

If it were not for Sandhya Roy, Balika Badhu would not have been made.

I had to put on a lot of makeup, and didn't get any play time, so I hated it.

I was just a child, in the fifth standard, when I did this film. They wanted me to look like a teenager so they would make me wear a tight blouse and sari. I was not comfortable and wore it very reluctantly.

Twice, I ran away from the makeup room. 

During the filming, I had to change my name. My real name is Indira, but it was too common. My elder sister suggested Moushumi.

I met my future father-in-law Hemanta Kumar during the shooting of Balika Badhu. He was the music director.  

After the film, he and director Ajoy Kar offered me the film Parineeta. I signed it when I was in the ninth standard. At the same time, I did Tapan Sinha's film Ekhani.

'When I got married, I came to Mumbai with my dog, my doll's house and my best friend' 

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee

After Balika Badhu, I became very popular. 

Hemanta Kumar told my father he would take me to Mumbai for Durga Puja, because I can't go out in public in Kolkata. He had his own puja in Mumbai. My father agreed.

A magazine wrote a story saying that I had been seen with Hemanta Kumar's family so I may be getting married to his son Jayanta.

My father's aunt heard about this and scolded my father: 'How can you send your young unmarried daughter to Hemanta Kumar's house?'

Hemanta Kumar entered the house just then and announced, 'Indu will be my daughter-in-law.'

There were many reasons why I got married very early.

Firstly, there would be marriage offers for me everyday.

Secondly, my elder sister was married -- she got married when she was in the first year of junior college.

Thirdly, my aunt (my father's elder sister) was diagnosed with cancer and she wanted to see me married. She could not attend my wedding but Hemanta Kumar took both of us to her house in our wedding finery.

Immediately after marriage, I shifted to Mumbai.

You won't believe this, but when I got married, I came to Mumbai with my dog, my doll's house and my best friend, who stayed with me for more than a year.

My father-in-law asked me whether I wanted to pursue further studies but I said no.

'Shakti Samanta was very upset that I got married'


Image: Moushumi Chatterjee in Anuraag

Immediately after my wedding, I started shooting for the song Sun Ri Pawan in the film Anuraag, in Mahaballipuram, and Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu. 

I had signed Anuraag after my engagement.

Nobody thought I would get married so soon. Shakti (Samanta, Anuraag director) was very upset that I got married, because married actresses weren't successful. And here, I was making my debut in Hindi cinema and I was already married.

But Anuraag released, and it was a big hit.

I told Shakti uncle I don't know how to act like a blind person (for her role in the film), so he promised to take me to a blind school. But one day he just called and said the mahurat was the next day.

I was upset, and reminded him that he was supposed to take me to a blind school. He assured me that the mahurat shot would not be in the movie.

When I said my two-page dialogue on the mahurat day, everybody clapped.

Shakti uncle came and put his hands on my head and said, 'I am not taking you to a blind school; you continue acting the same way.'


'I signed whatever films my father-in-law told me to take up'

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee and Amitabh Bachchan in Manzil

I signed whatever films my father-in-law told me to take up.

This industry has been very kind to me. Whenever I have come back after taking a break -- as I did during the birth of my children for around three years -- filmmakers were at my door by evening offering me a film.

I stopped working when my younger daughter Megha was born. But the day I thought I wanted to work again, I signed films like Aag Hi AagGhayalWatan Ke Rakhwale and so on.

I am so fond of my father-in-law because I cannot express the amount of affection I received from him. What love my parents could not give, he single-handed gave me.

He took responsibility for me from my father even before I got married.

When my husband and I would fight, he would take my side.

My in-laws' family would say, 'Moushumi, Hemant babu ki aankhon ka taara hain.' (Moushumi is the star of Hemanta babu's eyes).

But once my elder daughter Payaal was born, she took my place. He would work very hard but yet he would give time to Paayal. When Payaal was one-and- half-year old, he got a small tabla made for her.

I was totally in love with my husband because he was the first man in my life outside of my family. Babu was a very affectionate and very charming man. He had so many girlfriends -- in fact, he still has!

My mother-in-law was a very ambitious woman; she had so many siblings that she couldn't look after her own children, forget looking after me. She was ruled by her brothers and sisters.

'Shooting the rape scene in Roti Kapda Aur Makan was tough'

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee in Roti Kapda Aur Makan

The rape scene in Roti Kapda Aur Makan was the most talked about scene. People found it very sensitive.

But shooting the scene was tough. I had long hair and in the scene, a lot of flour falls on my head and body. I started sweating and everything just stuck to my hair. I started crying.

After I came home at 10:30, till 2 am, my maid was removing the flour from my hair. I had to shoot again the next day.

I was pregnant at the time and when the flour went into my mouth, I vomited. I was physically unwell and tense about how the scene would be shot. But (director) Manoj Kumar took good care of me.

The scene also shows the villains pulling at my blouse. I was worried how it would be shot. I had to wear two blouses and they pulled off the top blouse.

'When Neetu Singh was ill with a stomach upset one day and couldn’t shoot, the producer locked her in the make-up room and said, ‘If you are not shooting, you can’t go out.’'
 
 

Because I was pregnant, the song Teri Do Takiya Ki Naukri was shot on Zeenat Aman.

In fact, I had to return money to quite a few producers because of my unplanned baby. For some movies my schedules had to be shortened from 30 days to 15 days and some of my scenes were dropped.

Mahesh Bhatt once asked me whether having a baby was an obstacle or not. 'Whenever your career is booming, there is also a baby on the way', he said.

But my babies added to my life.

'The producer of Zahreela Insaan was very nasty to Neetu Singh and me'

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee and Rishi Kapoor in Zaheerla Insaan

Puttanna Kanagal, the producer of Zahreela Insaan was very nasty to Neetu (Singh) and me. 

When Neetu was ill with a stomach upset one day and couldn't shoot, he locked her in the make-up room and said, 'If you are not shooting, you can't go out.'

I was pregnant during the shooting and fell down and started bleeding. I was taken to the hospital. Luckily, I did not lose my child.

But the producer said I had to report on the sets the next day! 

It was very sweet of Dabboo (Randhir Kapoor) to call me that night to check how I was. He told me not to worry, he would help me.

Neetu, Chintu (Rishi Kapoor) and I did that film because Pransaab knew Kanagal. Pransaab was a nice man, so he called me when I was facing problems.

During the shooting, Chintu helped me a lot. We were shooting on a hill and I had difficulty climbing. Chintu asked them to make a palki, and he tested it himself first to check if it was strong enough.

Quite a few heroes helped me a lot, besides Rishi Kapoor, like Vijay Arora, Vinod Mehra and Vinod Khanna. They were all very protective.

'I was never ambitious about being the number one actress'

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee

I have been dropped from many movies. I did not want to compromise my self-respect. I was never a 'Yes' woman, I have my own mind.

In fact, when I was shooting in Madras, all the heroines had 'amma' after their names on the door of their make-up rooms and all the heroes were 'garu' (sir). But on my makeup room door, it was always written 'Moushumi Garu'.

I was born in a house with all the facilities. I had a car and servants. I got married into a family that had everything. So there was no need for me to compromise.

I was never ambitious about being the number one actress.

In those days, a big actress told me, 'Moushumi, you look so nice, you are a terrific actor, but you are not number one.'

I said to her, 'To be number one, you have to give 100 per cent. I have a family and so I distribute my time 25 per cent each as wife, mother, actress and individual. I have no complaints about that.'

'One magazine linked me romantically with Sanjeev Kumar and Jeetendra in the same issue!'

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee and Jeetendra in Swarg Nark

In this industry there are scandals and link-ups -- you can't avoid it.

Whenever we would go to Kolkata, Hemanta Kumar's sister-in-law would tell him, 'I just heard that it has been published that your daughter-in-law is getting married to someone else.'

But then she would add, 'I told that person let people print all bad things about our daughter-in-law, that way she will be spared from nazar (evil eye) of others'. 

Whatever was printed about me didn't bother me because my family knew how I was, with whom I was and where I was and what I was up to.

My father-in-law told me in the beginning never to react; if you react, more such stories will appear.

I remember one magazine linked me romantically with Haribhai (Sanjeev Kumar) and a few pages later, with Jeetendra -- in the same issue!

Another time, an editor friend said her magazine was going through some problems, so she was carrying a front page story about Farooque Shaikh and me.

When I saw the magazine the next morning, I was shocked.

Farooque Shaikh came to my house that evening and asked whether I had read what had been written about us.

There was no problem in my house, but I thought there may be some problem at his house. But when he came, he was carrying a copy of the magazine to show his wife Roopa.

'I did not know it earlier, but later I understood that a lot of my colleagues were going through hell. They were okay with it because they wanted to make a career by hook or by crook. People who want to make it big in a career and are ready to compromise should not complain about it.'
 
 

Once a journalist wrote a story saying I was pregnant with my third child

People started calling me and congratulating me. I was at a mahurat, and thought they were congratulating me for my film. I had not seen the story.

A family member called me from Delhi and said, 'You came to Delhi a couple of days back and you never told me.'

'Never told you what?' I said. 

'That you are carrying a baby,' she said.

I told her, 'I am carrying a baby and I myself don't know that.'

I immediately called the publishing house and they said they would carry an apology.

'I never faced any casting couch problem' 

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee in Manzil

I did not know it earlier, but later I understood that a lot of my colleagues were going through hell. They were okay with it because they wanted to make a career by hook or by crook.

People who want to make it big in a career and are ready to compromise should not complain about it.

If you come from a family that doesn't have money to buy rice, or you have a sick child or sick parent at home and sell your self-respect, then I can understand.

I never faced any casting couch problem. It was not possible because I was always a superstar. I did not have to struggle.

Everybody knew I was Hemanta Kumar's daughter-in-law so they had to think before speaking nonsense.

But that doesn't mean that they did not fall in love with me. It happens when you are working together. Young people working together can fall for each other. I don't take offence at it.

I did not do the film Aastha. Basu (Bhattacharya, director) called me, so my husband and I went to his house for dinner. He told me the story.

I told Basuda I am a citizen of India, if there is anything wrong happening, I don't want to put it to the masses, there are so many bad things happening like murder but you don't like to show all that. We have a responsibility.

If a woman wants to go to a hotel and sleep with a man because she wants to buy a dress for her daughter that costs Rs 2,000, I don't want to send such a message to my fans.

Many people got upset that I did not do Basuda's film but when the film released with another actress (Rekha), everybody told me it was good I did not do the film.

'I was blessed with work, but I would take breaks' 

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee

I was a very lazy actress but at the same time, I was struck by the glamour world. I was a movie buff too.

I would watch a movie, come back home and act like Saira Banu, Asha Parekh, Vyjayantimala, Sadhana, or Waheeda Rehman -- I was in awe of these actresses.

When I came to Mumbai, I met Waheedaji when she was shooting for Geetanjali Production's (Hemanta Kumar's production houseKhamoshi.

I couldn't talk because my mouth was stuffed with paan. She smiled and said, 'Daat kharab ho jayenge, itna paan mat khaya karo' (You'll spoil your teeth. Don't eat so much paan.)

I was blessed with work, but I would take breaks. I would take two months holiday every year and go out with my family.

I never worked on Sunday, unless there was special permission taken for the shoot and it could only be done on a Sunday. My priority was my family.

I never felt like giving up movies, but whenever I felt that I won't be able to give time to a project, I took a break.

'The respect is missing today'

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee

The industry has changed a lot. Technically, we have improved but somehow we have lost the heart.

The corporate world cannot run a creative industry. They can do business but the flavor, the emotion and sensitiveness gets lost.

The new generation has a lot of attitude. When I first saw Vyjayantimala, my knees were shaking. She touched me and said, 'Bahut achcha kaam kiya' (You've done very good work).

There was a lump in my throat; I couldn't say a single word and tears started rolling from my eyes.

When I met Nutanji for the first time, you won't believe what I felt!

But the new generations feels, who is Moushumi Chatterjee? So what if she's done many films?

The respect is missing.

An actor, very new in the industry, came and sat beside me. He was wearing shoes and they were facing me. I was sitting lower than him and his shoes were in my face.

He was introduced to me, 'This is Moushumi Chatterjee', and he just said 'hello ma'am' and chewed his bubble gum.

'I am proud of my kids' 


Image: Moushumi Chatterjee with daughter Megha 

My younger daughter Megha did two films but didn't have any luck.

Producers talk to her but if they call her to some hotel for the reading sessions, she straightaway refuses.

Plus, she has lots of rules like the kind of clothes she will wear, the type of scenes she will do.

I told her to do something else and keep herself busy. Now, she works with special children, old age homes, she does work for abandoned cats and dogs.

My elder daughter Payal works in Disney (Director - Content, Media Networks at the The Walt Disney Company). She is a big bully. 

 

'I was never a celebrity to my husband'

Image: Moushumi Chatterjee with husband Jayanta Mukherjee

My husband is also from the creative field; he has produced a film, and the television series Talash. I acted in it and Hrishikesh Mukherjee directed it.

He sings really well but I don't know why he did not pursue it. He sang at college festivals and got a gold medal. He sang at mandals too.

But I think he thought that he doesn't sing like his father. He underestimated himself. 

My stardom would have come between us if he was born in a poor family. But before I could buy a Mercedes, he was driving one, so there was no complex.

I was a wife to him; I was never a celebrity to him.

'Sonia Gandhi said I was lucky'

I wanted to check out politics in 2004 and Pranab Mukherjee called and said I could try it.

(Congress president) Sonia Gandhi said I was lucky because Ajit Panja (the Trinamool Congress candidate) who would win continuously, lost the 2004 elections.

I did not win either (Communist Party candidate Mohammad Salim won).

After that, I felt I was not ready for it. 

Part 2 of this exclusive interview: Moushumi Chatterjee on her relationships with Sanjeev Kumar, Rishi Kapoor and Dharmendra.

Patcy N / Rediff.com in Mumbai