Birthday Special: Raakhee on Her Leading Men
Veteran actress Raakhee, who turns 66 on August 15, goes back in time and talks about the leading men in her life.
I know Amitabh Bachchan from the time when he did a role in Sunil Dutt’s Reshma Aur Shera.
We did innumerable films together. I shared a unique bond with him.
I know the fun side of Amitabh, which he keeps hidden from public view. He is a very funny guy, plays pranks and does a lot of masti.
I admired Dilip Kumar and Rajesh Khanna as actors but the kind of bond I shared with Amitabh is unique. We did more confrontational than romantic films together.
He would rehearse his scenes secretly because he was perpetually playing characters with personality traits that he did not possess. He played the Angry Young Man but losing his temper was alien to him.
On the other hand, I am very short-tempered and can do angry roles easily. But if I was asked to sing and dance and do romantic scenes, I would get petrified.
Image: Amitabh Bachchan and Raakhee in Kabhi Kabhie
'I was petrified of working with Shashi Kapoor'
I was petrified of working with Shashi Kapoor, just as much as I was petrified of working with Pran or K N Singh (laughs).
No, seriously, I was in awe of Shashi Kapoor. Whatever I have learnt about self-discipline and punctuality has come from him.
During our first film Sharmilee, he would reach the location at 7am even though I lived closer to the location.
The director Sameer Ganguly was very soft-spoken. So Shashiji did all the dada-giri during shooting. One day he came to me and warned me, ‘Raakhee, if you don’t reach at 7 am, your bags will be packed and you’ll be sent back to Bengal.’
I got so scared that I came on time after that. I’d reach the location even before the sweepers.
If we were at the airport, he would carry the vanity case and other luggage of any lady that he came across. If there was a crowd at a shooting, he would clear it to make me feel comfortable. I never encountered these qualities in any of my heroes.
He loved my cooking. Whenever his lunch dabba filled with green salad would go back home untouched, his wife Jenniferji would call me to ask if her husband was shooting with me.
The last time I met Shashiji was at a Ganpati festival in Pune. I don’t want to see him the way he has become now.
Image: Rakhee and Shashi Kapoor in Kabhi Kabhi
'Rajesh Khanna looked so manly on screen'
Rajesh Khanna and I didn't do too many films together. We were supposed to do his home production called Majnoon, which Kamal Amrohi was supposed to direct (but it got shelved). Then, another film got shelved.
To be honest, I never did films for the hero. I was always more concerned with the production house.
Producers would keep repeating me in films. F C Mehra never worked with the same artiste again but we have worked in more than one films.
I worked repeatedly with Prakash Mehra and Yash Chopra.
For me, it was important to feel comfortable in what I was doing. I had heard so many stories of Rajesh Khanna being unapproachable. I was also not easy to connect with. I was called the Ivory Tower Queen. We were both considered aloof and arrogant.
When Rajesh Khanna and I worked in Shahzaada, Daag and Aanchal, we were very comfortable together. He was not a conventionally good-looking man but what charm! He looked so manly on screen.
I’ve never seen such popularity. When we were shooting in Kashmir, the location was a sea of humanity wanting for a peep of Rajesh. It was said that he ganged up with Sharmila Tagore (against me) during Daag. This was all a publicity gimmick. There was absolutely no friction.
I was in no position to get into a confrontation with my co-stars. Rajesh and Sharmila were top stars. I had a brief but powerful role. I only focused on getting my character right.
Image: Rajesh Khanna and Rakhe in Daag
'I did Shakti just for the experience of watching Dilip Kumar at work'
I started watching films late in life. I’d watch the morning shows of Hindi classics -- starring Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand -- in a Mumbai theatre and later, watch it again on video.
I was never a Raj Kapoor fan.
I was enthralled by Dilip Kumar’s body language. Even if it was a back-shot, we could see him emoting. There was something unique about his screen presence.
When I got the chance to work with him in Shakti, it was dream-come-true as well as a challenge to match him as his wife.
He used to come on the sets in ordinary clothes, write his own dialogues and rehearse them.
After the shoot, we’d pack up but he would ask the director Ramesh Sippy for the next day’s scenes. When he would see me disappointed, he would ask his assistant to give him my cues just to make me feel guilty. I would finally relent and rehearse.
He was a simple man, wore simple clothes and drove one car. He’d enter a tea shop and casually greet the owner, who would be ready to faint.
I got many offers to work with Dilipsaab again, including Ramesh Talwar’s Duniya, but I refused to do small roles.
I did Shakti just for the experience of watching this man at work.
Image: Raakhee and Dilip Kumar in Shakti
'I found Sanjeev Kumar's acting style melodramatic'
I found Sanjeev Kumar's acting style melodramatic.
Since he came from the stage, his acting style was theatrical. When filmmakers controlled him, he would be excellent.
Haribhai (Sanjeev Kumar) was like aaloo (potato) that could blend with anything.
He spoke little but after drinking, wouldn't talk at all.
He was a foodie but not like Shashi Kapoor, who ordered me to make food.
Actually, my well-known penchant for cooking was born out of necessity.
I lived alone and had to cook my own meals. Since I didn’t want to eat alone, I cooked for the entire unit.
One day, during the shooting of Trishna, Haribhai asked me to make Paaya.
I had never made it before. Haribhai suggested that we keep the Paaya for a day because it tastes better the next day.
But he had an altercation with a production guy, who went and finished the Paaya and left only the bones.
Haribhai looked at me and then quietly smiled, as he realised what had happened. I still remember that smile.
Image: Raakhee and Sanjeev Kumar in Paras
'I never heard anyone speaking against Dev Anand'
Devsaab was the only hero, who never ate my food. I never saw him eat proper food. It was always fruits.
Devsaab just had to tell me to do a film, and I would -- from Banarsi Babu to Anand Aur Anand, his charm saw me through all his films.
My roles in his films got briefer and briefer but I didn’t mind.
He was one of his kind. He walked as if he was running. He wore full-sleeve shirts all the film. He always drove himself. I would send him balloons every birthday.
I've never seen a more non-controversial person. I've never heard anyone speaking against him.
Image: Raakhee and Dev Anand in Heera Panna
'I didn't interact much with Dharmendra'
Dharmendra was my first hero in Jeevan Mrityu. I had a very small role as a widow. It had been rejected by several other leading ladies.
I didn’t interact much with him then.
We later did Blackmail together. I consider my performance in Blackmail to be my best. Vijay Anand was my favourite director. I would listen very carefully before performing.
Vijay Anand was an all-rounder. I learnt a lot from him.
Image: Raakhee and Dharmendra in Blackmail
'Manoj Kumar's script sense was very developed'
I did a few films with Manoj Kumar.
His script sense was very developed. The way he took his shots were amazing. I give him credit for nurturing his character Bharat.
Like Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra and Jeetendra, Manoj Kumar had his own fan following.
Image: Raakhee and Manoj Kumar
'Raaj Kumar lived in his own world'
Raaj Kumar and I did only two films, Lal Patthar and Muqaddar Ka Faisla together.
During Lal Patthar, I remember he was wearing a jacket with the Ashoka chakra on it and I pointed out that the story was set during the pre-Independence era.
But in Lal Patthar, he couldn’t do what Uttam Kumar did in the Bengali version of the film.
Raaj Kumar lived in his own world. He was most non-interfering.
I had heard that he often lost his cool but he knew how to respect a lady. He had very high principles.
Image: Raakhee and Raaj Kumar in Lal Patthar
'Rishi Kapoor once fainted when he saw live crabs in my car'
Chintu (Rishi Kapoor) and I did one film called Doosra Aadmi together.
Once he fainted when he saw live crabs. We were shooting in Khandala then.
I had brought crabs in my car. When Chintu saw the crabs crawling around, he groaned and fell to the ground.
Image: Raakhee and Rishi Kapoor in Doosra Aadmi