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'Ma always forgot her lines'

Shilpa Bharatan-Iyer

Dina Pathak To any Hindi movie buff, the name Dina Pathak conjures images of a stern matriarch from the Ashok Kumar, Rekha and Rakesh Roshan starrer-Khoobsurat.

The resourceful Mrs Sharma --- clambering through the kitchen window and saving the day for her 'adopted children', Ram Prasad and Ratna (Amol Palekar and Manju Sinha) --- in Golmaal.

As she turns 80, I took a walk down memory lane with Dina's actor-daughters, Ratna Pathak- Shah and Supriya Pathak-Kapur.

"Ma is a totally self-made woman. She is absolutely independent. She is really affectionate, sentimental and friendly. It comes across on screen as well," notes Supriya.

"Ma's absolutely giving. She is one person you can count on to come through. Plus she is totally family-oriented. She has been a brick, especially after we had our own kids. Now that she is older, she has mellowed a lot. Earlier, she was very anxious about getting everything right. Progressively, she has learnt to take things as they come," adds Ratna.

Continues Ratna, "Even as kids, we remember, she was always clued on to what we were doing. In fact, just the other day, my Mami [Aunt] mentioned to me how Ma would come up with the most appropriate gifts for us. The gift would be the next logical step to the books or toys on which we were hooked. I think the biggest gift Ma has given us is her unfailing support in all our endeavours ranging from schoolwork to picnics to plays."

Talking about Dina Pathak's career in Hindi cinema --- a fraction of the sum total of her screen and stage oeuvre --- Ratna further reminisces: "You know, it was to do with her first major Hindi film, Jal Bin Machhli Nritya Bin Bijli. All of us had gone to watch Ma in action in this V Shantaram offering. The film got going and we were appalled by the dances and the sets. Ma played this Queen in a big black cloak. The cloak had a big golden 'J' written on it, where Ma kept a vial of poison. We were in splits.

"That embarrassed Ma no end. We had a ball making fun of her. In retrospect, I realise how sensitive you are about your work. What it must have meant for Ma, to have all of us go to the theatre only to laugh at her work. I must say Ma took all that ribbing very sportingly. She knows how to take criticism in her seasoned stride and can dish it out, too."

Chips in Supriya: "One incident stands out in my mind. This was during the shooting of Hrishiji's [Hrishikesh Mukherjee] Golmaal. Ma returned one day from her shooting, looking pleased as punch. She told us the scene required her to climb through a kitchen window. She felt really fulfilled that, in the light of her girth, she was still able to crawl through. That, she said, was mainly due to all the vyayamshala shiksha [physical education] she had gone through in her school days.

"At her Marathi-oriented school in Mumbai, she had done a lot of malkhamb (exercise) in her time. This was the dress rehearsal signal for a lot of 'motherly' advice to us! She was very happy with Golmaal and the way her role in it turned out."

"During the making of Golmaal, around 1979, Hrishiji discussed the subject of Khoobsurat with Ma. The way her role finally shaped made Ma feel really happy.

As a character artiste, Ma often had scripts narrated to her. The end result had little resemblance to what was sketched out. Hence, she was really happy to work on a script where she had a well-defined role," points out Supriya.

"As for the two of us, we have worked together in a handful of films and serials. Ma directed me in my first play, Gujrathi Maina Gurjari. You might recall seeing Ma, Ratna and me together in Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala."

Ratna observes, "We three also acted together in one episode of the television serial, Idhar Udhar. Though both of us were together with Ma in Mirch Masala, our characters had very few scenes together in the film, so our interaction on the sets was limited.

"We had an overall great time during Idhar Udhar. It felt rather strange to be in front of the camera alongside Ma. You know, Ma's always had a problem with remembering her lines, so we kept prompting her. It took us close on three days to finish that particular episode," winds up Ratna.

Do the talented sisters turn to Ma for acting lessons? "No," Supriya is the first to answer. "Ma and I have very different styles of working. Though Ma might comprehend me 'actress to actress', there's not much help she can offer me with any aspect of a portrayal of mine."

Ratna, for her part, has a different perspective: "Ma might not have anything to say on a specific aspect of a role you portray," she observes, "but she will tell you something that touches the very soul of the character. She may not give you any technical guidance but she will give you a pointer on the emotional thread. That, I think, has been Ma's strength --- getting into the skin of the character.

"Oh, the number of times I have had people come and tell me about how they have an aunt exactly like Ma. Or wishing their mother was like ours. The true measure of Ma's success, as a thinking-feeling performer, lies in the fact that she makes everyone wish they had a grandmother like her."

What next? Supriya, generally the first to respond, states, "I think Ma should be doing work that truly excites her. She should work for directors or on themes that enthuse her. My husband, actor Pankaj Kapur, has just written a script with Ma in mind. A role that is tailormade for her. I do hope the film gets made. As long as Ma's enjoying her work, we are happy for her."

Ratna has the last word, "Do you know that Ma's still the busiest star in the family? She's shooting 10-15 days of the month. The rest of us lag behind in this respect. Considering the routine work usually offered to her, I think it is just fabulous that, 65 years after she started acting, Ma still has the energy and passion to keep going. At 80, she can get up in the morning and still find something to look forward. I think that's the biggest blessing of all."