'I think my performance in Ray's Devi still ranks as my best.'
"During the lockdown, I got a chance to watch all my films for the first time; and I mean all, even the less known ones like Badnaam Farishtay and Shaandaar," says Sharmila Tagore.
The actress looks back at her movies, and the power of cinema, and tells Subhash K Jha, "You can’t underestimate the power of commercial cinema."
You’ve spoken about how mainstream Hindi cinema has been getting short shrift for too long. How do you feel about this now?
You can’t underestimate the power of commercial cinema.
It’s so easy to rubbish popular cinema.
Often, I’ve been a part of both popular cinema and the other side, Satyajit Ray’s world.
Of course, both can’t be compared but they definitely have a contribution to make in their own ways.
Your films like Aradhana and Chupke Chupke cut across cultural, religious and political boundaries.
I have seen Aradhana being appreciated with equal enthusiasm in Guwahati, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata... everywhere, people react to the film’s emotions in the same way.
I was in South Africa once. They told me, "Your films were our only link to India in the 1960s. We used to dress up and go to theatre every Sunday to watch your films."
In this way, I became a part of their lives.
What a wonderful tribute to the power of commercial cinema!
Yes, Indian actors have a fan base in every part of the world.
Dilip Kumar’s popularity cut across boundaries.
In Pakistan, they gave him their highest civilian honour.
Dilip Kumar was so popular everywhere... in Tanzania, Bangladesh, the West Indies.
Do you feel Indian cinema helps shape the Indian mindset?
I’m a part of two film industries -- Bengal and Mumbai -- and they contribute so much to society.
One can switch on a commercial film at any time to uplift one’s mood.
One forgets the value of these cinematic entertainers.
Of course, there are good films, bad films, indifferent films... but there’s so much diversity to choose from.
I mean, you may like Rajesh Khanna, I may prefer Sanjeev Kumar. Someone else may be partial to Dilip Kumar or Amitabh Bachchan.
There’s so much to choose from!
Now we have Satyajit Ray in Hindi commercial cinema with Manoj Bajpaiyee doing an adaptation of a Ray story.
I don’t think Satyajit Ray would have been able to recognise the stories in the Ray anthology as his.
It doesn’t matter. It was a tribute.
There are so many ways to interpret Ray’s vision.
You know, a lot of people from the Hindi film industry didn’t appreciate Ray when he first started.
There was that famous incident of Nargis Dutt criticising Ray in Parliament for exporting Indian poverty to the West.
In fact, Ray dignified poverty. Except for Pather Panchali, Apur Sansar, Aparjito and Ashani Sanket, none of his films were based in a milieu of poverty. Charulata and Jalasaghar were not poverty-based.
His cinema is grounded in human values.
Which among your own performances do you rank as the best?
I know you like me in Amar Prem the best (laughs).
During the lockdown, I got a chance to watch all my films for the first time; and I mean all, even the less known ones like Badnaam Farishtay and Shaandaar.
I think my performance in Ray's Devi still ranks as my best.
It was all the great man's doing, of course. I knew nothing about acting back then.
What about Saif?
What about him?
Which of his performances do you rate high?
I think Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara was a game changer for him.
He proved he could transform into a character completely alien to his own personality.
I also like him in some of his lighter roles like Yeh Dillagi and Hum Tum.