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In her long career, Rohini Hattangady has played all sorts of mothers in Hindi films. And while she's excelled at it, the actress admits she was so bored of the role, she wanted to switch it for any other -- including a vamp!
In a candid chat with Patcy N, the lady who starred in such films like Gandhi, Saraansh, Arth, Agneepath, Shahenshah and Munnabhai MBBS talks about her long career in the movies.
I was born and brought up in Pune. I wanted to study medicine but I couldn't get into Pune's medical college, so I left the city after graduation.
My elder brother is a civil engineer and works with the Central Water and Power Research Station, Khadakwasla. My mother was a Montessori teacher and my father had a job and also did theatre.
When I was in the ninth class, a teacher wrote a professional children's play and wanted me to act in it. That was my first professional stage performance. We did 25 shows of that play.
When I was in college, I started acting in plays with my father's drama group. I did my first play as an adult under my father's direction.
My father was my first guru. He taught me acting. He taught me to think that it is not just entertainment but it is beyond that.
NSD and Jayadev:
After I graduated, I started looking for a job as a lab assistant. Then I heard that the central government was giving scholarships to 25 people in different art forms -- singing, painting, dance and theatre etc. My father told me to apply and I did.
One day, I got a call for an interview in Kolkata. The final interview was in Delhi and it was taken by Ebrahim Alkazi.
I went to the National School of Drama in Delhi.
There were four awards in the final year: best actor, director, stagecraft, and all-round student. I won the best actor and Jayadev Hattangady won best director.
We fell in love and decided to get married. My father was not too keen on it because we were both from the theatre and he wondered how we would survive.
We asked for a year to try out something in our field; if we both couldn't earn enough then I would get a full time job in a bank because most Marathi actors at that time were working in a bank and also acting, like Amol Palekar, Ashok Saraf, Asha Dandavate, Dilip Kolhatkar, Reema Lagoo and her husband Vivek Lagoo and Usha Nadkarni.
After a year, we realised that we can survive just by acting and my parents agreed for us to marry.
Jayadev's family never had a problem. In fact, my mother-in-law was very supportive. I would come back from a play late at night and in the morning she would not ask me to get up early and do the house work. Because she did so much for me I would get up early and do half of the house work.
After my son was born, I did the household chores because she had to take care of the child the whole day.
I knew Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah from our NSD days -- they were my seniors. I also became friends with Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Sudhanshu Mishra, Sudhir Mishra, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Renu Saluja -- they were all one gang and they had all passed out from FTTI (Film and Television Institute of India) and were friends of Om and Naseer.
Saeed Mirza was making a film Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastan (1978) and he asked me whether I will act in it. Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastan never released in theatres but later released on television.
After that, I had just one scene in Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai (1980) and then did Chakra (1981). These three films were my training ground as I had come from theatre and was doing an altogether different medium, films.
Gandhi happened soon after. I returned from a tour with the Marathi play Rath Chakra when I received a note from Jaidev saying that we have to meet Sir Richard Attenborough in the evening as Dolly Thakore (who was casting for Gandhi) had set up a meeting with him.
I knew Dolly, but I had not even heard about Sir Richard! Jaidev asked me if I had seen the film The Great Escape. I said yes and he told me Sir Richard had acted in that film.
Sir Richard was in Delhi and was on his way back to England with a brief halt of five hours in Mumbai. Some of us met him at the Centaur Hotel in Santa Cruz.
After I came back, I got a telegram from Dolly Thakore -- since I did not have phone then -- to call her urgently. I called her up and she told me that I had to go to England for a screen test.
I was zapped.
I didn't have a passport and had to leave in eight days. Secondly, my theatre shows were already booked. Dolly insisted that I go. She got me my passport -- she personally went with me to the passport office and used her sources to get me my passport.
I got my passport late on Saturday night and had to catch a flight early morning Monday.
I started packing after I got my passport. They had asked me to get a khadi sari, but I didn't have one, and my cotton saris were Calcutta cotton saris, all bright colours with zari borders. So I bought three saris. I had to wear it in the Gujarati style. Sir Richard selected one of the saris I took for me to wear in the film.
I took a blouse I was wearing in a play because all my blouses were too stylish and Kasturba's blouse would be very simple. I took a few more things from my plays that would be required for me to look my part. Here, my NSD training came in handy.
At the hotel in London my name was written on the door. I was so kicked! It felt so nice.
They gave us a make-up man but I had to tell him how to tie my hair. All of us who went there for the auditions were given scenes which we had to perform.
Sir Richard introduced me to Ben Kingsley who played Gandhi. Here in Mumbai, I was used to doing rehearsals. I was not sure whether Ben would agree for rehearsals. I was thinking of all these things when he said, "Rohini, should we do our rehearsals?" I felt such relief.
I had to do the cleaning the latrine scene. We prepared and went to the sets. We performed the scene and they shot the whole thing with close-ups and from every angle. Then they changed my make-up and made me look old and gave me spectacles and did a photo session.
The same day Naseeruddin Shah and Bhakti Barve landed. Naseer was teamed with Smita Patil and Bhakti Barve was teamed with John Hurt. The next day was a holiday so they were going to see all the auditions on day three.
When I came back to India, Dolly told me they liked me but I had to lose some weight. I was overweight for my age at 65 kilos. I had to lose 16 pounds in a month.
I told Dolly I can't afford a dietician. They paid for it and I lost seven kilos in a month.
After that, I was told I was in.
At the time I thought how can a movie on Gandhi be interesting? I knew Gandhi only by what I had read in textbooks and one or two stories from here and there. So I went to Mani Bhavan (in Mumbai) and read books on Gandhi and saw pictures of Kasturba.
We were in Delhi for a month before the shoot began. We read the script. I had to work on my English and had elocution lessons with Kusum Haider and learnt charka spinning from Mr and Mrs Handa.
After lots of practice, Ben and I could spin good thread. We rehearsed together, read up on Gandhi and Kasturba and exchanged reading material. We shot for 25 weeks. We started in November and ended in May.
We built the Sabarmati Ashram in Delhi, inch to inch. We shot the scene when Gandhi was thrown out of the train in South Africa in Panvel (near Mumbai). In Patna we shot the scene where foreign clothes were drowned in water, and the train sequence where the engine gets derailed and Charlie Andrews climbs onto the train was shot in Udaipur in Rajasthan.
We shot the round table conference in England. Pune's Fergusson College was the location for the burning the passes scene, and we shot at the Aga Khan Palace for my death scene and the scene with Margaret Bourke White. In Bombay we shot the cleaning the latrine scene. We shot two days in Porbandar, but I did not go there.
The magnitude of the Gandhi film came to me much later. At that time it was just playing that character, nothing else. I even won a BAFTA for the role and I knew that it had made an impact. I realised that people have watched the movie.
The money that I got for Gandhi wasn't really big -- I got Rs 1.50 lakh. I was paid Rs 1,000 for Chakra, so if you compare that with Gandhi's Rs 1.50 lakh, the latter was much higher.
After Gandhi, the pay scale changed, but not much. The first film that I did after it was Arth. I don't remember how much I got for that. But I started getting Rs 50,000 for commercial films and it later gradually increased
On her mother roles:
Immediately after Gandhi, I did Arth where I played my age. But after that I got pregnant and took a break. Meawhile, Gandhi released but Arth's release was stalled. Saraansh released next, where, again, I play an old woman.
To some extent, I was disappointed to be playing mother to everyone. But I took the roles thinking that some day they will realise that I am young and can do younger roles.
But once you are typecast, you are typecast forever.
I was fed up of doing the same kind of monotonous mother's role-single-handedly raising the children, without a husband. If I had a husband, he would die in the first scene. And if the husband was there in the movie, then the wife would have nothing much to do in the film.
The producers were not ready to take a risk with a different role for me. So, in frustration, I turned down the mother roles. I turned down offers from big banners, like Feroz Khan's Jaanbaaz, and Mukul Anand's Sultanat in which I would have played Amrish Puri's wife, and not have much to do.
I know it was foolish but I was bored.
I told my secretary to give me something different, may be a negative mother's role. Or even a vamp.
That's when I got Chalbaaz and that role really satisfied me. I had done something different. I had done one episode of Karamchand with Pankaj Parashar (the director of Chalbaaz). It was a fun episode and I had a comic role.
Pankaj approached me for Jalwa where I played the role of a moll, Sri Baby. He liked it a lot and offered me Chalbaaz.
He told me to do any make-up and hairstyle I wanted as I was a punk woman. We tried lots of hairstyles to give me the punk look. I have a very desi face, and plus the make-up had to be done in an hour. I have straight hair so we decided to tie a high bun and keep a hairpiece in the front, which took just 15 minutes to do.
There was a scene where Sridevi does a bad make-up job on me. So Pankaj told me to put on some really bad make-up for the scene. I did some things like a black tooth, made one eye big... but Pankaj was not happy with it.
I was wondering what else I could do when Sridevi asked if she could try. She asked her make-up artist to bring her old wig and gelled it and then did the make-up on my face. When Pankaj saw it, he loved it.
I was very happy doing such roles because it was a change.
Then I did Amiri Garibi, where again I played a negative character. I got a comedy role in Pukar where I played Namrata Shirodkar's mother.
After saying no to Mukul Anand's Sultanat, I went to meet him for Agneepath. The first thing he told me was 'Tum toh maa ka role nahi karne wali thi na?' I told him frankly that at that I time I was fed up of mother roles and jokingly said that if this role was not good I won't do it.
He laughed and said there is no way you will say no to this role. It was a lovely role. I told him this is the first time I am hearing the story of an Amitabh Bachchan film where all the characters are so well defined. Otherwise, in all the Amitabh films, the main roles were Amitabh, the heroine, and the villain; the rest don't have any roles.
Amitabh is a very good co-actor. He is around 12 years older than me but after doing Kasturba and Saaransh and playing mother for so long, I could pass off as his mother!
I did Agneepath and Shahenshah with him and in both films I played his mother. In one scene in Shahenshah, I had to beat Amitabh with a baton. I was very scared of hurting him. So we thought of padding him, but that would have made him look fat. We tried all kinds of batons. The one made of thermocol would break, the rubber baton would bend, nothing looked good. Ultimately, we got the actual baton and Amitji said 'Rohiniji ab aap do char laga he do'. So I hit him a few times.
Playing mother to Jeetendra and Dharmendra:
I have done four films with Jeetuji (Jeetendra) but they were mostly remakes of south films. With Mithun, I have done two films. I have not had as much interaction with them as I have had with Amitji and Dharamji.
My NSD background made me ask lots of question when the script was given to me or once the scene was explained to me.
In Zakhmi Sher, I was a young woman who throws out her husband played by Amrish Puri, for being a traitor. My elder son is eight years old at that time, and I have two more kids. I work hard to educate my kids. My elder son played by Jeetendra grows up to become an army officer and we stay in this huge haveli after that.
I asked the assistant director how we could be so rich.
Plus, my elder son was eight when he last saw his father and he doesn't remember him when he sees him, how is that possible?
If I questioned such things they would just say 'madam, it doesn't fit in the script'.
It was fun to play mother to Dharamji (Dharmendra). I think I have done four films with him. I was never the biological mother but the moohboli maa (one who is regarded as a mother).
We were doing Humse Na Takrana, in Ooty. It was a comic scene where I played his mother and had to beat him with a broom as he was teasing me.
We did many improvisations and got so carried away that we came out of the house and were fighting on the verandah. That was hilarious. Dharamji has got a lovely sense of humour and plays comic characters equally well.
While shooting a song scene in Humse Na Takrana, I had not slept for two days. I had to sit in front of the idol and a bhajan would play in the background.
I was just sitting and dozing when suddenly someone came and said you have to lip sync two lines. In that sleepy state, I did that song. That is the first and last time I did not know what I was shooting or why I was shooting. I don't even remember what song it was.
I signed a film called Tamacha. I was narrated some other story but when the actual shooting started, the story had changed and I had just three scenes. I wanted to walk out of the film but the producers said they had taken my dates much in advance and I couldn't leave now. I did the film but I never added that film to my bio-data.
Television and theatre
I started doing television serials with Khandaan. I was doing theatre, television plus films -- I don't know how I managed it.
The television scenario was not like it is today where you have to work on all 30 days. We had schedules; the serials were also weekly, not daily like today, so there was not that much stress and the number of episodes was less too.
Today, we don't know whether we are shooting the next day or not, or what the scene is. They are very disorganised.
I got fed up when I was shooting for a daily soap because scripts were last-minute and shooting times erratic.
The storyline changes according to the TRPs. If something is working on another channel, they will add it to our serial too.
Jaidev and I worked with a theatre group called Aavishkar which was formed by Sulabha Deshpande and her husband Arvind. We did lots of plays and workshops with under-privileged children. When I got busy Jaidev did it alone for 30 years. He even taught a blind girl.
Nowadays, I am not doing many films because there are no good roles. After Munnabhai MBBS, no role has appealed to me.
There are no good mother roles now and producers can't offer me anything other than mother roles. Maybe people will accept me in some other role but not producers. I have reduced the number of plays too because of a knee pain.
I am doing Telugu films that are keeping me busy. I recently played Mahesh Babu and Venkatesh's grandmother in a film called Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu and people appreciated my role.