How Bollywood copes with birthdays, bouquets, greetings and well-wishers, writes Subhash K Jha

Somehow the month of November is when an unusually large number of actors in Bollywood turn a year older. Indeed Zeenat Aman, Rehana Sultan and Sushmita Sen are all 19th November-born Scorpios.

How Bollywood copes with birthdays, bouquets, greetings and well-wishers, writes Subhash K Jha

Subhash K Jha

What’s it about women born on November 19 that makes them clutter-breakers of extraordinary dimensions? Zeenat Aman, Rehana Sultan and Sushmita Sen are all 19th November-born Scorpios.

Fiercely independent, all three redefined the Hindi film heroine and ushered in a new-age post-feminist female protagonist who could look after herself quite well, thanks. Zeenat’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna: Starting out your career as the heroine’s sister? No way! Many leading ladies said no to the role of Dev Anand’s hippy sister. Zeenat grabbed the part and added dum dum and more dum into her career. Her Satyam Shivam Sundaram: With her face scarred and her body more exposed than any mainstream heroine dared, Zeenat romped across this epic film with a couldn’t-care-less grace that most heroines could only dream about.

In Manoranjan, she played a full-on whore, not the filmy kind whose activities are more perpendicular (dancing) than horizontal. Zeenat played a full-blown streetwalker in Shammi Kapoor’s directorial debut. She oozed oomph in the shortest of dresses and longest of coitus situations.

In Pyaas, playing a sweeper, in a film directed by her discoverer O.P. Ralhan, Zeenat was as convincing as Smita Patil would have been were she to play Zeenat in a bio-pic. She failed. So what? Zeenat never shied away from trying. In Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, Zeenat played another unconventional role where the heroine dumps her middleclass jobless boyfriend to marry wealth. Sharmila Tagore had refused the role.

Rehana Sultan made a career of playing unconventional roles. As for Sushmita, she made a life and career out of breaking norms. And how can we forget Tabu, another November born, who is among the most adventurous and incandescent divas of our cinema.

MY DATE WITH BIRTHDAYS IN BOLLYWOOD

This month when so many screen divas turn a year older, I think of all the birthdays that come and go in Bollywood every year. As every producer and his favourite financier know, the number of bouquets that you see in a star’s house on the day after a birthday determines his or her popularity.

Many years ago, I had been to my friend Urmila Matondkar’s house on the day after her birthday. The entire space outside her apartment was strewn with bouquets.

“What do you do with them,” an exasperated Raakhee Gulzar had wondered aloud after her birthday. She firmly believes flowers look nice on trees. “I give the bouquets away to friends and neighbours as far as possible. But a lot of stars just dump them anywhere,” Raakhee was genuinely perturbed.

I remember she had cooked this sumptuous meal on her birthday. The menu at her place remained unchanged whenever I’ve been treated to her impeccable cooking.

Coincidentally, I’ve been in Mumbai for two of Urmila’s birthdays. Last year the number of bouquets remained undiminished. Urmila and I, just the two of us, had a blast. After I imperiously informed her that I won’t have any of the cake that I had gotten for her, I dug into the sumptuous cake she brought out.

Oh, by the way, Urmila is one of the best hostesses in Mumbai. And one of the few film persons who actually enjoys the meal with you. Most of the others just smile and pretend to eat.

Incidentally, Urmila and Abhishek Bachchan were born a day apart. And he often jokes they could have a joint birthday party. I was once in Mumbai for Abhishek’s birthday. He was shooting with his dad and Aishwarya Rai for the soon to be hysterically-historical item song Kajra re. Abhishek was in his element, fooling around, attending the endless stream of calls from strangers and acquaintances who wanted to wish him.

How many calls does an average star get on his or her birthday? It all depends on how ‘un-average’ you are.

For Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan, it would be impossible to attend to all the calls and messages on their birthdays. However, after the event, Mr B sends out personally signed letters to all his well-wishers.

When it comes to remembering friends’ birthdays, the Bachchans are the uncrowned royal family of Bollywood. On my birthday, I look forward to their individual calls, and they never disappoint. In fact, there’s not a single person in their list of friends whose birthday they ever forget.

I wish my other star friends would be just as particular about birthdays. A lot of them forget your existence on the most important day of the year. “Oh forgot it yaar,” my colleagues in Mumbai console me. They are stars. They aren’t expected to remember ordinary mortals’ birthdays.

But I refuse to be cowed down. Once when the stunning Ash sent me an SMS on my birthday (our birthdays are separated by a day), I immediately demanded she call me to do the needful. Lovely obliging girl that she is, she did. We now have a pact. I call her on her birthday. She calls on my birthday the next day.

I now understand not too many people have the privilege of Ms Rai calling them to wish them a happy birthday. That feels good.

A lot of stars love to get lost on their birthdays. Even Urmila until a few years ago used to vanish to destinations-unknown. And even the closest of friends won’t find the reticent Gulzar Saab at home on his birthday. He’s just too shy to take the barrage of good wishes on his birthday.

The hermetic Lata Mangeshkar generally checks into a hotel on her birthday to avoid the unending stream of guests and greetings at home. Kareena can be either all over the place or nowhere to be found on her birthday. Raveena starts her birthday with a visit to the temple, while Preity and Karan spend the entire day glued to the phone talking to the well-wishers.

Shabana Azmi is eminently accessible while Rekha’s birthday messages have to be left on her answering machine. She’ll respond later if she so wishes.

But there’s only one person in Bollywood who hates to be wished on his birthday. And that’s Ram Gopal Varma. So any aspirant hoping to get a role by sucking up to Ramu on his birthday better get wise quick.

For all the latest India News, Follow India Section.