The enigmatic Raakhee Gulzar also turns 75: She shares her birthday with India
The retired screen legend played a widow in her first film and went to play solemn women. She would have loved to play in comic roles, tells the reclusive actor to Subhash K Jha
She refuses to accept Lifetime Achievement awards because, and I quote her, she has achieved nothing and besides, her life is not over.
That is the quintessential Raakhee for you, with or without the poetic ‘Gulzar’ attached to her name. A recluse, a mother who seduces her children with her cooking, a free spirit shackled to her loved ones…she is all of this, and more.
Raakhee shares her birthday with Independent India.
“India was freed at the stroke of midnight on August 15. My freedom ended on that very day…on the day I was born I was shackled to family, loved ones, to my dreams and desires,” she once told me, and then laughed that hearty life-enforcing laughter that’s hers, and hers alone.
“From my friend the veteran actress Shammi I learnt to laugh from my heart rather than throat,” she told me.
Birthdays at one time used to be special for Raakhee di (I call her ‘Di’ short for sister). “Not anymore,” she sighed when I rang her up on 15 August to wish her on her birthday.
“When my mother was alive, and my home used to be filled with the sounds of giggling and squabbling relatives, Maa would cook my favourite dishes on my birthday. Now there is no one to cook for me. So, I cook for my staff and their family. When their children eat and smile happily, I am content.”
Raakhee di spends most of her time now on her farm on the outskirts of Mumbai where she lives with a Nepali couple and their two daughters. And the ten cows whom she looks after like her own.
Her day begins early as she strolls across her self-created paradise communing with exotic birds like the shy girl she played in Sharmilee…Or like that poised and confident housewife she played in Anil Ganguly’s Aanchal singing the immortal Lata Mangeshkar song Bhor bhaye panchi dhun yeh sunaye jago re gayi ritu phir nahinaaye…
When I first met Raakhee di, she lived in her bungalow named Muktangan. She had long ago separated from her husband Gulzar and made peace with solitude. Maintaining the bungalow soon became problematic for her. She sold Mukatangan to real-estate sharks under one condition. The high rise that was built after razing down her dream home would be named Muktangan.
Incidentally, another Bengali actress Bipasha Basu occupies one floor of the skyscraper that used to be Raakhee di’s abode. Leaving her home was a painful break for this emotional actress. Leaving her husband’s home was just as difficult. But the separation was inevitable. It happened soon after their marriage and motherhood when Raakhee di got restless. But she desisted from returning to the movie sets…until her neighbour Yash Chopra made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say the film Kabhi Kabhie killed Rakhee di’s marriage with Gulzar Saab. When they married, he had put forward only one condition: no more movies. But Yash Chopra conceived Kabhi Kabhie for Raakhee Gulzar. The entire film was written as a peaen to her beauty. It was too much temptation for a beautiful and talented woman to resist.
Recalls Raakhee di, “When I married Gulzar, Yash became our neighbour. He then offered me Kabhie Kabhie after my marriage. I think Kabhie Kabhie was conceived keeping me in mind. Lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, I think, wrote the songs keeping me in mind. Gulzar and I used to regularly visit Yash's home. This was during those times when I was pregnant with my daughter Meghna and Yash's son Adi was a child. One day in the presence of Amitabh Bachchan, they played a song and Pam said, 'This song is for Raakhee'. That's how Kabhie Kabhie was offered to me. Yash Chopra said, 'I'd drop the film. But I won't make it with any other heroine.' Since acting was the only thing I enjoyed, I agreed to do the film even after marriage.”
Raakhee di walked out, never to return to her marriage, though she and Gulzar Saab remain bonded by their daughter Meghna (Bosky) and Meghna’s son Samay.
Not that she spends her days brooding and sulking over her loneliness. There are many myths surrounding her personality. It is said she wallows in tragedy and has modeled her life and career on Meena Kumari.
Says Raakhee di, “People believe Meena Kumari is my favourite actress. My favourite is actually Vyjanthimala. I heroine-worship her. When I met for the for the first time I gawked and gushed like a fan. She fills up the screen like no other heroine. And I wish I could dance like her. Sadly, I am blessed with two left feet. Strangely, I was saddled with weepy roles from the beginning. My first Hindi film Jeevan Mrityu featured me as a widow. Trade experts said that was the end of my career. How could I play a widow in my first film?! My most famous roles are that of serious solemn women like in Daag, Tapasya, Trishna, Kabhi Kabhie, 27 Down, Paroma, Ram Lakhanand Karan Arjun. I longed to do comedy, to play fun roles. Sadly, I never got to laugh much in my films.”
Then follows that throaty laughter. As I look at this peaceful retired screen legend now, I recall many feisty interludes in her life. I remember when I visited the sets of my dear departed friend Rituparno Ghosh’s detective
thriller Shubho Mahurat in Kolkata in 2003, Raakhee di was shooting with, gulp, Sharmila Tagore.
There was much tension in the air. The two Bengali tigresses had shared icy vibes during the making of Yash Chopra’s Daag. Later Sharmila’s proximity to Gulzar Saab caused Raakhee di a great deal of heartburn. But for those hoping to see fireworks on Rituparno’s sets, sorry, the two ladies were civil, even friendly.
Many years ago, Raakhee di was in Patna as our guest. She is the only film personality to have met both my parents. She stayed in our home like one of us, cooked fish in our kitchen and told us all the secrets of her life. We took her to Bodh Gaya to see Gautam Buddha’s place of birth. She was happy. On the way she ate at roadside dhabas, drank water from hand pumps, tied a dupatta around her famous face and mingled with the multitudes.
Raakhee di loves to be adventurous and free spirited. But that beast called life ties her down every time she wants to float freely.