I’ve known Urmila Matondkar from the time she gave her finest performance in Ram Gopal Varma’s Kaun. As a seemingly normal girl left alone in a big bungalow for the weekend by her parents, Urmila was scary, damn scary.
I had to seek her out. I asked my friend Ram Gopal Varma to introduce us. And that’s how I landed up at the home of an actress who is a dear friend and one of the gentlest kindest and most entertaining human beings in the Indian film industry.
I remember it was a day after her birthday. The entire lobby of her apartment building leading right up to her apartment was strewn with bouquets.
“Woh Urmila Madame ka happy birthday tha,” the liftman had smiled.
Reserved, reticent and somewhat enigmatic, Urmila and I immediately warmed up to one another. I spent a good two hours with her. The lady is a marvelous entertainer. Her innocuous mimicry of the singing legends Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle had me in splits. (Sorry, Urmila, I know you told me not to talk about it). And there began our friendship which has endured over the years.
Somewhere along the course of our friendship Urmila shifted residence. She couldn’t wait for me to see her new swanky place. Neither could I. Some years ago, by coincidence I happened to be in Mumbai for her birthday. I reached her place with a cake. Urmila served me the cake that she cut the previous evening and, just so that I don’t feel left out, she served me some of the cake I had brought along. I finally knew what having one’s cake and eating it too, meant.
We spoke nineteen to the dozen. Rather, she spoke. I listened. It’s always that way whenever we meet up. There are very few stars in Mumbai I am as comfortable with. During one of my visits to Mumbai I had along my daughter Lata, my niece Pooja and my nephew Yash. Without a second thought we invited ourselves for dinner at Urmila’s place.
The embarrassingly large and loud invitees reached Urmila’s residence with some trepidation. Urmila was not the least fazed. She served us a banquet of food which I distinctly remember, included three types of rice preparations. And she had included fish because she knew I liked it.
And yes, unlike Karan Johar who just sits and watches me eat when he invites me for a meal Urmila tucks in. She really tucks in. The first time when I saw her eat my mouth fell open. How could someone with an hourglass figure (and let’s not pretend, Urmila has one of the most fabulous physiques Bollywood has ever seen) eat with such relish?
“I love my food, so don’t look at me like that. And I don’t go to the gym either.” Urmila’s infectious giggle had filled the room as her mother had smiled indulgently.
She is the consummate sunshine girl, our Urmila. Her laughter and her joie de vivre fill up the spaces around her and influence those who happen to be in her vicinity. But for all her unstoppered gregariousness Urmila is an extremely private person. Though I’ve known her for many many years and we have gossiped, chatted and bitched about the whole industry I’ve till date never discussed Urmila’s love life. She never told me when he fell in love with her Kashmiri husband Mohsin Akhtar.
I never asked. Urmila invites warmth. But she forbids an invasion of her private space even without having to say anything. And no one messes with Urmila. I dare anyone to try.
Her career has so far been dotted with surprises. From the spunky middle class Marathi wannabe star in Rangeela, to the rape-victim during Partition in Pinjar to the haunted woman in Bhoot, Urmila’s wide spectrum of roles are enviable for all actresses of her generation.
She once told me, “From the beginning of my career, I’ve never done roles for awards or recognition. I’ve never seen the need to prove anything to anybody. I never relied on specific types of roles. Right after Rangeela I did Judaai and Aflatoon, then took a U-turn to do Satya and Kaun. Now I feel there’s no point in accepting a role unless it excites me. Usually it’s the leading men who can manoeuvre and control their careers. I’m one of the few heroines who has been able to control her career. But the fact is, heroines have no control over a project. I’d love to select my subject and director and say, we’re on. But that isn’t possible. Maybe one day it will be possible.”
I once asked Urmila her definition of an ideal woman. Here’s what she said: “An independent spirit. To be liberated in mind and not just in body. It’s so funny when people think I’d hide my marriage to preserve my image. To me marriage is part of complete womanhood. A woman may not step out of her house, she may not know what a disco looks like. But she could be the perfect woman. To me an ideal woman is the one in the village of UP or Bihar who takes care of her large joint family without being forced to do so. Being a woman is about having choices. Having someone in one’s life, getting married, having children are normal and beautiful.”
Lady, you fit the bill rather well. Happy Birthday, Urmila. May you continue to spread sunshine. And yes, hoping to see a little Urmila in your arms soon.