Yes, I Think I’m Beautiful: Hema Malini

Ageless, timeless, classic beauty…All these descriptions of Bollywood’s resident dream-girl evaporate when you speak to the graceful beauty. A special conversation with the diva on her birthday

Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Subhash K Jha

“Yes, I Think I’m Beautiful,” Hema Malini Who Turns 70 On October 16, finally stops brushing off the compliments. She speaks to Subhash K Jha

Ageless, timeless, classic beauty…All these descriptions of Bollywood’s resident dream-girl evaporate when you speak to the graceful beauty. So matter-of-point to-the-point and comfortable in her space, you wonder is this the woman whom they called the only female superstar, who took no nonsense from any of her male colleagues and resurrected careers of many slumping male superstars from Rajesh Khanna in Premnagar to Manoj Kumar in Sanyasi. On her birthday Subhash K Jha chats up with the ageless diva

So, what makes this birthday so special?

You tell me. People like you make it special for me. Believe it or not, I didn’t know what  a birthday  was until I was  16 years old. I don’t remember any birthday party as a child. Even that 16th birthday party was organised by my producer Ananthswamy who discovered me for Hindi cinema in Sapnon  Ka Saudagar. It was when he insisted that I have a birthday party I realised, ‘My God, birthday mein party hota  hai kya?’

Q. What do you mean?

My mother never celebrated my or my brother’s birthday. I don’t know why! Looking back it seems so funny. Sad, no? I think birthdays are big in North India not so big in the South.

Q. So, after 16 you became addicted to birthday parties?

Once you become a star everyone is eager to celebrate your birthday. There would be a cake on the sets, co-artistes singing for me. I started looking forward to my birthdays.

Q. What about your plans to direct another film?

It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere(laughs). I must get a script that inspires me.  Direction is not an easy job. I’ve so many other responsibilities.  Dancing makes me so happy. When I enact those divine roles of Durga, Kali, Ma Laxmi on stage I feel a deep sense of peace and satisfaction. When I want the audience to see Radha’s purity in me, I’ve to believe in that purity. Something sublime happens inside me when I’m on stage. Dancing was always my main passion. I don’t need film offers to keep me busy. Now I’ve to attend Rajya Sabha as well.

Q. Are you as happy as you look?

I wouldn’t say everything is perfect.  One doesn’t always get what one wants in life. When one is younger one dreams of a perfect life, which doesn’t exist. I didn’t get everything that I wanted. But I never gave myself the opportunity to miss all the things that I didn’t have. I had my two daughters. The last 30 years of my life just sped by with them. Taking them to school, looking at their homework, doing their hair and managing their tantrums I relived my own childhood.  Now when they’re grown up I suddenly I look back and I feel, “Arrey, I missed out on something!”

Q. What did you miss out on?

(breaks into laughter). Maybe I expected more of my husband’s company. I thought we’ll be together more often. I never felt that absence until now. When I married I thought we’d come to an arrangement that would suit all of us. Lekin nahin hua. But it’s okay. I accept the situation. I got my daughters. He has many problems to look after. As a human being I’m bound to have regrets….But he loves me like mad. When I think of his feelings for me everything seems worth it, even his physical absence.

Q. But you’re envied by women all over the country.

Am I? I’m thankful for all that I’ve. And now that I’m in the Rajya Sabha I want to do more for the country. It’s not enough to be a beautiful admired celebrity. It’s important to use that power for social good. Even my dance performances are for charitable causes.

Q. How do you plan to spend your birthday this year?

I’ve never been a birthday person. Cutting cakes makes me very embarrassed. But what to do? Earlier during my days of hectic shooting, a cake would be carted in the middle of shooting with all my co-stars and technicians singing. Now it’s family and friends.

Q. You are a year older. But your radiance and beauty remain undiminished?

(peals of laughter) Radiance and beauty? Thank you. But it’s well-wishers and supporters like you and fans who have kept me going  for so long without stopping. You know, until recently I had never thought of myself as beautiful!

Q. I know, In fact whenever I say you take my breath away, you laugh at me.

Ha ha, so true. I still believe there are many women far more beautiful than me in the country. But now I’ve started believing I am not so bad either. I would look at pictures of myself from 30 years and cringe. But now I can look at old pictures of mine with more confidence, and say, kuch toh baat hai, varna itne dinon tak main kaise tik payee hoon (how else did I manage to sustain myself for so long?).

Q. Arrey wah, aapki Hindi toh bilkul Tamil jaisi nahin lag rahi (your Hindi doesn’t sound like Tamil)?

(Pretends to be offended) What do you mean? Meri Hindi bahot shuddh aur spasht hai. Of course, there would be a flavour of your place of origin.  Your native tongue should and must remain a part of your expression. I am very proud of the Tamil tinge in my Hindi.

Q. We love it too.  But tell me, aapke soundarya ka kya raaz hai?

(straightway without a thought) Good clean honest living. I’ve always been a very straightforward  and blunt person. That trait has got me into a lot of trouble specially since my political career began. But I don’t regret calling a spade a spade. I’ve never believed in hiding the truth from myself or from others. Because you lie once you go on lying to cover up for that one lie. Too much stress. I never want edit, never opted for it.

Q. Tell me about the biography?

Yes, I was not even aware that Ram Kamal Mukherjee was writing it. In fact, he had written a coffee table book on me fifteen years ago and surprised me with it. I had no idea he was writing that book either. When I saw it I was very pleased.  It had rare lovely pictures of me. The Foreword to that book was written by Amitabh Bachchan ji. Now after 15 years so many things have happened to my life specially politics and I am also a grand mother now. So, I think another book is a good idea.

Q. How did the idea of the Prime Minister writing the Foreword to the new book come to you?

Ram Kamal just came to me and said he has written the book about my life and would our prime minister Narendra Modi ji write a Foreword.

Q. How did you get The Prime Minister to write the Foreword?

It was very simple. I just had to ask him. He wanted details about the book and its content. That was it. I must say it was very kind and generous of him.

Q. What is your advice to people who look up to you?

Follow your dreams. Never say no to any opportunity. Think positive. And don’t bother with what your neighbour is doing. I never looked at the competition around me. For me my career, my family and my life are all that mattered.

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