Minutes before her arrival, when the audio-visual was played giving a glimpse of her biographical book Beyond the Dream Girl, there was loud cheer among the audience. They couldn’t wait to see the all-time Dream Girl. At the Shabdotsav literary festival organised at the Symbiosis International (Deemed) University, Hema Malini, actress, classical dancer and politician, along with Ram Kamal Mukherjee, the writer of her biography, Beyond the Dream Girl, was present to talk about her book, life and her desire to continue acting.
Dressed in a light coloured tulle saree, she came across as an epitome of grace and beauty. When she did namaste, the audience responded with hoots and her smile stole every heart.
Excerpts from the session and interview:
The Sholay actress said that Pune has been her second home as her guru Maa Indira Devi used to reside here and she would visit her ashram whenever she was in town. “My bond with Maa Indira Devi is very strong as she has done so much for me and changed my life completely. And my connection with the city too is very very deep. Over the years, the city has undergone many changes but it kind of gives me solace every time I am here. I love Pune — it is so beautiful, it has got old and tall trees which are a delight to the eyes. Of course the beautiful people of Pune too touch my heart,” she said.
Venturing in films
Not many people know that Hema was signed for a film and later rejected. “Right in the beginning of my career, when I was only 14, I was rejected. Maybe I was not destined for the Tamil film industry. It was actor Raj Kapoor who approached me for Sapno Ka Saudagar and the first day on the set is memorable because my screen test was taken by some of the biggest names from the industry,” said Hema.
It was her mother who groomed her and encouraged her to get into the film industry. “I wasn’t much interested. I did not go to any acting school, I followed everything that my director told me. I have always tried to do my best and prove that I’m the best,” added the Seeta Aur Geeta actress.
Male vs Female
When asked how she managed to survive in a male-dominated industry and yet featured in some of the most iconic films of her time, Hema said, “You don’t have to do anything special to survive and shine in a male-dominated industry, your personality will speak for you. The way you conduct yourself and deal with the challenges thrown at you, will help you sail through.”
Talking about the biases in the Hindi film industry, she said that the pay gap has been a big issue since the beginning. “The heroes were paid more than the heroines and that still prevails; the pay has increased but the gap remains. It is so sad,” she said.
She advised women that it’s upto them how they will be treated by males or anybody for that matter. “Nobody has dared to come and speak to me in a disrespectful way till today because I have been strong. Similarly, women must be bold and strong so that no one can even think of demeaning them, neither at workplace nor at home. You have to take charge of you own life,” she insisted.
According to Hema, it is very difficult to bare your soul to millions of people as a biography lets others take a peek into your life, subjecting you to be judged, especially when you are a public figure. She said that she gave Ram access to some of the pictures from her childhood, behind the scenes, with family, her children and so on. “The special thing about the book is that it has a foreword written by PM Modi and Ramesh Sippy Saab. Well, frankly, I think it is the story of my life beyond the glitter, glamour, politics and the tag of being the ‘Dream Girl’ that makes the book so unique. It is about who Hema is. The memory of my parents is the most priceless thing mentioned in the book,” she added.
How has her life changed after entering politics? “After coming to politics, I realised that people constantly try to attack and degrade you, unlike films where you are always treated in a special way and you remain in spotlight. Politics is far real, and challenging. Facing these challenges every moment, everyday gives you the reality check,” she observed.
“Today, the films are showing women in a different light and bringing their strength to the fore. Films like Kahani and Padmaavat are a proof that the film industry is slowly changing and stories are focussing on women instead of the heroes. Of course, a certain type of films will always be made because there is an audience for that, but the general scene is progressing in Indian cinema,” said Hema adding that it also depends on the availability and talent of the actresses to pull off such characters with conviction.
Hollywood sees female actors like Maggie Smith, Meryl Streep, Sally Field doing meaty roles even in the second half of their life, however, such a phenomenon is non-existent in Bollywood. “I want to act in films and do a film like Baghban. Someone has to begin writing such scripts. I’m sure just like me, legends like Jayaji, Waheedaji, Sharmilaji and Rekhaji want to work in films but unfortunately nobody is making films that can do justice to the parts they would love to play. So I urge filmmakers to come up with a story of which we can be a part of,” said Hema.