What it takes to be Hema Malini

Amrita Prasad
Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Chatting up writer and journalist Ram Kamal Mukherjee, who penned the recently released biography — Hema Malini: Beyond the Dream Girl.

One of the most enduring divas of Hindi cinema, Hema Malini is truly a ‘Dream Girl’. The ‘Basanti’ of Bollywood is also one of the most versatile actresses who has starred in super hits like Johny Mera Naam, Jugnu, Andaz, Seeta Aur Geeta, Sholay and more recently, Baghban. She even received critical acclaim for her performances in films like Lal Patthar, Khushboo, Kinara, Meera, Ek Chadar Maili Si and Razia Sultan.

But there is much more to her than just her Bollywood journey. From her efforts at reviving and sustaining classical dance to her graceful handling of her personal life and the controversies that have plagued her in her political career, the recently launched biography Hema Malini: Beyond the Dream Girl covers it all. 
With detailed interviews and exclusive anecdotes from her family, friends and co-actors, the book traces the individual’s complete journey. Author journalist Ram Kamal Mukherjee shares more on the book: 

How is Hema Malini: Beyond The Dream Girl, different from your previous book Diva Unveiled?  
Published in 2005, Diva Unveiled, was more of a pictorial representation of Hema Malini’s life. It wasn’t an authorised biography, but Beyond The Dreamgirl is. Back then, I was too young and a bit immature as a writer. Today, when I look back at Diva Unveiled, I feel that I could have written it better. But with Beyond The Dreamgirl, I don’t have such regrets. It’s completely biographical. The book starts with her family tree and ends with her waiting anxiously to become grandmother for the second time. I guess, you can’t get a biography that’s so updated in today’s age and time. 

How did you convince her to say yes to a  biography?
It was not that easy. Whenever I asked Hema ji, her immediate response was a stern ‘no’. But somehow when I told her that this book will be much more beyond her Bollywood journey, I guess she got intrigued. Hema ji was so busy with her political commitments that she would barely meet or talk. Then she met with that ghastly accident in Dausa. I had almost given up on the project when one fine day she asked me what happened to that book I was planning. That’s when Beyond The Dreamgirl was born. 

What are the various aspects of her life that you have tried to capture? 
I have delved deep into her life since her birth to the recent time. Hema ji’s life is so exciting and bold that you just need a decent narrator to tell the story. I have kept it simple, linear and magical. As Ramesh Sippy mentioned in his afterword that Hema Malini is not a feminist, she is an individualist. Once you read the book, you will know why he feels so.

Everyone is awed by Hema ji’s beauty and aura. What kind of an equation do you share with her? 
A leading English daily from Chennai had ripped apart my earlier book Diva Unveiled for reading like a fan’s ode to Hema Malini. I was very hurt, but I took it in my stride. So this time, I made it a point not to get enamoured by her beauty or stardom. In fact, I have been critical and honest about her. As far as my equation with Hema ji is concerned, we respect and trust each other. 

Writing a biography means revisiting the life, experiences and memories of an individual. What kind of research did you do to tell the truth? 
Biography in today’s time tends to be a PR exercise for journalists and stars. I think it takes a lot of courage to speak your heart out to a third party. In India, most actors are so conscious that they censor a lot of issues and make it boring. I am thankful to Hema ji and her daughters Esha and Ahana that they spoke about everything, from her personal to professional life. 
Hema ji is someone who often gets into trouble for her straightforward comments, and is misunderstood by the media. While doing my research on her, I have realised that she is probably a prey to situations uncalled for. 

Was it easy for you to dig out the secrets and untold stories? 
It was not that difficult once she started talking. I guess in the last two decades of my career in journalism, I have somehow mastered the art of making my subject comfortable. Once they feel that you are not harmful or vindictive, then they submit. Artists as a breed are very vulnerable. They are like kids who need constant assurance and attention. Hema ji spoke about her ups and downs, her marriage, motherhood and many hitches she faced in her life, which probably an actor of her stature would like to ignore in a biography. 

What responsibility do you feel biographers have while retelling someone’s life story?  
Of course, it comes with major responsibilities. Hema Malini is an icon. She still holds that command in the film industry. When a Prime Minister of the country writes the foreword for her, it clearly shows her standing in society. Telling her story to people who belong to the digital world and barely read books, it was challenging. The content and words used in this book are lucid and almost colloquial, so that one doesn’t have to be a cine thespian to decode her life. This is an ordinary narrative of an extraordinary woman. And purposely so. 

How would you define Hema ji?  
If you give up on life, life gives up on you. Challenges are only thrust on those who are strong enough to face the brunt. Hema Malini didn’t get anything on a silver platter. She was an outsider who had to climb the ladder like any other person. Probably she knew what it takes to be a star, and after writing a book on her, I know what it takes to be Hema Malini.

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