How it happened
I came to Mumbai from Jaipur in 1965 to become an actor. After trying my luck at two-three studios when I didn't get a break I decided to start from the top. I requested my sister to lend 25,000 rupees to produce a film. I had an idea about an orphan whose principal tells him that he has relative in the form of Pandit Nehru. My sisters refused but my brother-in-law agreed. So I produced “Naunihal”. The film got the Presidential mention at the National Awards but it proved to be a commercial failure. With it I gave the break to Sanjeev Kumar. I saw him at a theatre production where he was filling in for an established actor. Floored by his performance, I promised to give him a role in my first film. And when the time came, I offered him “Naunihal” and changed his name from Haribhai Jariwala to Sanjeev Kumar. Enthused by the critical acclaim, I went to sign Meena Kumari for “Gomti Ke Kinare”. After I narrated the emotional story I asked her whom would she like to be signed as director. She said the man who has told me such a touching story. I was baffled. I didn't have the confidence to direct a film and that too with Meena Kumari. But when she insisted I decided to take charge.
How it felt
After six days of shooting, Meenaji fell seriously sick. The shooting stopped. She wanted to continue and when I refused she sent Nargisji as a mediator. She said Meenaji doesn't want to jeopardise your career. I said it will be like torturing her but when she said that she wants “Gomti Ke Kinare” to be her last film, I had to relent. Still I didn't like the process. We had to shoot her from behind. Somebody had to hold her all the time. Somehow we completed the film but it was a forced effort and it showed in the final print.
How life changed
It changed with “Hawas”, which is perhaps the first so called bold yet mainstream film that did great business at the box office. This was Neetu Singh's first film as a heroine. With it I also started writing songs. “Teri Galiyon Mein Na Rakhenge Qadam” proved immensely popular and my lasting partnership with composer Usha Khanna started. It also started my bond with Rekha, who went on to do five films with me, which is a record. She came to meet me when I was recording “Aao Yaaron Gao Naacho”. I had cast Fariyal to perform to this number. But Rekha liked it so much that she wanted me to give her a chance. I tried to reason out that it is a vampish number but she didn't listen and on the day of shooting turned up in a self-designed costume with her hair dresser and make-up artist in tow. I had to relent and convince Fariyal.
After “Hawas” I never looked back. With “Saajan Bina Suhagan” I tried to explore the character of other woman in our society. Till then she was portrayed as a fallen woman despite the fact that Radha gets such importance in the Hindu pantheon. I wanted to humanise the other woman and I think succeeded in films like “Saajan Bina Suhagan” and later “Souten”, where people identified with Padmini Kolhapure's character. “Saajan Bina Suhagan” was special because it was my first golden jubilee. No director was interested in Rajendra Kumar and Nutan those days. I thought that the two didn't work together at the peak of their careers because of a personal tiff and I had a subject where they could do justice. I went to Rajendra Kumar's house. His wife said he is sitting with a friend. When I reached inside I found Raj Kapoor sitting with him. Rajendraji thought it is a courtesy visit but when I took out a cheque of 11000 rupees to sign him, both were overwhelmed. Rajji admitted that even a close friend like him was not thinking of casting him. I requested him to give the clap at mahurut. He refused. I felt bad but then he said he would distribute the LPs when the film will complete silver jubilee and he fulfilled his commitment. I had a great run. The only thing that hurts me is that I was never considered for any award. Not just films even songs like ‘Zindagi Pyaar Ka Geet Hai' (‘Souten') went unnoticed at the award functions.