The incomparable Waheeda Rehman was the cynosure of all eyes at IFFI.

The other day at the recently concluded International Film Festival of India in Goa veteran music composer Ravi was waxing eloquent about the wonderful tunes he composed for Guru Dutt's “Chaudhvin Ka Chand”, and how the incomparable Mohammed Rafi had infused a touch of panache into the title song. He was right indeed.

Yet the image that the viewer carries with him is not of Guru Dutt, Rehman or Rafi but that of the incomparable Waheeda Rehman in the famous song. She spoke not a word. She did not need to do a dance step. Yet there was, arrestingly beautiful, and every inch the woman to compare favourably with the moon in full glow.

Only a little later, at a separate discussion with young filmmakers at IFFI there was this mention of the role Delhi is playing in Hindi films. Right on cue, somebody pointed out Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's “Delhi-6”. Almost inevitably, the screen played “Sasural genda phool”.

This time there was vintage Waheeda Rehman on the screen, doing a little shy but completely appropriate jig with Abhishek Bachchan to the little folksy song. Many hearts missed a beat as the likes of Bachchan Jr, Supriya Pathak, etc., were effortlessly put into shade by Waheeda. Indeed, she had done almost as much at the inaugural ceremony of IFFI where she was invited to light the traditional lamp to dispel the darkness. All she managed to say in a combination of English and Hindi was, “Humein zyada bolne ki aadat to nahin hai. But the festival provides a great opportunity to see wonderful films from all over the world.” But that was enough to leave people asking for more, including the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Ambika Soni to admit, “I am a fan of Waheedaji.”

Unlikely she were carrying soothsayers' book of prognosis at the festival but she could scarcely have been more accurate as one got to see many of her films, her many shades, including that delightful one in Raj Kapoor's “Teesri Kasam”, where she espouses the virtues of the Sharda Act – it fixed a minimum age for marriage – in feature films and documentaries at the festival. Besides some wonderful songs from “Teesri Kasam”, like the soft and sober “Sajanwa bairi ho gaye hamaar” and “Sajan re jhoot mat bolo” and the delightfully energetic “Pan khaye” to the tear-jerker by Rafi in “Neel Kamal”, “Babul ki duaen leti ja”, there were vintage Waheeda moments. Indeed there was “Gaate rahe mera dil” too. Waheeda shares similar words of wit and wisdom in real life, even when she is beseeched by the media for exclusives. “Hamare paas kehne ko kya hai? Aap nayi nasal ke directors se poochhiye,” she smartly sidesteps a youngster's request for an interview.

But as the media nudges her a little bit after the inauguration, Waheeda opens up. “I have had my innings. And in a way I am happy that I came in an era when a lot of attention was paid to different aspects of filmmaking. In the 1960s, songs were an integral part of film narration. I have been fortunate to have had some of the best songs of the era picturised on me, some of which gave me an opportunity to use my skills as a dancer too. Today, songs are just a fill-in, an item number with no effect on the story.”

Incidentally, she is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, who came to films simply because Guru Dutt spotted her after a folk song in Hyderabad.

Today's choreography?

If the lady who once danced to “Kaanton se kheench ke ye anchal” is a shade upset with today's choreography, it is understandable. After all, the likes of Lachhu Maharaj have given her guidance in the past. “Today's film dances have nothing to do with classical dances. It is such a shame because we have a real treasure there. Nobody seems to have the time or the inclination to dig into the reservoirs of kala that our tradition has.”

Her sense of films as a composite whole comes through when she talks fervently of the need for the director to take everybody along. “I have worked with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and some other new filmmakers. They have an eye for aesthetics and visualise the film.”

She, however, laments that not every commercial filmmaker has that kind of dedication. “Earlier, everything used to blend seamlessly. We had background music score taking the story forward, adding to the value of the film. Now often songs are thrown in to please the music companies. You cannot have lasting success if you are only looking for short term gains.”

Talking of success, she should know. For close to 30 years, she was the leading lady of Hindi films, and even tried her hand at negative shades. Now, she makes rare exceptions to do some “moving films”, or just to “work with people” with whom she vibes very well. Either way, many summers after “Chaudhvin Ka Chand” the moon is still aglow. Some shades of spring have been sandpapered away. Some hues of grace and wisdom added.