Making a bold comeback

Deepak Mahaan
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Cinema As Rehana Sultan returns to the turnstiles with Sudhir Mishra's Inkaar, the actor looks back at the days when she was the talk of the town Deepak Mahaan

The original superstar of new wave cinema is back. Yes, Rehana Sultan, who shot to fame with her first two films “Chetna” and “Dastak” in the early seventies, is returning to the arc lights after a two-decade-long break, which she took as she was “fed up of going to studios everyday for nearly 15 years”. But that was only one half of the story. The other reason was that Rehana wanted to enjoy the bliss of matrimony with her friend, philosopher and mentor B.R. Ishara who put her into the stellar orbit with “Chetna”. Actually, her first two films gave Rehana what takes years for others to achieve and so while “Chetna” gave her a phenomenal aura, “Dastak” got her the National Award for Best Actress.

The phenomenal success started an incessant cycle of work for years, exhausting her to such an extent that she yearned to laze, sleep or enjoy other facets of life. Says Rehana, “So when my friendship with Ishara Sahab led me to the altar, I decided it was the perfect time to leave the scene in complete contentment.” Actually, her hectic phase began much earlier, when awaiting her board results in 1967 in Allahabad; she came across an advertisement for an acting course at FTII. As the only child, Rehana always sought her father's advice since her mother's death. Rehana recalls, “As the only child, I always relied on my father's advice for every little work but on that day, I just filled the application on a lark as I never expected a call.” When the call did come, her father took her to Delhi though he too never believed that she'd be selected. For someone without any stage experience, the results were astounding as Rehana was selected by a distinguished panel of luminaries like B.R. Chopra and Gajanand Jagirdaar.

Coming from a Bahai background, her father was open to women pursuing a career but felt she might have difficulty being alone and independent. However, when Jagirdaar, the FTII dean, convinced him that Rehana would prosper and grow in her new-found interest, he gave his permission.

Used to the easy, laidback culture of Allahabad, Rehana couldn't cope with the hectic pace of FTII curriculum and failed in all subjects in the first year! “I couldn't take the banter nor the constant drills of acting classes and so turned irritable and aloof”. But after a summer holiday at home, she came back determined to prove herself as she didn't want to let her father down. What helped was the immense faith in her acting prowess of her professor Roshan Taneja (subsequently the Director at FTII) who took pains to explain how she was obstructing her own growth and popularity. Taneja's constant encouragement to enact scenes before others made her think afresh and that hard work does matter in life was finally well understood when she went on to win the gold medal as the best student!

But the big prize was not the gold medal but the film contract she bagged from the renowned film writer-director Rajendra Singh Bedi even before completion of her course! Bedi, who had come to the FTII campus for a lecture, actually stayed on to review a few student films of the direction department and was so enamoured by Rehana when he saw a film “Water in the Tap” that he immediately selected her as the heroine of his next film. For a girl who had come to FTII to just bide her time, Rehana had a film even before she had got an accommodation in Bombay and that too opposite Sanjeev Kumar!

However, before “Dastak” could begin, she also got “Chetna” despite all her attempts to rebuff and reject the “chain-smoking” Ishara. Nevertheless, the story hooked her so much that she agreed to act immediately but there was a hitch; though Ishara was ready to complete shooting in a month-long schedule, Rehana's dates were with Bedi.

However, Sanjeev Kumar's secretary (who was Ishara's friend) came to her rescue and didn't give Sanjeev's dates to Bedi for the same period, thus paving way for an early release of “Chetna”. Probably, this was destiny's way of ensuring a stupendous welcome for not just Rehana but also “Dastak”, which received a huge response from buyers and cinegoers after the tremendous success of “Chetna”, helping Bedi to tide over his financial difficulties.

Though the two adult films were aesthetically shot with just suggestions of nudity, Rehana believes their bold themes and tremendous visual brilliance hampered many film makers from offering her conventional roles in family-oriented dramas. “Though everyone respected me for my craft, my image obstructed directors from giving me simple girl-next-door kind of roles,” she informs. And while she did go on to act in almost 55 films, she had to reject many “as they offered only bold scenes but no storylines”.

Age has been kind to Rehana and she still radiates a warm glow on her countenance. The break has done her an enormous amount of good, apart from allowing her to travel and read extensively. While she does take good care of home and hearth, she admits to being “a terrible cook but a gracious host”. The hiatus has also helped her improve not just her Urdu skills in Ishara's company but also her philosophical outlook with the creative compositions by the great poets like Ghalib to Majaaz and Sahir to Kaifi Azmi. Keenly aware of modern films, Rehana is a great fan of Aamir Khan, Kajol and several other youngsters but dislikes the loud music that is served these days.

Like vintage wine, Rehana's artistry is certain to unfold a new era with Sudhir Mishra's “Inkaar” opposite Kanwaljeet. Probably it might be worth the wait as she is a colossal bundle of experience and entertainment and as they say “aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength”. In all probability, Rehana seems to have the strength as well as the opportunity to prove the maxim right with her next move.



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