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Being Sharmila

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FORTHRIGHT Sharmila Tagore: 'Ideally censorship must go. But I firmly believe the time hasn't come yet for India' Photo: K. Gopinathan
FORTHRIGHT Sharmila Tagore: 'Ideally censorship must go. But I firmly believe the time hasn't come yet for India' Photo: K. Gopinathan

Sharmila Tagore, the '60s stunner, is as charming as ever in her 60s

The glamorous image will work for the moment. But you won't remain young all your life SHARMILA TAGORE Every Indian who's sighed over Sharmila Tagore's dimples, drowned in that Kashmir ki Kali smile, seduced by her bikini babe image, and then cried with her in Amar Prem and Mausam will agree that the actor knows how to age gracefully. One can't quite believe that the mother of the hunk Saif Ali just celebrated her 62nd birthday! Grandmother, mother of two actors and a designer, talented actor who tugged at audience heartstrings in the recent Virudhdh, chairperson of the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the Begum of Pataudi... the roles she plays in real life are as myriad as those celluloid roles. The list is impressive: Devi, Apur Sansar, An Evening in Paris, Anupama, Aradhana, Mausam, Amar Prem, Chupke Chupke, Anand Ashram and more. When her contemporaries were perceived as easy pushovers, Sharmila always had her fiercely independent identity.The actor looks back contentedly at the years gone by even as she still wants to have fun. She augurs good portent when she says: "I would like to start by saying that I like The Hindu and that's the only paper I read. And that's the only crossword I do!"So does life begin at 40 like they all say? "I've enjoyed every facet of life," says Sharmila, reviewing her life by the decade. "When I was 20, I did all that a 20-year-old wanted to do. I made mistakes. And I have evolved. The 30s was a wonderful time - it was children; 40s was coming to terms with my mother-in-law in a joint family and the children's education, and teenage times. The 50s was a liberating time when one had done everything for family and children and suddenly realised 'I'm free and I can do what I say'. There's a different kind of coming to your own; and you consider yourself asexual as a person, not as a woman per se. You stop apologising for being a working person." And coming back into the loop was a refreshing change. She recalls how she had to print a business card. "I didn't know... I'm Mrs. Khan in school and Begum of Pataudi in Pataudi, so I've all these various things. So I said Sharmila Tagore is my name. It's a phase of a realisation of the self," she smiles looking breezy in a peach-and-white sari and an elegant string of pearls. "Even in your 60s you're quite capable of doing something foolish or uninformed. Just because you are at a ripe old age doesn't mean you're the end word in wisdom. You have experiences but unless you assimilate them and internalise them, make it knowledge and transcend that, they are just nothing."

Freedom but not free

Being CBFC chairperson is no mean task, where the scissor-wielding image of the members comes in for much flak from directors demanding unconditional freedom of creativity and expression. Sharmila however believes that problems come because of changing the status quo. "Nobody wants to take a decision. Ideally censorship must go. But I firmly believe the time hasn't come yet for India. We are talking about creative freedom; but nothing is free. Responsibility and freedom must go hand-in-hand. I'm free to do what I want. But are we totally free? We are not. I cannot hurt somebody's sentiment." She admits emphatically: "We are only there to certify films, not to make socially relevant films. But we can make a dialogue possible between filmmakers and members of society."Of course, there will always be a percentage of films made just for the sake of making money. "Manipulative films will always be there. These are more dangerous than just straightforwardly sexy or violent films. Films that endorse stereotypes and put in an insidious message are even more dangerous."Though she hasn't seen son Saif Ali Khan's favourably received Being Cyrus she's very impressed with his acting - as a co-actor and not a mother! "With films like Hum Tum and Parineeta he has been proving his mettle and he's become a sensitive actor." With daughter Soha Ali Khan going big time with Rang De Basanti the question is inevitable. Were you apprehensive about the kids getting into cinema? "Not so much with Saif... but this is where the double standards come in," she admits rather frankly. "(With) Soha, I most certainly was apprehensive. I was like 'Oh God! Is it all right?' When you give your children a certain education, and then when they choose something, you can't crib about it," says the democratic mom who's seen a lot of ups and downs in the family. Soha joins an industry where heroines are obsessive about glamour. When Sharmila became the first Hindi actor to wear a two-piece bikini in An Evening in Paris, she set off a predictable uproar. The rattled actor then chose to change tack. "You need a short-term vision as the way to a long-term vision. The glamorous image will work for the moment. But you won't remain young all your life. And if you want longevity in your profession, you have to be able to do all kinds of roles. Instead of exhibiting yourself, you have to express yourself," is how she succinctly puts it.An actor discovered by none less than the great Satyajit Ray, Sharmila moved pretty fast to Bollywood. Any regrets? "With Ray, it was more his contribution (than) mine. If I hadn't broken away from him, all my life I would have been in his shadow. Now whatever I've achieved I've achieved on my own," says the doe-eyed Bengali, a kin of Rabindranath Tagore. "I think I came to my own with my exposure, away from that protected and 'good' atmosphere. Because I had to fend for myself here. Every person wants to feel that their achievement is their own." And no one can stake claim to that better than Sharmila Tagore.BHUMIKA K.

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