How it happened
I was studying in Queen's House, an elite school in London. My mother Naseem Bano who was called the first ‘Pari Chehra' or beauty queen of the film industry, had taken me to London after she saw me taking fancy to her ghaghra, lipstick and dance to the tunes of her film songs. For her, academics were more important than films. My grandmother, mother and my brother Sultan lived with me so that I could concentrate on studies. As my grandmother Shamshad Begum was a noted classical singer, who had settled down in London, we used to receive several people from the music, film and literature fraternity at home. People like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Mehboob Khan, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, K. Asif etc., used to visit us regularly. Then also people like Ramanand Sagar, Kamal Amrohi etc., used to offer films but my mother would tell them ‘Inke samne film ki baatein na karein' .
After I completed GECE (General Certificate of Education, equivalent to today's High School) at 14, I went to Bombay for holidays (1960). Producer Ram Mukherjee was making ‘Hum Hindustani' and he wanted to cast me opposite Sunil Dutt. But it was decided that I would look diminutive before him and the character too was such that she portrays herself to be opposite of what she is.
They required a mature looking woman who could play such an ambiguity. So, I didn't do the film and Asha Parekh did the role finally. Ram told my mother that Subodh Mukherjee was making ‘Junglee' and was looking for a tender, petite, innocent looking girl to play the lead. Ram directed him to my mother. When he saw me, he asked her to permit me to do the film and she accepted.
How it felt
Since my mother was extremely beautiful, Subodh ji wanted to publicise me in a grand style. He was the first man of the film industry to do an aggressive publicity/marketing of the film. He found an innovative idea through which in the film banners, he showed me in full ‘ghoonghat' (veil), which lifted step by step in the following banners in the run up to the film. It created mass hysteria.
People wrongly believe that it was Pramod Chakravarty who did the first major film promotion of ‘Dream Girl' (Hema Malini). Subodh Mukherjee was the first. I remember wherever we went for the film promotion, I could see a sea of people till the point my eyes could follow.
Those were awe-inspiring, exciting and proud moments.
How life changed
‘Junglee' became a silver jubilee and I was flooded with offers. Never ever I went to any producer/director for films and I never accepted small role in any film following ‘Junglee'. I worked for only four years (before marrying Dilip Kumar) and became the top most heroine of that time. I had dreamt of only two things in life; to became famous like my mother and marry Dilip Sahab. Allah granted me both, what more could I ask for? Today, Mashallah! I am extremely content with life.