Life & Style

Being Shobhaa De

“This sari,” says Shobhaa De, her fingers running over its pallu, which sits elegantly on her lap, “is 40 years old.”

The sari — a beautiful, blue Banarasi tanchoi silk — belies its age. But not as much as the woman who is wearing it. Shobhaa turned 70 early this year and celebrated it by writing a book titled Seventy and to hell with it!

Just fitting that she was in Kozhikode to launch a book of verse by a 17-year-old girl. Shobhaa has no qualms to admit that age hasn’t made her wiser, in the conventional sense, or less controversial. “I know old women are supposed to be harmless, spiritual and all that. I am spiritual, yes, but I don’t wear it on my sleeves.”

She would rather continue to speak her mind the way she has been doing all her life. “I don’t mind upsetting people with my forthrightness,” she says. “I have no fear; remember, I have had to deal with death threats. I lived with police protection for two years, but I decided that I didn’t want to live in fear, behind an SPG person and would rather face my attacker, whoever that could be.”

She certainly doesn’t care about getting trolled on Twitter, where she is followed by 2.71 million people. “I like Twitter. It is quick, effective and democratic; it reaches out to more people than say a blog, which I used to write regularly for a few years.”

She is glad she has become a writer, though it is only one of the several roles she has played in her life. Her varied interests — she was selected for a national athletics camp at Patiala as a sprinter and long-jumper — has helped her evolve as a writer and columnist.

“As a young girl, I loved to read and my father had built an excellent collection of books at our home in Mumbai,” she recalls. “I was deeply into authors like Jane Austen, James Hilton and all those wonderful Russian writers. And I knew I could write from a young age, but I could not have imagined that my novels would be translated into 16 languages, taught at a university in London or become subjects of many doctoral theses, when I began my career as model at 17.”

As a supermodel, she was featured in the French edition of Vogue and shared a celebrated magazine cover with Zeenat “I was probably the first Indian model to work for Vogue.

Fashion modelling wasn’t as fashionable a career choice, back in the 1970’s. It would be a couple of decades before India started producing Miss Worlds and Miss Universes.

A few of her fondest memories are shooting for iconic photographer Henry Clarke for Vogue, being was photographed by Jitendra Arya and wearing gowns designed by Yves Saint Laurent.

Shobhaa loved to write about films, though. She founded and edited Stardust. “I enjoyed being a journalist, I had a great time editing Society and Celebrity as well, I was able to do some memorable work, including features on gender issues, considered taboo then.”

Her Bollywood connect

Shobhaa follows Bollywood closely and is glad to see it evolve. She declined offers to act to pursue her other interests. “Directors like Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal wanted to cast me but I felt I would not enjoy acting; I didn't possess that skill; Benegal offered me the role that Rekha eventually did in Kalyug.

Bollywood is evolving but I would like it to retain its Indian-ness. Bollywood shouldn’t try to grow forsaking its unique features such as music and dance, which reflect our diverse cultural identity.”

Being Shobhaa De

One of her close friends in Bollywood Zeenat Aman went on to become an iconic actress. “I was happy to see my friend breaking the stereotype of what a typical Bollywood heroine should be.” Shobhaa treasures a photograph with the star:

“The picture with Zeenat is a personal favourite; we both wore saris and did the make-up ourselves.”

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 11:58:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/columnist-shobhaa-de-on-flashback-mode/article24954280.ece

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