WAH! Waheeda

With M.F. Husain at her recent retrospective

With M.F. Husain at her recent retrospective  

HER HAIR may have turned grey, but her charm is intact. The body is not as sculpted, but exudes the same sparkle it did many years ago. She prefers to be a recluse and not a star anymore, but the love and respect she commands remain undiminished.

Waheeda Rehman is indeed a picture of beauty, elegance, and dignity. Well into her sixties, she holds the same sway she did decades ago. If one were to need any evidence of that, Waheeda Rehman - A Retrospective, an event hosted by Gajagamini Art Club, recently at the Windsor Sheraton, provided it.

Effectively evoking the nostalgic feel of a bygone era, the legendary actress herself chose scenes from 12 of her films, which she considered most significant in her development and evolution as an artiste. Since the archival copies of the films were destroyed in a fire a couple of years ago at the film institute, the presentation had to use audio and video clips from copies that were available. The organisers did admit that the quality of prints was not the best. But then no fire could douse the phenomenal talent and ability of Waheeda Rehman.

The presentation opened with a song-and-dance sequence from Rojulu Maraayi, a Telugu film, made in 1954, in which Waheeda made her debut — at the tender age of 16. This was followed by an emotional scene from the Bengali film, Abhijaan (1962), directed by legendary film maker Satyajit Ray. CID (1956) featured Waheeda in a dance number, "Kahi pe nigahen, kahi pe nishana". Close on the heels was another stunner, "Jaane kya tu ne kahi, jaane kya maine suni" from Pyaasa (1957).

A clip showing an emotionally charged sequence in Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), was soon followed by the title song of Chaudvin Ka Chand (1960), which was understandably received with thunderous applause — a romantic Guru Dutt singing to Waheeda at her ravishing best was truly laa jawaab!

In the Guru Dutt classic, Pyaasa

In the Guru Dutt classic, Pyaasa  

Snippets from Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) showed Waheeda teasing a clean-shaven Guru Dutt with the popular "Bhavra bada naadan hai" number, while in Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), she is seen in the role of a tawaif, singing and dancing ("Raat bhi hai bhigi bhigi... cham cham cham cham") for a rapt audience, which includes the villainous daku, played by Sunil Dutt.

For Khamoshi (1969), the actress chose the climax hospital scene in which the former nurse, having helped Rajesh Khanna overcome his trauma, becomes a victim herself.

Guide (1965), one of her most popular films, carried three sequences — the tense snake dance, the cave scene where she slaps her husband (Kishore Sahu) before walking out on him, and the scene where she spurns her lover's (Dev Anand) advances. Dev Anand is picturised agonising in the "Din dhal jaaye hai raat na jaaye, tu to na aaye teri yaad sataaye" scene.

Neel Kamal (1969) showed her working with the stylish Raj Kumar in a "laughter" match. The last sequence of the presentation was the climax of Reshma Aur Shera (1971), where the protagonists (played by Sunil Dutt and Waheeda), meet their tragic end in each other's arms.

Then and now: Waheeda with Dev Anand in Guide

Then and now: Waheeda with Dev Anand in Guide  

The sequences were chosen carefully to demonstrate Waheeda's versatility as an actress. An added treat was listening to Waheeda relive those memorable moments. Talking about the "Kahi pe nigahen, kahi pe nishana" sequence from CID, she recalled how the director, Raj Khosla, had instructed her to seduce both the hero and the villain!

Waheeda recollected how the entire team of Chaudvin Ka Chand was in for a rude shock because the censor board thought that the picturisation of the title song was "hot and sexy". "What would they have said if they had seen the way songs are picturised today!" she remarked.

It was an evening caressed by nostalgia. Sure, there were some notable misses — like those wonderful songs of Teesri Kasam, in which Waheeda looks gorgeous and puts up a stunning performance. But then, given the constraints of time, none could quarrel with some omissions.

As one watched the lovely actress surrounded by a large group of admirers — which included the Badshah of Indian Art, M.F. Husain — it was impossible not to recall those lingering tunes, again and again.


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