By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Bollywood’s most voluptuous actress Mumtaz was born on July 31, 1947.
“I am lonely,” Mumtaz, the heartthrob of millions in the 1960s and 70s, told Subhash K Jha from London on her birthday some time ago.
Q: After years of a celebrated life, how do you look back?
Mumtaz: No complaints. Life can’t be a bed of roses. My first 26 years was a time of hard work. I was an obedient child to my parents. Whatever I earned I gave to my parents. Never asked
them where my money went. After I got married my husband has given me lots of comforts . I enjoy the life of affluence. But I am a bit lonely.
Q: Why are you lonely?
Mumtaz: My husband is traveling constantly. My children have grown up. My elder daughter is married to Fardeen Khan and lives in Mumbai. My younger daughter is learning our family business from her father. She too is travelling a lot. What do I do? I can’t follow them around the world , can I?
Q: But surely you have your own life?
Mumtaz: I do. But I don’t socialize. I rarely drink. I am not a night person. Clubs are not my scene.I hate the noise. One can’t converse.I am a daytime person. I go out for lunch with my friends, then stroll for a few hours. London is a perfect city for an afternoon walk. Then I am back home. I watch educational television and the news so I’m aware of what’s going on in the world. Then by 11, I am fast asleep. I wake up at 7 am.
Q: Have you thought of relocating to Mumbai?
Mumtaz: I have two homes in Mumbai ,in Juhu and Colaba. And I do visit very often. But because of the life I have now I can’t live in India. Even in Mumbai I’ll be alone. Yes,there are friends and relatives there. But for me it’s a case of water-water everyone and not a drop to drink. Everybody loves me. But I can’t make everybody my close friends. I don’t make friends easily. At my age you can’t forge new associations because you never know what the other person has in mind. Of course I can have as many fair-weather friends as I want. But that’s pointless. Finally, it’s just me and myself.
Q: That’s really sad, isn’t it?
Mumtaz: But it’s my choice. I am not an outgoing sort. I like my own company. I can’t complain. I keep myself occupied.
Q: Have you kept in touch with your friends in the film industry? Shatrughan Sinha who’s unwell?
Mumtaz: Shatru , I haven’t met for years. But I know I can drop in at his home any time and I’d be welcome. It’s the same with Mr Yash Chopra. I know I’m loved and respected to this day. I can walk into any of my old colleagues’ home. But I am a very shy person. People mistake my shyness for arrogance. I can’t barge into people’s lives. But if anyone reaches out to me—like you—I respond. At parties I don’t circulate. I sit in a corner for half an hour and then I leave.
Q: What plans for your birthday?
Mumtaz: My husband (entrepreneur Mayur Madhvani) has arranged a dinner on a boat for only family and friends. My family has already started gathering here in London. It’s mostly family and just 4-5 friends of mine who have been with me for 30 years now.
Q: No friends from Bollywood for your birthday?
Mumtaz: Who will come from Mumbai to London for me? It costs money to travel so far. When money is involved no one thinks of the occasion. Kaun mere liye 1.5 lakhs kharcha karega? Nowadays money is more important than anything else.
Q: Even more important than relationships?
Mumtaz: Yes, you are judged not for what you are, but how much money you have and what position you have in society. If you don’t have money and a social standing no one looks towards you. If you’re a nobody you aren’t even invited to any happening party. That’s why I’d implore all youngsters to make something of their lives. Kuch karo kuch bano. I am still remembered back home because ek zamaane mein main Mumtaz tthi.
Q: In that case if you were not Mumtaz , Mayur Madhvani wouldn’t have married you?
Mumtaz: I don’t think he would have… no!
Q: What about love?
Mumtaz: Aaj kal pyar hota kahan hai? You tell me . Do you think genuine love exists in today’s day and age? You’re younger than me. You tell me.
Q: What about the love between a parent and a child?
Mumtaz: Only the love between a mother and a child is unconditional.
Q: That’s too cynical.
Mumtaz: It’s a fact. You look at marriages all over the world .Who looks after the child? The mother ,no? My husband is a good father. But I’ve friends who have brought up their children alone. I’ve the highest regard for the mother. In my own case my parents divorced very young. My mother took both me and my sister Malka when she left my father. My father said he wouldn’t give her any money. He gave her both the daughters instead.
Q: So your father was around?
Mumtaz: Of course.People believed I was fatherless because Devyani Chaubal wrote, ‘Mumtaz has got no father.’ I took her to court. My father who lived in Hyderabad promised to come to court to prove her wrong. He said, ‘Hum ayega court mein.’
Q: And did he?
Mumtaz: No, the magazine and Devyani apologized publicly.I forgave them.If someone wrongs me and realizes it I am ready to forgive. But I will never tolerate nonsense.
Q: So you were raised by your mother?
Mumtaz: My grandmother, mother and my aunt. Like ‘Three Men & A Baby’ in my life there were three women and a baby. It was a wonderful childhood. We were a typical Irani family.My mother was divorced when she was only 16. Then my mother re-married. She had two sons. One of them died. But I’ve a stepbrother named Shahrukh Askari in Mumbai.
Q: Then there is the other Shahrukh who is your fan.
Mumtaz: You mean Shahrukh Khan? Yes I heard. That’s very sweet of him.
Q: Who is not your fan?
Mumtaz: Oh there must be many. I’ve been lucky. I started my career on the wrong note as a supporting actress. In spite of that I became one of the top-most heroines at the age of 18. That shows how much people loved me. I’d be appreciated even when I was not the heroine.My fans were with me. Then I married at 26 and left India.
Q: Do you recall bad experiences on your way to stardom?
Mumtaz: Nothing like that. There were no cheap passes made. It all depends on how one conducts oneself. I firmly believe if you’re a hard-working and good-looking nobody except God can stop you.Our film industry does give a chance to new talent. But the newcomer has to be worth it,no? Those who talk about being forced to compromise must be lacking in talent and looks. They want to become overnight stars. As for men taking advantage of strugglers, why blame only the entertainment industry? It happens in all work places. Sexual dynamics are tapped in every profession for a raise, for a promotion, whatever. Please don’t point fingers at the film industry. And look at the kind of monies that are given to actors. You really have to be worth it to command that kind of fees.
Q: Which are your favourite roles and films?
Mumtaz: Khilona, Tere Mere Sapne, Aaina,Aap Ki Kasam, Jheel Ke Us Paar…There were so many other hits. But I wouldn’t call them memorable films or roles. Khilona was a turning point for me. Producer L V Prasadji had the guts to sign a side actress like me in the author-backed part.It broke my glamorous tomboyish image. Do you know, Seeta Aur Geeta was offered to me? But they offered me a very small remuneration. So I said no.
Q: Do you regret losing it?
Mumtaz: No, why should I? Because it was a hit? But I gave so many hits. Hemaji got her first Filmfare award for Seeta Aur Geeta. Mujhe pehle mil chuka tha for Khilona.
Q: What about V. Shantaram who cast you as a leading lady for the first time in Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti?
Mumtaz: I was doing Khilona and Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti at the same time. I was signed for a guest appearance to do a song.I had done bit roles in Shantaramji’s Stree and Sehra.I couldn’t say no to him. So I agreed to do a song in Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti. Then his daughter Rajshree who was playing the lead in the film, decided she didn’t want to work.So Shantaramji decided to cast me as the leading lady in Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti. But the film’s leading man Jeetendra refused to work with me.
Q: What are you saying? Jeetendra and you became such good friends.
Mumtaz: Yeah, he said, “Mumtaz ke saath main kaam nahin karunga’ .Shantaramji put his foot down. He told Jeetu, ‘If you don’t want to work with her, you leave the film. I’ll take another hero.’ But Jeetuji finally relented. I held no grudges against Jeetuji because in those days many big heroes refused to work with me.
Q: Even Dev Anand?
A: No, he never refused. I got the chance to work with him in Tere Mere Sapne. If he said no to any film with me, I am not aware.
Q: Jeetendra and you did so many films subsequently?
Mumtaz: Yes, but our jodi did not become as successful as Rajesh Khanna and I. My films with Jeetu didn’t click.
Q: It’s the chemistry?
Mumtaz: It all fate and destiny.It’s up to the audience to take an actor to the skies or drop him or her to the ground. Either they love you or hate you.
Q: You left the film industry so long ago…
Mumtaz: 40 years years ago I left. I did make a comeback in 1990 with Aandhiyaan. When that flopped my heart broke. I did get offers after that. But I decided against doing any more films. There’s too much politics in the film industry.I saw no need to go through the rigours of the rat race. I live in London. Working in Mumbai would have been impractical. It meant too much stress. I didn’t need it.
Q: Any role recently that you felt you should have done?
Mumtaz: I liked Hemaji’s role in Baghbaan. But I don’t like any other films that she has done lately.
Q: But to see you play an aged woman of grownup children would be unacceptable?
A: That’s one of the reasons why my comeback film Aandhiyaan failed. People wanted to know why I was playing mother to an 18-year old. I was a trendy mom in jeans. I dressed in the film how the heroine dressed in the original Pakistani film. Director David Dhawan wanted me to dress and behave exactly the way it was in the original. It didn’t go down well with the audience.
Q: Your favourite co-star Rajesh Khanna is gone?
Mumtaz: When I was in Mumbai recently I visited Kaka (Khanna) in the hospital. What I don’t understand is, why does one have to hide one’s illness? When I was ill with cancer because of the chemotherapy my thyroid gland was gone. That meant anything I ate went straight to my weight. I bloated up. But since my fans knew about my condition no one made fun of me. I was honest about my illness and I am honest about my age. Fans love you more for your honesty.They all know that no matter how big the star he or she will die one day. Nothing is permanent. And experience has taught me there’s no unconditional and pure love in this world except the one between a parent and child. I’ve homes in Mumbai, London, Uganda, Kenya and New York. You may find me in any of these places. Or you may not find me in any of these places. It’s good to go with the unpredictability of life.
Q: Your birthday message for your fans?
Mumtaz: The love that I’ve received from people should be there for me until my last moment on earth. That would be so wonderful. Allah jaane kab meri ticket kat jayegi.Whatever time I’ve left on this earth I want the same love that I’ve been getting. And I want to be reborn as Mumtaz again.