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'Jaa re bachpan tu jaa' - Moushmi Chatterjee

By: Screen Weekly, IndiaFM
Monday, October 16, 2006
Meet Indira, a.k.a Moushumi Chatterjee, whose affair with cinema was almost pre-ordained, with one great Kolkata studio sharing a wall with her home and another next door to her school. Today, as she is appreciated for her two-sister double-role turn in Tanuja Chandra's Zindaggi Rocks, Moushumi stirs up memories from that huge and delicious bowl called Life

The Tomboy Badhu
"I come from a conservative family. My grandfather was a judge, my father Prantosh Chattopadhyaya was in the Army and after that in government service. We were two sisters and a brother and across the wall of our compound, we would look down into Calcutta Movietone Studio and watch all the stars. Of course, my parents would prohibit us from entering the studio precincts, and even if we defied them and tried, we would be stymied by the watchman.

"New Studios, that great institution, was coincidentally next to my school, and the watchmen there were equally uncooperative! One day, as I was walking back from school, one of them whom I particularly detested came running after me. 'Khoki! Khoki!' he said. 'Saahab bulaata hai!' he told me. I saw a dark man with spectacles, looking like some professor , who was observing me from one of the buildings there. I was in Standard V and I haughtily replied, 'Why should I go up to meet him? Ussko neeche aane do!''

"The 'professor' was Tarun Majumdar, and later he revealed to me that this attitude clinched his decision that I should portray Balika Badhu, the girl-child, in his film of that name! He came down, told me that he was making a film, and would I like to be its heroine as I suited the role. Now I was a movie-lover, and my family would watch Bengali, Hindi and English films, and I would enact scenes and songs in front of a mirror at home, and I immediately said, 'Yes!'

"The professor-like gentleman asked me, 'But will your parents agree?' And I said, 'Why should my father disagree?', because whenever we children would fight with each other, my father would resignedly say, 'Jo marzi hai karo! Desh azaad hai!' Tarunda came home, and my father simply told him, 'No woman or girl in our family works! And in films - never!'

"The chapter would have ended there, but Tarunda's wife, actress Sandhya Roy, who also did a few Hindi films like Jaane Anjaane and Rahgir, came a few days later to my home. She spoke to my mother and convinced her, but my father was not there at home. However, my father said that since such a big star had taken the trouble to come home, we should at least go and visit Tarunda. When we went there, Sandhya managed to convince my father, saying that wolves existed in every field and so did good people. But my father warned him, 'She's a tomboy, and you are looking at her as a demure teenage bride! And she's a very naughty and temperamental girl. She will give you a terrible time!'

"And he was right! I was a tomboy, had more boys than girls as friends, and gave Tarunda a really tough time! I would run away and once they locked me in a glass room like some Cinderella. Tarunda was so angry once that he declared that he would burn the negatives and scrap the film! But Sandhya managed to be the calming force. The film was made, won all possible awards, was sent to Russia and ran in the theatres for 75 weeks, and today, Tarunda jokingly tells me, 'I can make a film on how I made Balika... with all the trouble you gave us!'

A Star is Born
The aftermath of Balika Badhu was overwhelming. I got offers by the dozen - of both films and marriages! Uttam Kumar wanted me for a daughter-in-law, to give just one example. The next two films that I did were Ekhuni and Parineeta, all in the central roles of a child-heroine. Those who have watched Vidhu Vinod Chopra's modern adaptaion do not know that the real Parineeta was not as old as Vidya Balan's character but an under-14 girl, and so I was just the right age.

"It so happened then that the music for all these films was scored by Hemant Kumar, who was a big name in Bengal. My father told him that he had to be my guardian. A few months later, Hemantda told my father that he would like me to be his daughter-in-law. As I was the last girl in my family, and my paternal aunt was in the last stage of cancer, I was married off when I was in Standard X, and so I came to Mumbai.

"In Mumbai, Hemantda was like both a second father and mother for me. I was very protected, but my reputation preceded me - and I began to get offers from the best banners and filmmakers like Raj Kapoor, Hrishikesh Mukherjee (for Guddi) and Subodh Mukerji. Initially we turned down some offers, and my uncle-in-law Dilip Mukherjee was entrusted with the responsibility of handling my career, since I was too young anyway to understand anything. Hrishida was so angry that he vowed never to work with me. But things fell into place when my husband produced the TV serial Talaash and Hrishida insisted that I do the lead role. The protective environment ensured that mature, sensitive roles were chosen and no exposure was allowed, and the first film that I signed was Raj Khosla's Kucche Dhaage, in which the song 'Jaa re bachpan tu jaa...' still remains one of my personal favourites and I also had a great role.

"However it was Shakti Samanta's Anuraag that was released first, and while Kucche Dhaage did well, Anuraag became a jubilee. My performance as a blind girl got me rave reviews, and S.D.Burman's music was a rage, especially 'Woh kya hai...', a song that is still identified as some kind of a signature tune for me.

"I signed Naina, Badla, Benaam, Roti Kapada Aur Makaan and several other films, and so there I was, at 18, having a husband, my first daughter Payal who had been born when I was 17, a home, a car, a fat bank-balance, name and fame. At 18, most people only dream of these things, and the flipside was that I could not understand, cherish or value all this and could not organize my life. I never went for a honeymoon, thanks to my busy schedule, and wanted to be with my husband Jayant but could not. When I finally came back home, I would rush to him and even forget that I had an infant daughter sometimes! I was a child-woman, and my daughter and I would both play with dolls at the same time! Raj (Khosla)-ji once said, 'She's either 8-years-old or 80-years-old, because for all this, I was never childish!

"I remember shooting for Benaam in which I played a mother. We shot for the film before I became a mother and I asked my director, 'How can I play a mother when I have never been one?' He said, 'Meena Kumari was so good as a mother in so many films though she never had children.' But I did not know who or what Meenaji was then - I had been a huge fan of Nutan and I was lucky to work with her in my first film Anuraag.

"There was an amusing turn to Kucche Dhaage. The actor playing my husband did not turn up and my husband had come with me. Rajji insisted that he do the role of my co-star, and so my first signed film had my husband as my sweetheart on screen too, while Vinod Khanna and Kabir Bedi portrayed my brothers. Later I did Vinod's home production The Cheat and Hatyara as his heroine.

"I got to work with the best heroes of my time, be it Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughna Sinha, apart from Amol Palekar and Rakesh Roshan and later Raj Babbar, Sunil Dutt and of course my husband's childhood friend Vinod Mehra. I also co-starred with Farouque Shaikh and Mithun Chakraborty, but my favourite co-star was Sanjeev Kumar, who played my hero, father and brother-in-law in different films. I was also linked with a lot of my co-stars, but then I have always classified journalists as good and yellow. I think that the role of a journalist is to make fans look at stars they love in a positive way. That is why I have preserved very few write-ups about me.

The Divine Hand
"I am said to have acted well in most of my films, and very well in others. But honestly, till today I do not know how I did it. I just followed the director's instructions. God had gifted me with talent, destiny had brought me to the right place, and an Invisible Hand seemed to be at work. I enacted the famous rape sequence in Roti Kapada Aur Makaan the same way - I was pregnant then and all that atta in the sequence was making me feel severely nauseated! I would hear compliments like 'Wah! Wah! Kya shot hai!' and realize that I had done something well. I always say that God has not been kind but completely partial to me. Whenever I took a small break, I was welcomed with open arms when I came back, and for that I am grateful to the industry.

"Looking back analytically today, I realize that there were also a lot of pent-up emotions within me that came forth in my performances: like how I left my parents' home too early, parted with my brothers and sisters, changed cities and was generally like a bird in a cage. Maybe that is why I could even cry without the need for glycerine - I was also influenced by Nutan's breakdown sequence in Anuraag as well. I wanted a sense of belonging, as there was a vacuum in my life because I could not even get to be as much as I wanted to with my husband, my daughter Payal and my younger daughter Megha. I would come back from a Chennai shoot in the evening and leave for Kashmir the next morning.

"Even today, in a way, I am waiting for maturity, but I do not think that it will ever come! And that's because I am always learning every day and from every one. On one day my vegetable vendor might teach me something - he is my guru for that day. There is also so much that parents can learn from children. My daughters went out in the world unlike me, and that makes them often think that I am so gullible. Payal is an executive with Sony Entertainment Television, and a sort of record has been created with my mentor Tarunda also giving my daughter Megha her first break in his Bengali film Bhalo Bashar Aunik Naam, in which I play her sister! In real life too, I am more like a sister to Payal and Megha, who has been christened Meghaa for the screen, and we three often go to the pubs together with common friends of their age!

"I think that I was good at emotional and comedy sequences, and I loved doing songs because I love music. I am a big fan of the Burmans and the Mangeshkar sisters and among my favourite songs are 'Rim jhim gire saawan...' from Manzil and 'Sun ri pawan...' from Anuraag. But my all-time favourite is not my own song, it is Nutan's 'Chhod de saari duniya...' from Saraswatichandra. The few scenes in which I had to expose skin a little bit were the only ones that I was uncomfortable doing, because even in my romantic scenes, all my heroes would be very protective towards me.

"Today, I am enjoying my work even more, because I understand things better. And I am called an international star because I did Hindi films, Bengali films as a heroine (I kept doing them even after I worked on Hindi films), the offbeat NFDC Hindi film Mahananda, and Bollywood/Hollywood. Talks are on for two more outside films, and I have signed a beautiful film by Krishnakant Pandya, whose Panaah had really impressed me. The film has Shreyas Talpade as my son, is titled Main Phir Aaoonga and tackles the issue of euthanasia through a true story. My recent double role in Zindaggi Rocks is my first in a Hindi film, but my second dual role, because I had done a mother-and-daughter role in a Bengali film whose name I do not recollect. I do not maintain a list of my films. Life is temporary. Who will remember actors when far more important people are forgotten?

Life's fun
"Today I have no ambitions other than becoming a grandmother - a real-life role. I am too lazy, too comfort-oriented to think of things like turning director! I have always been spoilt and I will keep doing films in which my role has some substance, a principle I have always followed even in films that had me as a mother, like Suntan or Ghayal. Today's films have seen amazing strides in technology and marketing, but soul is missing in most cases and you recall very few films. It is wrong to say that only today's films are more daring and experimental. What has changed is the marketing ad people's outlooks. As for music, the less said the better!

"On the credit side, I would like to mention the face-lift that Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) has given our films - because of him largely, our films are beginning to get international attention.

"Finally, I would like to mention that as a human being, I am a cusp Taurean and share more Arian characteristics my father was an Arian too. I was always frank, open and blunt, and was often misunderstood. I was always known for my sense of fun because for me a sense of humour and a smile can help you sail through every adversity in life.

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