is easy to spot in the crowded drawing room. I notice her
sitting demurely on the sofa as soon as my husband and I
make our late entrance. I head for the hostess to apologise
to her. She immediately grabs my hand and leads me to the
prim figure on the sofa. Of course, I know who she is. But
as soon as she acknowledges the introduction her nose crinkles
into the artless, famously endearing smile that wipes away
the mask of the 'buddhi' and transforms it into the 'Guddi'
that any Indian film fan of the seventies would recognize.
Bachchan is in Rome in her capacity as an Indian Member
of Parliament, but for me she is Jaya Bhaduri, the actress
who captured Bombay with her Bangali naturalness in her
debut film 'Guddi' and my favourite, 'Uphar' (based on my
beloved Tagore story 'Shomapti' about a tomboy bride). For
the world of commercial Hindi cinema, saturated with glamorous
stars, the arrival of Jaya was a breath of fresh air. But
for me, a Bangali familiar with the deglamourised world
of Kolkata films of an era when actors were untouched by
the artifices of Bollywood, I never found Jaya Bhaduri all
that extraordinary. She was undoubtedly a natural, spontaneous
actress, but I knew of other natural actresses, and I was
a fan of Shabana Azmi. So, while I was proud of Jaya Bhaduri
because she was Bangali, I was never really her fan. Yet,
today, by the time the evening ends, I become a fan. Ironically,
I am a fan not of the actress but of Jaya, the woman, the
social worker and MP.
first observation I must make about Jaya Bachchan, apart
from the fact that there is nothing of the star celebrity
in her modest, well mannered persona, is that she has a
lovely face, far lovelier and younger than it looks on screen
or magazine photos. Her dusky skin is youthful under discreet
make up. In fact, a little enhancing would make her look
unchanged from her heroine days. But with her matronly demeanour,
it seems as if looking virtuous and deglamourised is an
article of faith with her. A wicked thought tiptoes across
my mind: she has the same colouring and Indian features
as Rekha; perhaps, this is why she has chosen not to go
the cosmetic way of her glamorous nemesis!
talk in Bangla, lapsing often into English. Her prime concerns
as an MP are mother-and-child issues and those related to
children with special needs. "I love children and have
always worked with handicapped children, especially with
the improvement of facilities for the care of mentally and
physically challenged children." This is a topic close
to my heart since I grew up with a brother who was hearing
impaired since birth and whom my determined mother helped
overcome the hurdles so that today he is a confident young
man who speaks as normally as possible and leads a dignified
and independent married life. I am touched that Jaya is
genuinely interested in my brother's story, specially the
struggles of my admirable mother, and the experiences of
my whole family.
speak of the need to sensitise society about differentiating
between the physically and the mentally challenged; and
aid the training of handicapped adolescents towards productive,
self-sustaining adult lives.
ask her if her interest started from the time of her memorable
performance as the female half of a deaf-mute couple in
the film 'Koshish'? She smiles but immediately deflects
the question and the compliment by plugging, instead, a
recent film of her mega-star husband. "Oh! You must
see the recent film of Amit-ji called, 'Black', about a
handicapped adopted girl-child who is deaf, mute and blind
since birth." "Like Helen Keller?" "Yes.
And Amit-ji plays the father and teacher who is slowly losing
his memory to Alzheimer." I gasp, what a story! A handicap
within another! "Who plays the child?" I forget
whether she said Rani Mukherjee, because in the same breath
she continued, "But Amit-ji's performance was so sensitive.
The whole film is so beautiful that I had tears in my eyes."
is obvious that she adores her husband. But I remember her
as being the better actress, the one who should have been
adored and not have been playing second fiddle either in
films or in life to a man who always struck me as a trite
and plastic product of Bombay Film industry's hero-manufacturing
Amitabh and she graduated from the Pune Film and T.V Institute
of India, but it was she who thought of uplifting her Alma
Mater. She also started the Children's Film Society. Now
with her seat in the Rajya Sabha as MP she has scope to
work for issues like literacy, security and health care
for women and children.
know that she has done quite a few films recently that have
brought the actress back to the screen with a bang, and
I am not thinking of commercial fare like 'Kal Ho Na
Ho' (though she made her character come to life even
within formula material) and 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham',
but stronger ones like 'Fiza' and Govind Nihalani's
'Hazar Chaurasi ki Maa'(based on Bangali writer
Mahasweta Devi/Mohasheta Debi's story, 'Hajar Churashir
Ma', about an upper class Kolkata mother trying to
understand the mind of her Naxalite rebel son after his
sighs: "Challenging or original subjects and roles
like that are hard to come by. I am reading many scripts
but there is nothing exciting for a woman of my age."
"Such a pity that neither our audience nor our film
makers seem ready for films about women, who after a certain
age are more interesting and beautiful than young girls
in conventional romance stories." "Exactly."
Jaya responds enthusiastically, about to say more when two
Italian ladies are introduced to her. These are women parliamentarians
whose interest in Jaya Bachchan is as a colleague. "How
many women M.P's are there in India?" She is asked.
"I don't know the exact figure, but not many."
"Same here in Italia," they nod.
tell the parliamentarians that Jaya has another identity
as a much-lauded actress. They smile indulgently as if hearing
about a hobby, not least impressed. How can I tell them
that here, within all five foot of her, stands a legendary
figure of my times? "Like your Sophia Loren" I
start to say, then decide that something will be lost in
translation. And I don't want to diminish either Jaya or
my admiring memories of her by adding that she also happens
to be the wife of India's 'super-star' and the mother of
an up-coming star.
ask,"The young in India must be very spiritual?"
Sotto voce I tell her in Bangla that the Italian youth has
recently discovered the spiritual wealth of India and are
enthusiastic about yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, classical
music etc. She laughs, "In India, as everywhere, spiritualism
among the young is a fashion. Real spiritualists practice
quietly." To me she whispers in Bangla, "I am
not a religious person." So says this person who believes
in the religion of humanity and its essential goodness;
who spends time in the welfare of others rather than in
self-promotion; and who is a person at peace, having found
her own route to it. I find this unpretentious woman a deep
and rich person. We could have spoken for hours. But I take
my leave. She takes my hand warmly and gives me the crinkly
smile. I feel I am taking leave of an old friend.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004