Legendary actress Mala Sinha who regaled generations of Hindi cineastes with her powerhouse performance in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, B R Chopra's Dhool Ka Phool and Gumrah and Ramanand Sagar's Geet, is at the moment very angry and upset with the committee that has just bequeathed the Dadasaheb Phalke Academy Award on her.
Speaking exclusively to this writer Mala Sinha says, "They've done grave injustice to me. They haven't even mentioned my name on the invitation card! When members of the Phalke committee including their chairperson came home to me to request me to take the award for being what they called a legendary artiste, I was happy to accept it. But when I saw the invitation card for the event I was shocked. My name was not there with the other winners of award. Asha Bhosle and Pam Chopra (who is to receive the award on behalf of her late husband Yash Chopra)... This is insulting. It would be better if they had straightaway slapped me physically instead of insulting me in this way."
Says Malaji, "They had informed me that I was to get the award a month ago. Though I don't go out too much these days I did agree to come. They had a press conference in a small restaurant on Linking Road to announce the awards. None of their winners not Ashaji not Pam Chopra, came to the press conference. I went. They came home with the invitation last week. Only to insult me in this way. Forget my picture they haven't even put my name in the invitation card. I told them to pick up their invitation cards and leave. I don't want their award. This is an insult to me as an artiste. I can't tell you how upset I am about it. I agree Asha Bhosle and Yash Chopra are great artistes. But am I so small an artiste that my name should be left out? Then don't give me the award. I don't want it."
Looking back on her career Mala says, "Just the other day I was watching Dhool Ka Phool which came in 1959 and I was quite impressed by how ahead of its times it was ...I've done some notable films... aur mere saath aisa anyaay
?! I've been around from the 1950s and I did films till the end of the 90s. Do you know I got two offers from Hollywood in the 1960s as the main lead. My father who looked after my work refused saying, 'Our culture doesn't allow our daughters to work in that atmosphere of intimacy that prevails in Western cinema. So please excuse us.' That's the kind of respect I got in Hollywood. And look at how I am treated at home! I think I was not given my due. Kya karoon? Jitna bhagya mein likha utna hi milega na?"
Mala Sinha now 76, lives a life of semi-retirement with her ailing mother and daughter Pratibha who played the lead in the 1980s in some films.
The actress whose beauty and talent wowed audiences in the 1960s says softly, "My father used to look after my work. After his passing away I lost interest in my career. But while he was around I only thought of my work. I knew nothing about the business side of cinema or about marketing myself. I was just a simple artiste who wanted to work, work and work with all my life. I worked in the best of films and repeatedly with filmmakers like B R Chopra, Vijay Anand and Ramanand Sagar ".
Says Malaji, "Once an artiste always an artiste. I do miss the arclights. But one has to make sacrifices. I am happy looking after my mother. My daughter Pratibha also lives with me. She now does social work. I cut down on my work when she was growing up, as I wanted to give my attention to my role as a mother and then as a daughter to my ailing mother. As for me I'm open to roles provided they are not routine mothers' parts. An artiste never dies. My last film was with Govinda and Juhi (Radha Ka Sangam). Daddy passed away. And I became responsible for the entire family. He used to look after the home and my career. Mummy is bedridden, so I can't be too active outside the home. But I'd love to work again."
She singles out B R Chopra's Gumrah and Dhool Ka Phool and Jahan Ara as her most memorable films.