One wowed audiences with her twin talents, singing and acting, all through the ’80s, while the other is just making her foray in Bollywood. As Sasheh Agha prepares for her big screen debut with Aurangzeb, we get the 19-year-old to interview her mother, yesteryear star, Salma Agha, who entered Bollywood as a teenager too.
Sasheh Agha: Now that I am debuting as an actor, this must remind you of the time when you did your first movie. I think you were 16 years old?
Salma Agha: It wasn’t that easy though. I was as adamant as you are. I left home because they would never let me work in a film. So it was quite a tough decision to take at that point.
Sasheh: When you left home, did you think you’d work with a big banner and that everything would fall in place?
Salma: For me, music meant the whole world. Raviji, the great music director gave me a break with a big banner like BR Films (in the film Nikaah, 1982). It was quite exciting.
Sasheh: But didn’t you want to sing and not act?
Salma: I had little interest in acting but they offered me a role as well. I told them that I would act only if you let me sing all the songs in the film. And they agreed. And the film went on to become a big hit. I was trained in classical music and I worked very hard on my skills. So, music was always the first priority in my life.
Sasheh: I had to do some bold scenes in the film. Did that embarrass you any time?
Salma: I don’t expect you to go swimming in a churidar or a sari. If you can swim in a swimsuit at home, then why not in films? Times have changed and things have become much more commercial. One has to live according to the times. What’s the harm in it?
Sasheh: After your debut, it was smooth sailing and you grew up to become an established singer-actor.
Salma: I am happy about whatever I have done in the past. You live your life best when you have no regrets. I have two very beautiful and understanding children, Sasheh Agah and Ali Khan, and I am very happy to have them. I also perform around the world. I had insisted you also to be a singer first because your acting career depends on your looks. Music, on the other hand, has no such limitations. Your talent grows and only gets better with time.
Sasheh: How was Bollywood at the time when you were at your peak?
Salma: It was as good, maybe even better than what it is now. Today, people have no time. But when it comes to entertainment, it was as good as it is now; the craze for entertainment was there back in the day too. There have been a lot of changes over the years.
Sasheh: Do you think that filmmaking has also undergone a sea change?
Salma: The basic grammar is the same but now we are facilitated with advanced technology, and things are much more organised too. So it has become much better I must say.
Sasheh: Do you think earlier, films were considered art but now they’ve become more like a business?
Salma: Now it (making movies) has become a business. People are concentrating more on the economics of filmmaking. It has become more expensive too. Also, people are more professional. Earlier, they used to take days to complete one scene, but now people can’t afford to waste so much time. The art has also changed. Look at the subjects. Do you think a film like Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola would have been made, say 20 years ago? No way. But people have been educated with time. The kind of films are being made today wouldn’t have stayed in theatres for more than a week in our times. I want to thank today’s filmmakers, such as Vishal Bhardwaj, for raising the standard and bringing audiences to accept films that are based on reality.
Sasheh: What rapport do you share with the Kapoors now?
Salma: I share a very good rapport with them. I am related to them from my mother’s side. Blood is thicker than water. Somehow, it’s always a case that people are usually closest to their maternal towards their maternal side. I have only only one mashi (maternal aunt) now, Mrs Shanta Bhawan; she is Prithviraj Kapoor’s sister. Your debut was also not that easy task.
Sasheh: You were always there to support me. I gave an audition a year ago. After it, Shanu Sharma, the casting director came to me and said ‘We are interested in you and want to take you for a Yash Raj Film, but let’s see where to place you.’ Thanks for letting me go and struggle to get a film. I remember you saying, Just because you belong to a film family, it doesn’t mean that I would get you a film.
Salma: Now I am looking out for my son. He is just 15 but he is very tall, mashaallah. Being a pathan, he shot up like that, but he is still a child.
Sasheh: But he also auditioned for Shanu! (laughs) Do you feel scared to let me go alone anywhere, be it with friends or to the film sets?
Salma: That’s a very natural feeling. I feel women’s security has become a very major problem. But I feel film sets are very secure. Since Yash Raj Films is like home to me, as long as you are working with them, I am not worried at all.
Sasheh: Who were the best heroes you worked with?
Salma: I worked with Mithun Chakraborty, Anil Kapoor, Feroz Khan, Rajesh Khanna and they were all fantastic. It used to be such a homely atmosphere; they were such good people. Other than that, I always loved watching Mr Bachchan on screen. I wish I could have done a film with him, but it’s never too late.
Sasheh: Any memorable moments with them you would like to share?
Salma: There are lots. The best thing is we are still good friends. Above all, their children are still in touch with me.
Sasheh: The competition is cut-throat these days. Do you worry if I would be able to make a mark in the industry?
Salma: Competition is good. It shows that you have to be talented to survive in this industry. This kind of competition was always there. Nowadays the film business is about making R100 crore; producers will not invest in you if you can’t prove yourself worthy.
Sasheh: What was your first reaction when you saw me in Aurangzeb?
Salma: It was a thrilling experience. I was more concerned about how your song came out. I loved your voice.
Sasheh: What has stardom taken away from you?
Salma: I loved visting Haji Ali and eating at the food stalls around it. Even though it is difficult now, I still go there. I always say that even when you are an
established star, don’t forget to lead a normal life. You should be able to go to the grocery store and buy things yourself.
Salma Agha: Do you think a film like Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola would have been made, say 20 years ago? No way. But people have been educated with time. The kind of films that are being made today wouldn’t have stayed in theatres for more than a week in our times.