Much before Simi Garewal’s star-studded ‘rendezvous’, or Karan Johar’s conversations over coffee, the Indian audience waited for Fridays for their weekly dose of Bollywood. Phool Khile Hai Gulshan Gulshan, the longest-running talk show on Indian television, aired on Doordarshan from 1972 to 1993, and was hosted by Tabassum Govil. It featured almost every actor, director, music composer, singer, producer and writer from the ’40s to the ’80s.
Tabassum, now 71, says actor Raj Kapoor and comic actor Deven Verma were the only two celebrities from that generation she didn’t interview on her show. But why are we talking about a show that ended over 20 years ago? Because Tabassum is reviving it, in the form of a web series called Tabassum Talkies. Whoever said the digital age only belonged to the young.
The veteran host is digging into a treasure trove of past interviews and fishing out the most memorable ones. The first one, already out, is an interview with a young (and visibly emotional) Sunil Dutt, recalling memories of Nargis. In addition to the old Doordarshan interviews, Tabassum hopes to have new guests on the show as well.
“I don’t need to write an autobiography. I will do it via YouTube. From my poems and jokes to interviews and stories, the web series will have bits of everything,” she says, as we meet her in her Bandra apartment. The apartment, she says, is where the likes of Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhar, Naushad and Saadat Hasan Manto would hang out back in the day.
Tabassum’s celluloid debut was at the young age of three, as child actor Baby Tabassum; she would play the young Meena Kumari in Baiju Bawra (1952). Despite a string of roles as a child actor, she couldn’t, however, make a mark as a leading actor. But she has no qualms: “Perhaps my image as a child actor was ingrained so deeply in people’s minds that they couldn’t accept me as a grown-up lady. But, honestly, I’m happy with how things panned out. People across generations still remember me with fondness,” she says, showing us black-and-white and sepia-toned photographs of her memorable meetings with some of Hindi cinema’s icons, including Amitabh Bachchan and Dev Anand.
Cuts? What cuts?
When Tabassum recently judged a stand-up comedy show on television, she was surprised by how much the small screen has changed: “We used to do single takes lasting 30 minutes. We didn’t know the concept of cuts. We didn’t even have any real production team. Phool Khile… was a one-woman show. I would contact the artists, write my script, do my own research. Initially, some artists would act snobbish about coming on the show, but once it became popular, the biggest names would queue up at the Doordarshan office for a slot. It was as much of a craze then as social media is today.”
A tech-savvy friend
Tabassum is not out of touch with the evolving new media. In fact, even when she is travelling for stage shows or other gigs, she carries her iPad with her. She’s clued in to WhatsApp and Facebook as well. “Shammi Kapoor was extremely tech-savvy, and we were good friends. He’s the one who’d introduce me to new gadgets. My granddaughter Khushi (27) introduced me to the internet. Today, I am on Twitter [@tabassumgovil] and Facebook,” she says.
But ask her about today’s film journalism, and she doesn’t mince words. “We knew where to draw the line… The respect for celebrities and their privacy is missing today,” she says.
Visit the channel ‘Tabassum Talkies’ (presented by One Digital Entertainment) on YouTube. New episodes out every Monday