It was like an illusion. Mom (Hema Malini) and I have shared the stage before, during Odissi and Bharatanatyam recitals, but being in the same frame with papa (Dharmendra) was a first. I didn’t sleep the night before the first shot and neither did he, I’m sure. And we didn’t use glycerin, the tears were for real,” admits Esha Deol who will be seen with her father in Tell Me O Khuda, directed by her mother.
The film is about a girl, who on learning that she’s been adopted, sets out to hunt for her real parents. “Fathers and daughters will connect with it because this bond is special?” says Esha.
Dharmendra agrees, pointing out that while he loves his ‘boys’, Sunny and Bobby, dearly, he feels a little ‘extra’ something for his daughters, Vijeta, Ajeeta, Esha and Ahana. “It’s probably because you know that one day soon, they will go away to someone else’s home,” he sighs.
Vijeta and Ajeeta are happily married and Dharmendra admits that he’d like to see Esha settled too. “That way, he’s a typical Jat Punjabi papa,” laughs Esha. “But he knows that I can’t be forced into doing anything against my wishes. So he’s being amazingly understanding and waiting for me to find a suitable boy. That’s not easy because I’ve never loved any man more than my papa. He’s larger-than-life, yet so down-to-earth, that it’ll be tough to measure up.”
Growing up, Esha remembers how every time Ahana and she were up to mischief, the family would threaten to tell Dharmendra. “We grew up scared of him even though he never raised his voice on us or any other woman. He’s a real gentleman, but the image of the stern patriarch stayed till I grew up and discovered that he was more a buddy than a big daddy. I can talk to him about anything, from work to a guy I fancy,” says Esha.
Dharmendra remembers his own father as a patriarch who ruled the house. “My mother was the one we ran to with our secrets and my father, from whom we ran away,” he reminisces. “Now that I’m a father too, I realise how much love there was in the milk he brought home for us and I wish I’d spent more time with him. I have everything… A bungalow, cars, luxuries in plenty, but what I crave most is the company of my children. That’s why I believe Father’s Day is a great idea; it gives you an excuse to get close to your father. I wish we had it in my time too.”
Esha recalls buying her papa a teddy bear pillow as a Father’s Day gift once. “I saw it in a London store. It was blue, promised a larger-than-life hug and had the message, ‘Together forever’. It was so right for him, because he’s like my teddy bear too,” she says, admitting that she has picked up more costly gifts, including an iPhone 4 to make him more ‘tech savvy’, but the teddy bear remains a beautiful memory.
Cut to the present and Tell Me O Khuda. One defining moment from the shoot? Dharmendra shudders, “Getting out of my vanity van to see a girl hanging upside down in the middle of the ocean. I thought it was Esha’s double, only to learn minutes later that it was actually her.”
When realisation struck, he started screaming at the unit, “Meri ladki ko latka rakha hai, jaldi neeche utaro usse (You’ve hung my daughter upside down, bring her down quick).” Esha points that he’d done a similar stunt in Samrat, but when he saw her at sea, he was terrified even after she reassured him that if she fell, she could swim back to safety. But he started breathing only when she was back on terra firma.
Today, recalling the moment he beams, “My Esha is a Jatni. My blood runs in all my kids and I’m so proud to be their father.” Can we hope to see his actor-kids and him in a film together one day soon? He retorts, “Sure, we just need a great script!”