Leela: A Patchwork Life
Leela Naidu with Jerry Pinto
Penguin Viking Rs 450 pp 180
Here’s a book that’s as uncomplicated as Leela Naidu, the actress once described by Vogue as one of the five most beautiful women in the world. Naidu comes across as gifted, versatile, and ‘outgoing’ despite often choosing to be an introvert.
As the blurb on the cover puts it, everyone who’s ever met the woman has ‘a Leela Naidu story’ to tell. This is Leela Naidu’s version. With anecdotes, she provides an insight into many other iconic figures. She doesn’t hesitate to tell us about the ‘limitations’ of her husband and childhood sweetheart Dom Moraes, and reveals how she turned down an offer from Raj Kapoor who wanted to do four films with her.
Naidu, once married to Tikki Oberoi, son of hotelier Mohan Singh Oberoi, whom she had twin daughters with, comes across as a crusader of sorts. Whether it’s arranging for the producer to get 30-odd chairs for the extras to sit during a shoot or to clear the air about the striking similarity between the infamous Nanawati case and her film Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke, she doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind.
In the chapter, ‘Man Possessed,’ we get to know about the insensitive side of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory during the production of The Householder in which she acted opposite Shashi Kapoor. She talks about the death of a child in the house where the movie was being shot and the producers wanted the shoot to continue despite the tragedy.
She admires Balraj Sahni, whose performances she enjoyed especially in Do Bigha Zamin and Garam Hawa. She makes an except, though, while recollecting the time when he made a pass at her while dropping her home and also tried to ‘steal’ a scene during the filming of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anuradha. She has good words for ‘Hrishi-da’ and his ‘mathematical brain’ that helped him edit movies with precision and narrates an incident in Paris where the director, while ordering food by looking at the prices on the menu, ended up asking for porcupine quills much to the astonishment of the waiter.
Naidu’s encounter with Naxalites and how she facilitated a meeting of a BBC crew accompanying Dom Moraes with an armchair revolutionary in Calcutta is very amusing. But the best is when she writes about how she played a secretary to Moraes when he was working on A Matter of People — translating his mumbled questions to puzzled people across the globe. Khushwant Singh had once asked Indira Gandhi how she managed to understand Moraes’ questions. Indira had replied, “Oh, Leela translated.”
She recounts how, during the making of the Hollywood film A Face in the Sun she met a fat man ‘with a face like a bulldog’. He was Alfred Hitchcock, who clapped as she finished a shot and seemed bowled over by her beauty even though he had a famous predilection for blondes. There are other anecdotes about her meetings with the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Dilip Kumar.
The woman who learnt her acting from Jean Renoir and was used by Salvador Dali as a model for Madonna, is also very lavish with her praise for her co-author Jerry Pinto whose foreword in the book gives a unique perspective about the talented actress.