What a pleasant surprise to find Waheeda Rehman figure in the list of Republic Day honours this year. Awarding her the Padma Bhushan, 39 years after she received the Padma Shri in 1972, is a wonderful way of recognising her achievements and immense contribution to the world of cinema.
When she was awarded the Padma Shri, she had just won the 1971 National Award for Reshma aur Shera. She had also picked up the best actress awards for Guide and Neel Kamal in 1966 and 1968 respectively. Filmfare had honoured her with a life-time achievement award in 1994. But after the death of her husband, Kamaljit Singh in 2000, Waheeda picked up from where she had left with inspiring performances in films like Rang De Basanti (2006) and Delhi-6 (2009).
But to really appreciate the awe-inspiring Waheeda Rehman, one simply has to see her classic films. In her first Hindi film, CID (she made her debut a year earlier in 1955 in the Telugu film, Jayasimha), she played a vamp and left an indelible mark. The first image that comes to my mind when you say ‘Waheeda’ is that of Rosie Marco from Guide, and then Kamini from CID. And no one compares to her play of eyes during the hide-and-seek game during the ‘Kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana’ song sequence in CID.
Guru Dutt often would say that an actor has to act 80 % with his or her eyes. Waheeda was almost ‘all eyes’. Gulab in Pyaasa (1957) hardly opens her mouth. But the intensity of her expressions come from Waheeda’s eyes. Guru Dutt’s picturisation of the sequence ‘Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo’ in Pyaasa says it all. What Gulab emotes, what she expresses — whether it’s love, longing or helplessness — it’s all in her eyes. The same extraordinary mobility of her face and eyes is visible when, without speaking a word, she is seen to invite Vijay (Guru Dutt) in the ‘Jane kya tune kahi, jane kya mene suni’ song in the same film.
Waheeda came to Guru Dutt’s notice when he saw her dancing in the 1955 Telugu film (her second film ever) Rojulu Marayi. But he never did anything with her dancing talent, instead deciding to focus, to the point obsession, on the romanticism of her eyes. Her prowess as a dancer was left to Dev Anand to bring to a larger audience in Guide and Prem Pujari (1970).
KK Paul is a former Delhi Police Commissioner
The views expressed by the author are personal