For me Raakhee Gulzar is Paroma. Draped in the traditional white sari with red border, delicately picking bones from the fish on her plate, crunching on a green chillie, she epitomised the essence of Bengal.
Yet, you couldn’t remain immune to the sensuality that smouldered beneath the folds of tradition. And it wasn’t hard to imagine a flighty photographer being attracted to this conservative middle-aged woman.
Raakhee’s young lover in the film was director Aparna Sen’s husband, Mukul Sharma, a photo-journalist himself. Perhaps that was why he was coaxed into playing Rahul. Soon after the film’s release, he headed for Mumbai while Aparna stayed back in
Kolkata. They eventually went their separate ways.
Mukul had remarried and was heading a futuristic science magazine when I started working with him on a weekend supplement he edited once a month. In time he became a surrogate big brother. We discussed science which I didn’t understand.. and movies which I did. But for some reason, Paroma remained an unspoken subject.
Then I moved to a film magazine and got drawn into the chaos of hosting an award function. On D-day, I had the responsibility of keeping an eye on the nominees.. to ensure that they were in their seats for the TV cameras to zoom in on, when the awards were announced.
Raakhee was one of the contenders for her mother act in Ram Lakhan. She had also bagged a special award for Paroma. The actress sat serenely, lovely in a magenta silk sari. Then, just 10 minutes before her segment was to come up, she stood up.
I dashed to her side and frantically enquired if anything was wrong. “I need to visit the washroom,” she whispered. I rushed her there.
Raakhee parked herself in front of the bank of mirrors there and scrutinised her reflection. The minutes ticked away.
“You’re looking beautiful,” I assured her, and hurried her back to her seat. Just in time to hear her name being announced as the winner of the Best Supporting Actress. I heaved a sigh of relief as she headed towards the stage.
The years passed. It was time for another award function. A week before the event, an unflattering write-up of Raakhee appeared in the column of a senior colleague. She was in a tizzy. I had the unenviable task of appeasing her. I gave her a call.. she gave me an earful. I quietly took the tongue-lashing in my stride.
The next year, Sharmila Tagore was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Can I help?
To my editor’s delight, Raakhee and Gulzar agreed to present the trophy to her. I was laughingly told to stay out of Raakhee’s way. I sat quietly, backstage, lining up presenters for the other awards.
Earlier in the evening, daughter Meghna had won her first award for Best Story for Filhaal. Raakhee couldn’t have been happier. After handing the glittering statuette to Sharmila, she, along with her Daag co-star and Rani Mukherji who had
performed to a medley of Tagore’s chartbusters, arrived backstage to offer a personal thank you to my editor.
The trio chatted animatedly in Bengali, even Raakhee who had not said much earlier, complaining of a painful tooth. Then, to my dismay, she took the empty chair next to me and decided to help me with the presenters.
“What’s your name?” she asked, fishing in her purse for her glasses. “Roshmila Bhattacharya,” I told her, waiting for explosive recognition. To my surprise she smiled, “Oh, another Bengali. Good, so who do you think should present the award for Best Director?”