Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who worked with yesteryears glamour girl Begum Para in Saawariya, is deeply saddened by her death and wonders how he will make Heera Mandi without her.
"I wanted so much to work with her again. I wanted to cast her again after 'Saawariya'. Moin Beg, who has written 'Heera Mandi', told me this project would be incomplete without Para aunty. I agreed completely. In fact, I had the perfect role for her in 'Heera Mandi'. Now I wonder how I'll make the film without her," Bhansali told IANS.
Bhansali describes the actress, who passed away Tuesday, as "mercurial". The actress married Nasir Khan, Dilip Kumar's brother, in 1958 and quit acting. Her last film was "Kar Bala" with Bhagwan Dada that came in 1956. Almost more than fifty years later she made a comeback with Bhansali's "Saawariya".
"She was indeed Begum Para," said Bhansali whose association with Begum Para went back to his childhood.
"I remember my father would mention her very prominently among the beauties he admired from the 1950s. I had never seen her personally on screen. As a child I wasn't much of a moviegoer. For me, she was a myth, a beauty men were fascinated by."
Bhansali says that when he was finalising the cast of "Saawariya", writer Moin Beg, a friend of Begum Para, suggested her name. She played Sonam Kapoor's grandmother in the film.
"When we thought of that particular character in 'Saawariya', both my casting director Amita Sehgal and Moin Beg suggested Begum Para's name. The minute I heard her name, I remembered my father and I jumped at the name. Over the years I was intrigued by her," Bhansali said.
Recalling his first meeting with the legendary actress, he said: "Para aunty was immobile. She couldn't move out of bed. But she was so radiant and full of live. She had a sparkle in her eye. Her soul had not aged with time. She tied a pony tail high on her head and it would swing as she spoke animatedly.
"Moin and she talked about the next party, kebabs and drinks. She celebrated life even if she couldn't move, but she kept me entertained with her wacky anecdotes about all and sundry in the industry. Then she told me, 'The person you see over here in this bed is not Begum Para. Go over there and look at that picture.' And she pointed me to a picture on the wall where she posed in her heyday in a bathing costume.
"Do you know she went to movies in theatres regularly on her wheelchair. That she had a wonderful family that helped keep her spirits high till the end. Her daughter Lubna, son (actor) Ayub Khan and daughter-in-law Niharika were constantly joking and keeping her spirits high."
The director recalls her excitement when she came for the shooting.
"She loved putting on the makeup after so many years. If I suggested a red lipstick, she immediately went for it. She loved kajal, clothes... She was so happy to shoot at Mehboob studios where so many her memories were still alive. It was very difficult for her to come from her van to the sets. But she'd shoot the whole day without a word of complaint.
"Salman and she would be cracking up with mutual laughter the whole day. She got along with everybody. There was no crankiness because of age or bitterness for glory gone. It's very important not to get bitter in life. And I learnt that from Begum Para."
Bhansali says that the actress treated the cast and crew of his film with mutton biryani.
"She'd send biryani for all of us. The biryani from her house was outstanding. One day she brought mutton biryani to the sets and I regretfully turned it down because I don't eat mutton. Many months later after the shooting was over one day my doorbell rang. It was a box of chicken biryani from her.
"She taught me to smile through life's adversities. Maybe she was nervous for the first shot, but after that she was fine. Ayub and Niharika came to see her first shot. She smoked the hookah with such aplomb. She was really stylish. She spoke English fluently. When I saw her on the screen, I realised her aura was much larger than what I thought."
Bhansali has one regret.
"Just a month ago I asked Moin about Para Aunty. I wanted to meet her, but it never happened. What a challenge it was for her to come back to movies after so many years and still remember her lines. After the first shot, she just flowed. How sad that her performance was not recognised by any awards committee in India. In Hollywood, Begun Para's performance in 'Saawariya' would've been toasted for months."