Remembrances, they are a device, convenient media flashbacks perhaps. For Smita Patil, it is that and I hope a bit more. It is journalese as well as personal. She went away at the age of 31, shortly after the birth of Prateik.
She had shown off Prateik to us at her Khar-Danda apartment. Talk had veered towards her husband, Raj Babbar, whom she described, “as a little baby, just like Prateik. He may seem aloof and reserved but that’s because you don’t know him.”
Some of us, her friends from St Xavier’s College, weren’t quite sure about the match. Guess we were possessive about her, we wanted heaven for her.
Whenever she was feeling down-down-down (which was very often), she would wonder where she was.. why she was dancing in the rain in a Bachchan movie (her mother didn’t like this one bit).. and where she was going.
As you know, though, an actress cannot be an arthouse Bhumika alone. Another kind of acting instinct leads the most fiercely uncommercial artiste to a larger canvas, a larger audience, a larger profile.
That she did successfully but wasn’t exactly proud about this. Bhumika, Umbartha, Bhavni Bhavai and Aakrosh mattered more to her than Galiyon ka Badshah, Kasam Paida Karnewale ki and Insaniyat ke Dushman.
She wasn’t apologetic about going the conventional route, and would laugh, “It’s okay, Mr Critic, you can’t be serious all the time.. that would become boring.”
Not exactly the line she said but it’s pretty close, and was certainly more squelching. Who were we to decide on what she should do, or shouldn’t? Whom she should see or shouldn’t? We couldn’t understand why Vinod Khanna at one time. She’d hear us out but in a roundabout way, convey it was none of our business.
Sorry it was. We liked to drop in on her sets. She shooed us off when she was decked up in a courtesan’s costume for a mujra scene in Ghungroo.
We made faces, she sent for sandwiches and tea, end of visit. That she loved her friends was as obvious as her love for just switching off.
She took off to the Rajasthan deserts once, no explanation, no reason. She returned a month later, showing off the photos she had shot on her Leica.
Inevitably, the personal and the professional can cross-connect. I was to do a Filmfare cover story on Smita Patil (one of my first, straight after one on Raakhee Gulzar). I told Smita that I’d hang out with her for a day, just see how it goes and tempted her into an afternoon binge at the Taj’s Harbour Bar. She had colitis even then, and ate a banana from the roadside to ‘line’ her stomach before we vodka’ed.
That afternoon, I tricked her into talking about everything — from what she thought about the men in her life, her belief in dreams and tantric magic to comments on how she didn’t really feel comfortable in the big Mehboob studio set-up.
Shooting outdoors with Shyam Benegal/Ketan Mehta/Govind Nihalani was so much more rewarding. We ended the day at a photographer’s studio. She had a crush on him, both of us were tipsy, I left. I wrote down every word of what I saw and felt. She didn’t like the story.. perhaps because it was too intimate.
Much too real
I should have distinguished between what was on and what was off the record. I asked a common friend, Ayesha Kagal to read it. She did and didn’t go beyond saying, “It’s much too real.. how could you Khalid?”
Perhaps Smita sulked about the piece. She avoided me, I avoided her. After a few months, I met her, she said, “We’re not getting into an argument here.. you did your job.. okay.. now smile.”
I did.. and always do, for Smee.