Tabassum was a popular name in the country in the 1950s, having worked as a child artiste. She was called the ‘Indian Shirley Temple’. But despite having worked with some of the industry’s biggest names, her career didn’t pan out well as a heroine. Later, Tabassum hosted the popular show, Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan.
Tabassum says, “Doordarshan (DD) wanted a show that would have music and dance performances, and 10-minute interviews with celebrities.” The show’s makers applauded her style of interviewing, jokes and shayari. They realised that this was a novel concept, as viewers hadn’t seen interviews on TV in the 1970s.
“You could say that DD and I grew up together. I was a popular face in films, and did many stage shows too. TV was in its infancy. The series went on to make records for being a talk show that lasted for 21 years. That record is still intact. I also got the title of ‘India’s TV Queen’,” says Tabassum.
The actor got paid Rs 75 per episode, and by the end of the show, was making Rs 750 per episode. “I was getting paid peanuts, and people told me that I was being taken advantage of. I did TV hoping to earn good money, which didn’t happen. But I got a lot of respect and fame,” she says.
While DD wanted to name the show Guldasta, Tabassum didn’t find it appealing. She chose a couplet called Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan from Begum Akhtar’s ghazal instead, and ended up sporting a flower in her hair on the show. It became her style statement.
The art of the interview
Musician Naushad was the first personality to be interviewed on the show, which later featured names like Sohrab Modi, Durga Khote, Shobhana Samarath, Nutan, Tanuja, Prem Nath, Amitabh Bachchan, Prem Chopra, R D Burman, Shatrughan Sinha, Shakti Kapoor and many others.
The articulate Tabassum had the knack of putting celebrities at ease. Shammi Kapoor and Ashok Kumar were some of the stars that did multiple interviews with her. She says, “I knew everyone in the industry, and they were happy to talk to me. People loved the elegance with which I put forth my questions. The interviews were live back then, and I ensured that I didn’t put them on the spot or insult anyone. Once, I interviewed an unmarried celebrity, who had gotten pregnant. On the show, I brought up her pregnancy in a very delicate manner, and she answered.
However, at times, she came across people who weren’t willing to talk much. “Film-maker Kamal Amrohi saab didn’t want to talk about his wife, Meena Kumari. He agreed to answer a question about how she was as an actor. As it was a live show, I ended up asking him how she was as a wife, and he replied, ‘Either you can be a good wife or a good actor. Not both’.”
Tabassum also recalls an interview with the late actor Tun Tun.
“She was used to producers taking care of their artistes. So, she came to the studio in a cab, and when she got off, she asked us to pay her cab fare. Everyone on the sets was shocked. Later, she wanted to have Chinese food for lunch. These demands were innocent, but it was due to her experience in the industry,” she says, adding, “I was blessed to have such an illustrious career.”
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