Adieu, Baby Tabassum; your ever-puckish charm will be missed

Published on Nov 19, 2022 11:36 PM IST

Mumbai: Just 78 but the indefatigable one always, she appeared to have been on the scene for a century: her presence was ubiquitous and to put it mildly, sparky and spunky

Tabassum is an Indian film actress and talk show host, who started her career as a child actor Baby Tabassum in 1947 - HT Photo.
Tabassum is an Indian film actress and talk show host, who started her career as a child actor Baby Tabassum in 1947 - HT Photo.
ByKhalid Mohamed

Mumbai: Just 78 but the indefatigable one always, she appeared to have been on the scene for a century: her presence was ubiquitous and to put it mildly, sparky and spunky.

Tabassum, born Kiran Bala, possesses the distinction of hosting the longest-running show – Phool Khile Hain Gulshan -- 1972-’93; the delightful conversations on Doordarshan during the black-and-white era with film celebrities.

So how did she derive the catchy name, Tabassum? Her father was the freedom fighter, Ayodyanath Sachdev, her mother Ashghari Begum. Her screen name, it is lored, was coined by Dilip Kumar, who was extremely fond of the actress, who was called Baby Tabassum. Others claim that it was her mother who equated her daughter with the aphorism, “Be Happy, Keep Smiling.”

Although she had already done her vivacious number in several films of the black-and-white era, it’s the song ‘Bachpan ke dil bhula na dena’ (rendered by Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar), in the thespian’s starrer ‘Deedar’ with Nargis, which endeared her instantaneosuly to the nation – way before the Irani sisters – Daisy and Honey – in a way, replaced her as the chatty, precocious child actor of the Bombay-produced cinema.

As is the norm in Bollywood, child actors find the transition to adult roles difficult, if not impossible. You just have to see her in the childhood role of Meena Kumari in the iconic musical ‘Baija Bawra’, to detect her potential. She had unlimited liveliness and chutzpah. However, those were the days when talent was subservient to drop-dead glamorous looks. Baby Naaz and the Irani sisters couldn’t make that key transition to the heroine status either.

Unlike them, Tabassum –with her uber cloying ways and chatterboxy pitch of voice – re-invented herself effortlessly. If you can’t be a part of showbiz, switch to the mounting viewership on TV of their strengths and flaws.

The Doordarshan bubble couldn’t last forever though. Once, I saw her at a film event, mingling with the power-wielders, quizzing them quite forthrightly why she couldn’t be cast in key supporting roles. Perhaps they found her to be pushy for her own good or felt she had already been overexposed on television. Their loss. Apart from Nasir Husain’s ‘Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon’, if she did show up in a sidebar role occasionally, those cameos alas weren’t impactful enough.

Obviously, a workaholic, she edited ‘Grihalaxmi’, a Hindi women’s magazine for 15 years. Besides that she compiled a pile of joke books and the word ‘chutkule’ will always be associated with her.

She overstretched herself by turning to writing and direction, circa 1985, with ‘Tum Par Hum Qurbaan’ – in order to launch her son Hoshang Govil. Without much fanfare, or an elaborated wedding ceremony, she had married Vijay Gohil, the elder brother of TV actor Arun Gohil. The film tanked but not her spirit.

By the way, the massively popular Johnny Lever may or may not agree, but Tabassum would claim, she had discovered and introduced him by casting him in the ‘Qurbaan’ misadventure.

Her biography is dotted with achievements, major and minor. Yet, she never received the media or the film industry’s attention, which she deserved. When she was in hospital lately, she posted her photograph amidst tubes, but did any major film personality tweet a word of sympathy? No.

Her last hurrah was her persistent appearances on YouTube: a personal channel in which she would recall the many splendoured achievements of the 1950s and ‘60s essentially. Simultaneously, she would do soft exposes of how, say Divya Bharati or Parveen Babi were victims of, let’s call it the Bollywood system.

Frankly, Tabassum does merit way more than this or other obituaries. Upcoming international film festivals in Goa and other parts of the country, have already announced tributes to the film actors, directors and technicians this year. It will be a crying shame if the ever-puckish Tabassum is cavalierly ignored.

(Khalid Mohammad writes on movies.)

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