Shashikala No More: Hindi Cinema’s Favourite Badwoman Is No More

The two most hated screen women  in the North belt  of India were Lalita Pawar and  Shashikala. And we can’t really blame our emotional audiences  for despising these women. Both super-talented, Lalita Pawar and Shashikala  made a  career out of villainy. In  those days  they called wicked woaen on screen  ‘the vamp’. Villainy was  only for men, you see.

But Shashikala was  a proud villain. She played manipulative scheming red-hot  evil  women  in hundreds  of films.  In Neel Kamal she  was  the  Sati Savitri heroine  Waheeda Rehman’s  sister-in-law. Together  with her mother-in-law Lalita Pawar ,  Shashikala  tormented and  tortured  poor Waheeda Rehman until she  wept  at the withering welter  of wickedness.

The audience hated  Shashikala even more. This silsila of hatred  began  for Shashikala  in Aarti  in 1962 for which she  won the Filmfare award  for best supporting actress. Until then,    Shashikala struggled  with  bit part.Unable to fit into the slots  provided  by  Hindi films in  the  1950s, she  played  walk-on parts in  long-forgotten films in  the 1940s and 50s,  first as a  child actor(she  was the only wage-earner in  a  large  family  of six children)  then as  a teenager.Her fortune changed when  she met the  legendary  singing-actress Noor Jehan who introduced the teenaged Shashikala to her producer-husband.

  While  still in her early  20s, Shashikala  met and married  Om Prakash Saigal  . They had two daughters  together. This is when her  career  took off.  Playing the  vamp  suited Shashikala to the hilt. Heroine’s roles were  not coming her way. So she created her  own slot as the anti-heroine , often  trying to steal  the goodygoody heroine away  from the heroine,  Meena Kumari in Phool Aur Patthar, Mala Sinha  in Apne Huet Paraye,  Neela  Aakash and Hariyali  Aur Raasta.

Mala Sinha who repeatedly  got the brunt  of Shashikala’s  villainy  remembers her  as a  “dedicated  artiste, always  staying  in-character on screen  to ensure she was  loathsome  but a real sweetheart  in  real life…shooting was  always  fun with her.”

I  loved  Shashikala  as  the  trouble-maker  in  Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore’s marriage in  Choti Bahu.  Shashikala’s best-remembered role is  as Leela   the blackmailer in  B R Chopra’s  Gumrah. In this memorable film  Shashikala was  the  woman who gets to know  of Mala Sinha’s extra-marital affair and squeezes  the damsel in distress out of every penny.  Shashikala’s  idiocyncratic  gesture of  rotating a  keychain in her finger while glibly talking money    was  a big hit in  Gumrah. She  won her richly deserved second Filmfare award  for  best supporting actress  in Gumrah.Years  later Shamita Shetty played the same role in Bewafaa , Dharmesh Darshan’s  awful  remake  of  Gulmrah. Shetty  ruined the  part.

It would be no exaggeration to  say  Shashikala  made  a career  out of being bad. Hrishikesh Mukherjee who loved to change the  vamps’ image(Lalita Pawar  in  Anari and Anand, Bindu in Arjun Pandit and Abhimaan) changed Shashikala’s image in Anupama. Though she was  the  film’s Other Woman in Sharmila  Tagore’s life she was neither  wicked nor covetous.

Years later Hrishida worked again  with Shashikala in Khubsoorat . He regretted the fact that he  didn’t work  more often with her. “What happens is, you get trapped in a particular set-up with a particular  set of actors and  technicians. That’s how I missed out on working more with some brilliant actors, ”he confided in me.

Shashikala  was  never  short of  her work. But  somewhere  as she grew older she  got tired  of playing variations of  the  bitch.She became spiritual, joined Mother Terera’s  organization  and  perhaps  atoned  for all the artificial sins in her film.  Now I am sure she is in heaven singing the song she sang to seduce Dharmendra in  the blockbuster Phool  Aur Patthar:  Zindagi mein pyar karna  seekh le jissko jeena  ho marna  sikha le.

Fun intended.

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