Sharmila Tagore

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Sharmila Tagore

Dinesh Raheja

If her husband and erstwhile captain of the Indian cricket team, Pataudi, is addressed as Tiger, Sharmila Tagore is justifiably called the Bengal Tigress. She was always on the hunt for challenges.

In an industry where heroines find it difficult to shatter the carapace of their images, Sharmila went from being a peaches-and-cream ingenue and a taboo breaking sex symbol to a National Award-winning actress and the doyenne of style.

Famous songs picturised on Sharmila Tagore
Song Film Singer
 Isharon isharon  mein  Kashmir Ki Kali  Asha Bhosle,  Mohammed Rafi
 Yehi woh
 jagah hai
 Yeh Raat Phir  Na Aayegi  Asha Bhosle
 Kuch dil ne kaha  Anupama  Lata Mangeshkar
 Raat ke humsafar  An Evening  In Paris  Asha, Bhosle,  Mohammed Rafi
 Chalo sajna
 jahan tak
 Mere Humdum  Mere Dost  Lata Mangeshkar
 Gunguna rahe
 hai bhawre
 Aradhana  Asha Bhosle,  Mohammed Rafi
 Khai hai re  humne kasam  Talaash  Lata Mangeshkar
 Raina beeti jaaye  Amar Prem  Lata Mangeshkar
 Hum aur tum,  tum aur hum  Daag  Lata Mangeshkar,  Kishore Kumar
 Dil dhoondhta hai  Mausam  Lata Mangeshkar,  Bhupinder
As a Satyajit Ray discovery, Sharmila always enjoyed a certain cachet. She began her career while still in her teens with Ray's Apur Sansar (1959), the final installment in Ray's famed Apu trilogy.

She worked with him again in Devi (1960), where her portrayal of a teenage wife whose father-in-law believes she is the reincarnation of a goddess, moved America's influential film critic, Pauline Kael, to eulogise, "She is exquisite, perfect --- a word I don't use casually."

Sharmila's association with Satyajit Ray, who she thought could make even a tree act, spanned over a decade in films like Nayak (1966) Aranyer Din Ratre (1970) and Seemabaddha (1971).

Her nationwide popularity was largely courtesy Hindi films. Sharmila began her sojourn in Hindi films opposite Shammi Kapoor in Shakti Samanta's romantic musical, Kashmir Ki Kali (1964). Her beauty was more discussed than her rather stilted acting and faulty Hindi enunciation. Sharmila even contemplated leaving Mumbai but a few good roles saved the day.

A titular role in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anupama (1966) won her attention. While essaying Anupama, a girl ostracised by her father (as he held her responsible for the death of his wife in childbirth), Sharmila cushioned her searing silences with eloquent gazes. She brought an incongruous note to her role of a simple, shy and soft-spoken girl by sporting a stylish bouffant --- despite Mukherjee advising her against it.

Meanwhile, Samanta repackaged the well-read, fluent-in-English actress as a sex kitten and presented her in a double role as a cabaret cutie and Paris-bred Indian beauty opposite Shammi Kapoor in An Evening In Paris (1967).

Her Sharmi-la-di-dah mannerisms in this musical crime caper were considered supremely stylish in the 1960s. Her butterfly-knot blouses, daring costumes, unending eyelashes, beehive bouffants and coquettish gestures --- watch her redefine style as she sips a coke in the song Akele akele kahan ja rahe ho --- became the talk of the town.

Around this time, Sharmila appeared on a film magazine cover in a two-piece bikini and unleashed a storm of controversy. Her independant, unconventional attitude only hastened the process of her being rewarded with the tag of a 'sex symbol'. A descendant of the Rabindranath Tagore family, Sharmila wasn't happy with the sobriquet, unless it had the halo of an acclaimed actress to go with it. She married Pataudi in 1968, but continued to act.

In cohoots with her An Evening In Paris director Shakti Samanta, Sharmila managed a sensational image makeover with her award-winning performance in the golden jubilee hit, Aradhana (1969). The film offered Sharmila an opportunity to flash her dimples (Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu), as well as reveal that she was no flash in the pan as an actress.

In Aradhana, Sharmila's character goes from being a sprightly young girl to an unwed mother to a remorseless murderess to a benign, grey-haired mother.

After Aradhana, Sharmila was at the high noon of her popularity. Always one to follow her heart, the actress rebelliously took a break to deliver her first child Saif Ali Khan in 1970. A slew of offers with her Aradhana hero, superstar Rajesh Khanna, saw her soon return to the studios.

The chemistry of the Rajesh-Sharmila pair sparked off hits like Safar, Amar Prem, Daag and the artistically acclaimed Basu Bhattacharya film Aavishkar. In the poetic Amar Prem (1971), Sharmila made the most of her evocative, kohl-lined eyes to convey the pathos of Pushpa, a mostly-mute courtesan. In sharp contrast, she played the obscenity-spewing whore Kajri in Mausam (1975).

Basu Bhattacharya's Aavishkar (1973) was a revelation. The minimum makeup, no-wig look made it imperative for Sharmila to rely largely on her talent and she matched Khanna salvo for salvo as she alternated between bouts of anger and remorse while essaying the role of a wife struggling to save a marriage.

Besides Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila also made a popular team with her teen heartthrob Shashi Kapoor (Waqt, Aaamne Saamne, Suhana Safar, My Love, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Paap Aur Punya, Anadi), Sanjeev Kumar (Charitraheen, Mausam, Grihapravesh) and Dharmendra (Devar, Mere Humdum Mere Dost, Anupama, Satyakam, Chupke Chupke).

The mid-1970s witnessed the decline of Rajesh Khanna and the emergence of a new superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Despite films like Faraar, Besharam and Desh Premee, Sharmila was not able to form a pair with him.

After winning the coveted National Award for her no-holds-barred performance in Guilzar's Mausam, Sharmila soon shifted home to Delhi and had two daughters.

She would fly down to Mumbai to do an occasional role that excited her (New Delhi Times) or one that offered her an opportunity to work with a long-time associate like Gulzar (Namkeen).

Her recent tryst with undistinguished character roles in Mann (1999) and Dhadkan (2000) however, is not on par with her reputation.

Now, Sharmila is shooting with one-time arch rival, Raakhee, for Rituparno Ghosh's Bengali film Shubho Mahurat. In her heyday, when Sharmila shot with Mala Sinha for Humsaaya and later with Raakhee for Daag, the studio would be colder than an igloo due to the icy vibes between the actresses.

Sharmila has now matured as a person as well as an actress. The one thing that remains unchanged is the fact that she is still as stylish as ever.

Sharmila's Landmark Films
Year Film Hero
1964 Kashmir Ki Kali Shammi Kapoor
1966 Anupama Dharmendra
1967 An Evening In Paris Shammi Kapoor
1969 Aradhana Rajesh Khanna
1970 Safar Rajesh Khanna
1971 Amar Prem Rajesh Khanna
1973 Daag Rajesh Khanna
1973 Aa Gale Lag Jaa Shashi Kapoor
1975 Chupke Chupke Dharmendra
1975 Mausam Sanjeev Kumar

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