An evening of untold stories and reflections with Sharmila Tagore
Tripods, cameras, and an empty sofa awaited in anticipation at the Samson H Lounge at Dhaka Club for the arrival of an icon who has time and again broken conventional norms, working in iconic movies to leave an everlasting imprint in audiences' hearts. The room, once bustling with activity, hushed into silence as the legendary actress made her entrance. It was as if time had stood still for the septuagenarian, her ageless aura capturing our attention and taking our breath away with her enduring beauty. Dressed in a black kurta complemented by a stylish scarf, she exuded elegance. Taking her place in the front row, she cast a warm smile upon the expectant crowd, a room teeming with eager faces. In that moment, she seemed poised, ready to unravel untold stories and share the adventures she had experienced throughout her illustrious life.
Taking the stage to introduce her was none other than the stalwart actor and Member of Parliament, Asaduzzaman Noor. The "Kothao Keu Nei" actor candidly admitted to the legendary actress that he hadn't had many opportunities to watch all of her films. "Back then, I could only watch a handful of your films. During that period, our country was grappling with a challenging phase as we were still part of Pakistan. The conflict between India and Pakistan erupted, leading to a cessation of Indian movies coming to our nation. Hence, I didn't get the chance to watch many," he explained.
In response, Sharmila gracefully replied, "Now, with the advent of digital systems and OTT platforms, we have the ability to watch all those old films."
She further added, "During the Covid period, when I had fewer projects, and my doctors advised me against commercial flight travel, I spent my time watching all my old movies. In the past, my busy shooting schedule left me with little time to reflect on my performances, and I sometimes felt I hadn't done justice to my roles. Thanks to OTT platforms, I had the chance to relive those cinematic moments once again."
When "Gulmohar" was announced, the media went crazy to see the actress back on the big screen after such a long time. However, the actress adamantly rejects the notion of calling it a "comeback," as she believes she never completely left the world of acting. "I dislike the term 'comeback' entirely. I never abandoned showbiz in a way that would warrant a comeback. Whenever I find roles that resonate with me, I wholeheartedly embrace them. When Rahul V Chittella, the film's director, presented the script to me, I genuinely liked it. The film felt like a fitting portrayal for my age, and there was a sense of comfort that made me say yes. I am genuinely pleased that I haven't missed out on anything. Despite being released on OTT instead of theatres, I am content with the film's success exceeding my expectations. I am grateful for all the appreciation the film has received."
When asked about which film holds a special place in her heart, the actress felt reluctant to talk about it. "Almost all of my films are close to my heart. We pour our best effort into each film. Every movie I've been a part of has been approached and interpreted differently from the others. I maintain a kind of detachment from my work. Having been in the film industry for over 60 years, I've continued working in movies with intermittent breaks."
She continued, "In the past, I used to mention 'Safar' as my favourite film because it presented a woman's perspective—when accused of killing her husband, she didn't become a victim and refused to accept it. The character exhibited agency, and that drew me towards the film. However, after watching my old films during Covid, I realised that my performance in 'Naamken' was a more mature one, and so it is my favourite work for now."
Sharmila Tagore also shared her experience of meeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. "She is such a wonderful person. Although she was really occupied with her responsibilities, she still managed time for us, and we shared a meal together and later took a picture as well. I told her about the time I visited Bangladesh with the late Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to perform a recitation. Surprisingly, she remembered the incident and how we met each other at that time."
In Satyajit Ray's cinematic masterpiece, "Nayak", Sharmila Tagore portrayed the role of a journalist named Aditi. Reflecting on that time, the actress disclosed that she had interviewed Manik da (Satyajit Ray) when television was still in its nascent stages, and the media landscape was vastly different.
"Back then, we didn't have as many news channels as we do now. Doordarshan was the primary source, and pioneers like Karan Thapar initiated programs such as 'Eye Witness', while Madhu Trehan created 'Newstrack'. I worked as a journalist alongside Karan Thapar and had the privilege of interviewing Manik da in Kolkata," she recalled.
If I were to conduct an interview today, I would choose to interview Pankaj Tripathi as it's really hard to interpret his thoughts by looking at his face," revealed the actress.
When asked about the portrayal of women in Hindi cinema, she remarked, "I believe there has been significant improvement. Take 'Piku,' for instance. A film depicting a woman taking care of her father and managing the family with her own earnings was something many couldn't relate to in the past. Nowadays, there is a substantial shift, and we see the emergence of many commendable films. Though male dominance persists, notable examples such as Vidya Balan's 'Sherni' breakthrough that narrative. Female-centric films are gaining popularity, with audiences actively heading to theatres, marking a substantial following compared to earlier times."
When asked what kind of roles she hasn't been offered, the actress replied that she is really shocked that nobody has offered her a comedy film yet. "I don't know why I haven't been offered comic roles; I did a few comedy scenes in 'Chupke Chupke'. Apart from that, I haven't done much, and I would love to do a full-length comedy film."
While dealing with criticism the actress tries to deal with it calmly, "My private life was kept very private. I didn't have many friends in the film industry, apart from Yash Chopra and Tanuja. Avoiding frequent social gatherings and parties helped shield me from the impact of criticism. Although negative remarks used to affect me initially, I eventually decided to stop reading those magazines altogether. When people would call and mention unfavourable things, it wasn't as painful as reading it in the news. In hindsight, I believe it's better to simply ignore negative comments about oneself."
On the topic of watching films in Bangladesh, she said, "I didn't have much opportunity to watch films here since I was occupied with my role as a judge for the Asian Film Competition segment at the DIFF."
"We had to watch 15 films— three films a day. Consequently, I didn't have the chance to watch other movies. I was particularly keen on watching 'Bijoyar Pore' as Mamata Shankar is one of my close friends. Unfortunately, due to its late screening, I missed that opportunity. However, I did manage to watch Jaya Ahsan's 'Fereshteh', and she is truly a wonderful actress," concluded the actress.
As the session came to an end, the graceful actress prepared to wrap up the long day, but the cameras came rushing towards her. Despite a hectic schedule, she gracefully kept us mesmerised with her beautiful smile throughout the time. Being in such close proximity to a legend of such demeanour made the day truly special for me.