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THE GREAT grandmother

Contrary to her demeanour, Waheeda Rehman plays a pretentious grandmother in "Brides Wanted". RANA SIDDIQUI speaks to her about the film and more.



Never say die; Waheeda Rehman in New Delhi. Photo: S. Arneja.

SHYNESS, THEY say has an element of narcissism, but a tête-à-tête with Waheeda Rehman refutes the allegation. In her case, it emerges as a quality to reckon with, a trait that still mesmerises the likes of an otherwise sober and academically inclined actor-playwright Girish Karnad and a young and composed director Girish Acharya. Her shyness is a strength to build on, not a character flaw to be stamped out. It was proved when Acharya preferred her over what he calls "other yesteryear, graceful actresses" to play Dadima in his film Brides Wanted.

Compliments embarrass her, she reveals. "During the making of Chaudhvin Ka Chand, my co-actors used to tease me saying I was a perfect choice for this title. Now at this age, when anchors in radio programmes introduce me with lots of compliments, I feel so embarrassed," says Waheeda, the coyness writ large on her beautiful face that now shows signs of age. Adorned in a simple sari, managed gracefully, she has arrived in New Delhi's The Grand Hotel with the cast and crew of Brides Wanted.

Not a grandmother in real life, Waheeda Rehman accepted the role because "the subject was different and interesting; just opposite of what I am."

The character of Dadima is very fond of colourful designer saris and jewellery, loves to flaunt them. She identifies herself with characters in saas bahu soaps and fondly talks of them to her husband who is far away from these things. "Initially I thought, how will I execute the role of a woman just opposite to me, but it turned out to be fun," recalls Waheeda.

That Waheeda Rehman is made of strong stuff can be seen from her coming back into films after her husband, producer Kamaljeet, died a few years ago. She had also started a breakfast cereal business. "Yes, I planned to launch them. But after I lost my husband, it became difficult for me to manage that huge production alone. I started incurring losses. Now I have decided to sell it," she recounts. But she has something more constructive to fall back on, the NGO Pratham - the very mention of which brings a glint to her kohl-rimmed eyes.

"The NGO works for the education of slum children. To raise funds for which I travel a lot, especially to the U.S." In the U.S. she got to know of Americans' tastes in Indian films, especially family-oriented ones. "I was happy to see that Americans have a fondness for Indian music and films that have family as an anchor. They encourage their children to watch these films."

Whereas on the one hand she cheerfully mentions Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Deewar and Umrao Jaan as her favourite films, on the other she believes that films made for the masses usually do not bring good results. "Jo khana aap dus logon ke liye banate hain voh usually achcha nahin hota. Jitna kam, utna accha. Large quantity of films often mars their quality." Waheeda has a guest waiting for her at the hotel. As she politely readies to excuse herself, Girish Karnad arrives. "Oh beautiful lady, aap kab aayin?" "Abhi bas... " before she completes her answer, he greets her armful with peck on her head, fondly. Waheeda coils, droops her eyes, a coy smile prevails upon her. She gets up; a resort to the guest is the best way out for her.

About to leave, Waheeda runs into Girish Karnad. To his gallant, "Oh beautiful lady, aap kab aayin?" comes a bashful, "Abhi bas... "As he gives her a peck on the forehead, coyness cloaks her in irresistible hues.

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