My First Break — Sharmila TagoreAug 7th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Delhiwaalah, Films & Entertainment, Newsmakers
Rana Siddiqui Zaman
How did it happen
I was just 13, studying in Kolkata’s St. John’s Diocesan Bengali medium school. It was a time when Satyajit Ray was looking for a young girl to play the role of a pre-teen bride in his film ‘Apur Sansar’. I don’t know how he spotted me.
He may have known me because my sister had worked in the Bengali version of ‘Kabuliwala’; Or may be someone followed me from the school to my home. He approached my father. Those days (1959) working in films wasn’t considered appropriate. But my father could be persuaded because the film was a combination of well-regarded Ray and renowned author Bibhutivibhushan Bondopadhyay whose story it was.
I used to wear frocks those days. Ray’s wife made me wear a sari and Ray did some screen tests. Since I had very few dialogues in the film, Ray concentrated on my looks. He would say ‘idhar dekho’, udhar dekho’ during the test. My co-actor was debutant Soumitra Chatterjee (who played Apu).
How it felt
It felt great – my transformation from a frock-wearing girl to a sari-clad bride. Ray had simultaneously cast me for ‘Devi’ also.
All my shooting was done during summer vacations. But the principal of my school objected to my acting. Though my father confronted her, she didn’t relent and I had to leave the school. I was then admitted to Asansol’s Loreto Convent.
A shift from a Bengali medium to English medium was very difficult for me.
How it changed my life
The romance of Apu and Aparajita in its dialogue, performance, and depiction attained a cult status. Aparajita suddenly became the heartthrob of the nation. There was no looking back for me after this film. Since the film was widely seen, including in Mumbai, Shakti Samanta – who gave breaks to new heroines like Sadhna and Asha Parekh – chose me for ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ and this film too, hit the skies.
But again it became difficult for me to continue studies along with acting in college in Mumbai. Those days even college-goers were treated like school kids. My college principal wanted me to choose either films or academics. I pleaded that I could manage both but she didn’t relent. I had a big fight with her. I challenged her that one day I will not only know English literature and history but also make more name than the college. I threw my books and left the college dramatically. But as I valued academics, I kept myself in touch with it and made sure that my kids got the best of education. As for the film career, ‘Apur Sansar’ was the only film to enter the prestigious Cannes Film Festival those days.
Barring Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s film during the last 25 years, no other film has made it to this fest.
Moreover, because of my association with Ray through various films, till date various national, international film festivals invite me to speak on him.
Even today the romance of Apu and Aparajita draws people to the theatre. For me, this is the greatest honour.