Mumbai, Nov 16 (IANS) Begum Para, seen as Sonam Kapoor's spirited grandmother in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 'Saawariya', makes a comeback to the silver screen after 50 years and says hers is the longest lay-off in the history of show business.
She took a break from films after marrying legendary Dilip Kumar's lesser-known brother Nasir Khan.
'That was in 1958,' Begum Para, now a healthy 80, laughed throatily. 'Now I'm back in 2007 in 'Saawariya'. This has to be the longest lay-off in the history of show business,' Begum Para told IANS.
Before settling down with Nasir Khan, she did films like 'Shama', 'Mehdi', 'Pedro' and 'Dada' in the 1940s.
'You know in our film industry there's this old habit of typecasting actors. I was typecast as the so-called liberated woman. The roles were not interesting enough for me. They stamped me as this smoking woman who always ends up insulting her father. I didn't much enjoy that image. I was doing roles like Saira Banu in Manoj Kumar's 'Purab Aur Paschim'. I just lost interest. Then I got married to Nasir Khan.'
She says facing the camera after such a long break was a good experience.
'The privilege and pleasure of working with Sanjay egged me to take this on. He never tied me down with his ideas. I was allowed to say my dialogues the way I wanted. He gave me so much space! 'Saawariya' was an astonishing experience.'
Hadn't her acting skills rusted?
'I don't think they ever get rusted. I just needed to practise my acting again...It was very sweet of Sanjay to have even have thought of me. Initially, I was nervous for a couple of days. But once I settled down before the camera I had a whale of a time. It was like coming home. I'm open to more offers provided they make me comfortable.'
She goes back in time to her prime.
'It was a great era. Not like today when roles have become so ambivalent. There were clearly defined roles these days. There was the hero, heroine, vamp, father, mother and villain - very nice and uncomplicated. Yes, I was bold. In those days people used to be in awe of stars. Today, of course, the active media has brought stars inside homes.'
She has kept in touch with a number of people in the industry.
'Nirupa Roy, Nadira, Nimmi, Shyama, Smriti Mishra...we used to meet once a month. Sadly Nirupa and Nadira are gone. They were such fine human beings. I miss both of them. Nadira was so warm and exuberant, Nirupa was sweetness personified. I've kept in touch with Nirupa's family.'
About her mythic war with her brother-in-law Dilip Kumar, Begum Para laughed, 'That's gone and been done with. Now we're cordial and we do meet occasionally. Yes, we did have our differences. I suppose I was too independent-minded for him. If he was Dilip Kumar then I was Begum Para. He was very close to my husband Nasir Khan.'
She giggles recounting an anecdote about her husband and Meena Kumari while they were playing the lead in Kamal Amrohi's 'Daera'.
'Meena Kumari was in the foreground and he was in the background, so far away that he stood on his head and nobody noticed.'
Begum Para's son Ayub Khan is seen in cinema and on television.
'I feel he hasn't got his due. If you meet him you'll realise he isn't a filmy boy. When I urge him to meet producers, he says, 'Whatever has to come my way will come way. By my going here and there I won't achieve anything.' He's such a nice and gentle boy, comfortable with what he has.'
She warms up on the topic of Salman Khan who co-stars with her in 'Saawriya'.
'I've known him since childhood. I'm very friendly with his father Salim saab. I was apprehensive about how today's generation behaves. When I expressed my misgivings to Sanjay, he assured me, 'Just come and see how we work'. And he was right. They all gave me so much love and respect.'
'Of course, technically cinema has advanced, but people are still the same. When you are away, different kinds of thoughts come to your mind. But after my return I felt as if I had never gone away.'