‘India and Pakistan similar in more ways than one’:Sharmila Tagore

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Veteran actor Sharmila Tagore said she found much in common between India and Pakistan when she arrived in Lahore for the opening of the two-day Lahore Literary Festival.

Ms Tagore said she had visited Lahore earlier but was crossing the border for the first time.

“From crossing the border to a Chughtai painting and old Hindi songs in my hotel room, [everything] reminds me of how similar India and Pakistan are.” Ms Tagore was welcomed on stage with a thundering standing ovation. The festival began with her key-note address, ‘Safar.’

Ms Tagore, who is now 71, said, “I started acting [at the age of 13] before I had even watched a film. We were not allowed to watch movies as children. It was frowned upon in those days.”

She spoke about her liberal upbringing in Calcutta, where she was exposed to myriad views, a marked difference from the sense of morality prevalent in Bombay, the city she moved to. “The actresses of the time wore white, sipped Coca-Cola and did not smile. And this was expected of a leading lady back in the day.”

It was in this era that she donned a bikini for a Filmfare cover, and later, in the movie An Evening in Paris, appearing on screen in a swimsuit. “I received a lot of flak for it,” Ms Tagore said. She said that she later took a conscious decision to reinvent her public image after understanding the sense of morality peculiar to Bombay. “I wanted to be taken seriously.”

Video clips of some of her most popular films were played during the session, including her first two Bengali films , Apur Sansar and Devi , with the iconic filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Scenes from her Hindi film debut Kashmir Ki Kali , directed by Shakti Samanta were also screened.

Ms Tagore said that Satyajit Ray did not value money and the audience connected with the romance in his work primarily because of its essential humanism. “Ray, as a writer and director, was interested in exploring the impact politics had on peoples’ lives. His work was about the everyday struggles of ordinary people and there were no villains and heroes in his movies.”

She said her father gave his consent to her working with Ray “as he was cognisant of his international standing.”

“Ray transformed filmmaking into an art form. Ray’s Devi was one of my best works. It depicted a clash between growing religious orthodoxy and an emerging rationality. Ray had to defend the film by saying that it was not against Hinduism but against orthodoxy,” she said.

Ms. Tagore also recalled her courtship with Indian cricket legend Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and said she always wanted to have a family. “It’s a myth that marriage and family end your career and I proved it . I got some amazing films post my marriage and kids.” — PTI

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