Jalsa , Mumbai Dec 13/14, 2011 Tue/Wed 12 : 41 AM
Jitesh Pillai, editor FilmFare and an incessant twitterati, made a plea that I write on my Blog about Smita Patil on her death anniversary today. It is a strange phenomena when someone asks you to do something that one has already decided upon to do. Somehow the feel of initiation rushes away. It almost puts one in office mode – a professional compulsion, rather than an independent thought. For a journalist of some eminence, I would have thought he would have realized this – journalists hate second hand information or jobs. They wish to be the ones that discovered it first, or be in a situation where they could proudly proclaim ‘you saw it here first’, much like the electronic media covering the 26/11 attack on the city. There were bullets flying all over the place and this particular gentleman from a prominent channel, ducking his way out from the line of fire, was more keen on conveying that we should not forget that this channel was where we first saw it !!
But that is neither here nor there. When you are told to do something it does rob one of its originality. Not withstanding however, the few moments spent with this most gentle yet strong woman of substance, Smita Patil does warrant not just mention, but indeed a description of moderate length of my memories of her, on a day when we lost her.
We used to first see her as a news reader on the Marathi Channel. Or was it the Doordarshan broadcast in Marathi for the people of Maharashtra, I am not quite sure. Probably the latter. Marathi specific channels came much later after the advent of satellite deliveries.
She had a unique presence about her. There was a soft vulnerable quality that came across her gentle face, yet when she spoke out the news of the day, a confident believable expression took over the often mundane matter that she was delivering. I am quite certain, many of those that listened in would ever remember the matter. They were, I am sure, more interested in the image that was being unleashed before them.
In time of course we heard that this electric face of Doordarshan was entering the movies and many among us did feel that it was not long before this would happen. The visuals of her earlier films, committed to cause and reality were generating great talk among the industry, when Ramesh Sippy putting together his cast for ‘Shakti’ announced her name. I cannot remember what exactly I felt at the moment, but somehow it seemed to me to be a choice that would match the temperament of the film. Matching temperament is more than half the battle won in the execution of a film and when she reported for the first days’ shoot we all knew that the decision was indeed right. For me personally there was apprehension. It was the scene when a disillusioned and inebriated Vijay talks to his wife, Smita, on there being two Fathers in his life. It was a long and complicated scene and I had wished to do it all in one shot. Your own capability to perform such moments is heavily challenged by the capability of your co artist. If the co artist falters, you could be Brando at his best but would tragically fall short without the cooperation and support of the one facing you.
As we began the rehearsals and then the take, it became apparent to me that all my fears of a first day first time colleague were misplaced. She was just what was needed for the scene and conveyed a comfort that critics, audiences and trade refer to as ‘chemistry’. In the days that followed she did have many misgivings about what she was doing and how it needed to be done. She was not adamant about it, but sensibly questioning. She was soft spoken and never contributed to the loud demeanor that commercial cinema at times demanded. She felt awkward with the dance routine and would often express her inability to accomodate such actions. But she was a professional and gave all that came her way a very deserving try.
‘Shakti’ happily for her, did not demand any of what she was to encounter in the next one with me – ‘NamakHalal’. But even though her discomfort may have crossed her mind on many an occasion, she freely let herself be guided by the tenor of the film.
We shot a portion of ‘Shakti’ in Madras now Chennai, after the release of ‘NamakHalal’ and I remember her coming on the sets with wonder and amusement written on her face, exclaiming – ‘ Amit, people actually recognized me on the flight ! I have done so many meaningful films till now and all they refer to when they see me is ‘aaj rapat jaaen ..’ , the rain song in the film !! ‘
Many may not know, but she was a keen photographer. Actually neither did I, until on an outdoor shoot for ‘Shakti’ when work was interrupted by rain and we sat under make shift shelters among the tall eucalyptus tree forests of Ooty, she pulled out her camera, opened each part of it, cleaned it, screwed it back together again and took some rather picturesque shots of low clouds over a distant lake. Nature does provide better aesthetics than humans, I would imagine.
Despite having worked together we never did meet or connect socially after work hours. So, one late night in Bangalore as I slept after a grueling action sequence for my film ‘Coolie’ in my Hotel, a call came through and the operator announced that it was Smita Patil on the line. I turned it away thinking it to be a crank connection, but when it repeated itself I took it. Yes it was her. It was the first time ever that she was calling me and I was a bit surprised. She asked how I was and whether I was well, for she said she had had a bad dream and seen me in some trouble physically. I laughed over as did she and that was it. Next day I was critically injured, and most of what happened after is and has been documented well enough !
A premonition !
When I recovered she along with many others would drop by at the house regularly, here in Prateeksha to spend time with me, cheer me up, give me company as I recuperated. She knew I was fond of the ‘mogra’ and each day a small delicate little basket of the gorgeous smelling flower would be either sent to me or she would bring it along with her on her visits to the house.
She was averse to anything that was loud or ostentatious. Her choice of jewelry personally and also in the designing of her costume in films was meagre and much like her own countenance, gentle and delicate. It suited her. In her desired appearance there would follow a desired performance. A performance that looked as if it did not say much, but did indeed say a lot. That was the grace and the dignity with which she was identified always, till her very last.
She loved motherhood and was adamant, insistent almost, that it come to her. It shall remain one of the greatest misadventures in her life that the life she wanted, she was unable to spend much time with – her child, her son.
A very special individual, a soft breeze, cool and calming in nature was what I would like to remember her by. The promise that she built among all of us and the film fraternity in particular, shall remain with us forever. That vacuum created by her absence remains, perhaps with just a hint of the mellow flavor of her favorite flower, the ‘mogra’ ..