indian cinema heritage foundation

Babita My First Screen Love

24 Jun, 2023 | Archival Reproductions by Cinemaazi

For years I kept thinking of the girl who would play my first leading lady when I became a star. At last the moment came. I reported for shooting on the sets of G P Sippy's "Raaz", and there I saw her for first time - my first screen love, Babita Shivdasani. She was very much like the girl I had always dreamed about, the girl who on the screen would sing to me, in whose eyes I would discover a world of unprecedented fame for both of us, a beautiful statue of flesh that I was to hold in my arms the very first day as the director filmed a song sequence. Destiny brought us together in "Raaz".  The literal translation of the film's title is 'Mystery' and we were both a mystery to each other, the film industry was a mystery to us and we were just beginning to unravel the mystery of the story we were filming. We had both plunged into a foggy career; it was anybody's guess whether we would emerge from this fog, bathed in glory, or battle-scarred and vanquished. Luckily, everything turned out to be all right. Mr G P Sippy, the producer, Mr Ravindra Dave, the director, and Mr Sippy's son Ramesh were all very kind and understanding, enthusiastic about making this film a truly befitting vehicle for the new stars. And then, fortune smiled on us and many important producers - S S Vasan, Chetan Anand, Devendra Goel, Nasir Hussain and others - signed me or Babita to play leading roles in their films. As Babita said once, "It isn't a bad idea - to be well known."


I owe a debt of gratitude to "Filmfare" because it was through the talent contest jointly organised by "Filmfare" and United Producers that I first met Mr G P Sippy. Before that, I had a varied experience on the stage. Mr Sippy signed me for his film. The first day, when I reported on the sets, I met Babita Shivdasani there, dressed in a mysterious white costume, and not a bit flustered. It was her first day, too, on the sets.
"Hullo!" I said.

"Hi! She answered. I had forgotten for a minute that she was educated in a convent school, daughter of veteran actor Hari Shivdasani, grand-daughter of a former Chief Justice of Assam and had a bit of English blood in here veins.

"Glad to see you," I said. "I hope this film does well."

"You bet it will," she answered confidently. "It is not all suspense. Ramesh told me they are incorporating a number of romantic scenes and songs to give us full scope to...."

"To show off?"

"To make love on the screen," she said and smiled, that fantastic "Look-at-me" smile. That smile had a devastating effect and I knew that even though a new girl had been cast to play the leading role opposite me, I would have to compete with a born actress.

Babita and I became good friends during the shooting of "Raaz". She did not  know driving - she is learning it now in her father's big Studebaker - and I often dropped her home after the shooting.

Once, we went to Kulu for outdoor shooting. In that beautiful valley Babita and I spent almost a month together. Babita loved the location; for hours she would wander alone in the Elysian surroundings, and we had to go looking for her. She told me that though she had even to many big cities - including Hongkong - few places charmed her as much as the Kulu Valley. She was particularly fond of the apple orchards, and one day a gardener caught her at her favourite prank - stealing apples!

Few people know that to new stars their names mean more than anything else. Often we would sit for hours in the apple orchards of Kulu and discuss how we would like to be known. Because we have some sizzling romantic scenes in "Raaz," I used to call her "The Kiss Girl of the Indian Screen." And because of my impatience with everything, my intense feeling of being unusual and different, my craving to reach the top faster than anyone else, she used to call me "The Jet Star."
Rajesh Khanna

Voice In My Ear

Once when we were location shooting in Udaipur - the Laxmi Vilas Palace there features prominently in the mystery scenes - in a scene Babita had to whisper in my ears. The voice was to be dubbed afterwards, she had only to make the lip movements for the camera. So while the camera was on, she whispered into my ears: "Rajesh, I promise you, I will be a very big star one day - the biggest. In the beginning, many producers took my test and said 'No', just as they had said 'No' to my cousin Sadhana at first. But I am as determined as anyone else, even though I don't show it."

When Babita was shooting, I saw a sparkle in veteran Director Ravindra Dave's eye, a sparkle that was missing on the days when she was not present on the sets. I teased Mr Dave one day: "You, too, are a heroine director." Mr Dave smiled and replied, "It is not because of me - it is because of you that I want her to be on the sets. I find that you work better with her. It will be good idea to call her and have her around when you are doing a shot."

I guess he was right; I got so used to her lively personality that I would miss her when she was not on the sets. Now the "Raaz" is complete and we move on to other assignments - in some she will have different leading men and in some I will have different ladies - I think I will always remember nostalgically the shooting days I spent with my first screen love.
Ravindra Dave, a very orthodox and conventional director, was a great help. He was patient and understanding. He was the director who had skyrocketed to fame Nutan and Nasir Khan in his earlier suspense movie "Nagina" and Babita and I were lucky to have had him as our director in our very first movie.

Babita and I shared many experiences in the making of "Raaz". I particularly remember the scene in which Babita had to walk through a burning palace for a dramatic scene. An outdoor set had been built and Babita had to go through the fire, wearing her highly inflammable white nylon costume. So anxious was her father, Hari Shivdasani, that he had to gulp down six bottles of beer and had to be locked up in a car, because he could not bear to see his daughter exposed to such dangers. But Babita went through it smiling. She calmly walked amidst the flames as if she was walking in her bedroom - escaped with a few minor burns. "Bravo!" I shouted. We called her "Hatayogini Babita" after that!

The other day we attended a special preview of our film. After the show almost everyone complimented us. Mr G P Sippy came up to us and said, "I am glad that both of you have done well. Everyone told me at the beginning that a suspense film needs big stars with striking screen personality, but now I can say that any subject is good enough, if the stars are talented.

You two make a wonderful star team."

As Mr Sippy was talking to me, Babita nudged me several times. The moment he walked away, she said, "Did you hear that? He said I was a great actress!"

She very conveniently forgot all that he had said about me, only remembered what he had said about her. I turned to say something about her selfishness, but found tears in her eyes.

"You are crying!" I exclaimed. But she was not acting; she was genuinely sad; for this special preview of the film marked the end of our first assignment together. Both of us had begun our careers together, together we had shared the suspense and the thrill, the excitement and the rigours of a film debut, and not this was the end. In a few months "Raaz" would be a mystery no longer and all those associated with it will scatter into the film world, to begin work on new film projects.

"There is no need to be sad," I said.

"These are tears of joy," she said and smiled. Then almost shyly, she extended her hand.

This article was published in Filmfare magazine’s September 16, 1966 edition written by Rajesh Khanna.
The images appeared in the feature are taken from the original article.


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