indian cinema heritage foundation

Motilal - A Moonlight Palmist

17 Jun, 2020 | Archival Reproductions by Hyacinth
Motilal. Image Courtesy: Filmindia, August 1941.

India’s Glamour Boy no. 1 Confesses

I’ve always thought important people made a habit of being late for appointments. This one didn’t. He was waiting for his interview bright and early, looking like a thoroughly respectable citizen, (not that, film stars aren’t) and oozing glamour only in small doses so that the office staff would not be overwhelmed.

Let me share this interview with you. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Motilal - India’s original glamour boy and most publicized playboy and incidentally the best dressed man in pictures.

Perhaps I had better tell you a little about his pre-cinema days first.

Motilal was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth but he was always on tooth ahead of the other babies in his neighbourhood and he fell on his head several times which may account for his eccentricities. 
   
Every nice girl loves a sailor they say, so Motilal as a youth inspired by this sentiment and filled with a wanderlust came to Bombay to join the Navy.

But fate in the form of a film director intervened and since then the Navy has somehow managed to get on without Motilal. The director took one look at the youth and thought: “This fellow isn’t strictly handsome but he’s got a certain something in his eye which I rather like and I think I’ll make him a star”. That was in 1934, and the first picture Motilal made was Sagar’s “Lure of The City”. Very appropriate don’t you think, when you consider that Motilal has stuck in Bombay ever since?

Now he’s way up at the top, the highest-paid male star in India and the one with the largest following of fans.

MOTILAL SPECIALIZES IN EATING

I asked Motilal what he earned. He said “Oh I earn my living - you know - enough for my bread and butter”. Later I learnt that he earned Rs. 2000/- a month without income-tax, and, I thought to myself, “This fellow can have bread and butter and cake too on a salary like that”. Talking about food reminds me that Motilal is a connoisseur where food is concerned, or to put it more crudely he likes to eat, and he does. In fact he told me that he and his wife have enormous appetites. Anyways at twenty-nine he need not worry about his waistline.

If he did not have a charming home and a still more charming wife he would live in the swimming pool of the Cricket Club of India. He swims for two hours every day and only stops when he becomes waterlogged.ash

He tells me he has broken every bone in his body at some time or other, either in car accidents or in the sports field.
Motilal is an all round sportsman and plays tennis, cricket and rides with great daring. As a matter of fact he is daring to the point of foolhardiness, and if he hadn’t been born under a lucky star Motilal would have been in a home for the maimed and disabled long ago. He’s the sort of person who never realises that fire burns even after being burnt out times without number.

He tells me he has broken every bone in his body at some time or other, either in car accidents or in the sports field. The only part of himself he hasn’t broken is his neck and that can be understood because Motilal is as thick-necked as they make ‘em! He’s the sort of chap insurance companies run away from because he is too great a risk. 

LOOKS AT PRETTY GIRLS

He is an excellent driver but has met with several accidents because he has a bad habit (very common to most men) of turning to look at pretty girls in the street. As if this isn’t enough he has the radio in his car blaring all the time and Motilal keeps time to the music on his accelerator as he drives along at a terrific speed. He is the only man known to perform this remarkable feat and live to tell the story next day.
Motilal had four cars before, but now he has discovered that there is such a word as economy, and this being a novelty to him, he has reduced the number to two.
Motilal had four cars before, but now he has discovered that there is such a word as economy, and this being a novelty to him, he has reduced the number to two. These are an ivory-coloured Packard Super 8 and an S.S. Jaguar which is also ivory coloured.

HIS VANITY RETINUE

His other treasured possessions are his dogs, and he is completely ruled by them. Perhaps they feed his vanity more than others. They are a St. Bernard called “Roma”, two poodles called “Jessie” and “James” and a cocker spaniel called “Jimmy”.

Occasionally Motilal yearns for the sea but the nearest he comes to being a sailor is to hire a sailing boat at Apollo Bunder and to row a little and then to lie down in it and go to sleep while the boatmen do the rest.
His other treasured possessions are his dogs, and he is completely ruled by them. Perhaps they feed his vanity more than others. They are a St. Bernard called “Roma”, two poodles called “Jessie” and “James” and a cocker spaniel called “Jimmy”.
He likes to feel 100% he-man so he professes to dislike having to make-up for the films. By the way, he always puts on his own make-up and does it very efficiently. He needs to be efficient at this to conceal numerous scars on his face which are legacies from his many accidents. He dislikes make-up on women unless it is hardly visible and he likes women who are intelligent but simple. His wife incidentally, is both of these things.
This Ranjit star has made film news. He has broken a Hollywood record by acting in seven films in two years.
I asked him which actress he liked acting with best, but he said he had no preference. He said, “I don’t mind how plain the actress is as long as she acts well. After all beauty lies in sincerity of purpose and that is the kind of beauty I admire most”. Next I asked Motilal if he liked his career and what roles he preferred. He said “I wouldn’t change my present career for any other and I like playing any role that has depth to it”.

This Ranjit star has made film news. He has broken a Hollywood record by acting in seven films in two years.
Our Motilal proved he wasn’t as dumb as most playboys by giving quite a fine presidential address at the Artistes’ Conference at Lahore.
So you can imagine what a well-earned and welcome change his recent one month holiday of Kashmir was. It was his first holiday in seven years and did he enjoy it! He gloried in the natural beauty of Kashmir and the more sophisticated allure of the night spots. But no actor as popular as Motilal can travel through India without being mobbed, and sure enough at Lahore and Srinagar he was surrounded by cheering admiring crowds who had somehow found out about his holiday.

Our Motilal proved he wasn’t as dumb as most playboys by giving quite a fine presidential address at the Artistes’ Conference at Lahore.

A MOONLIGHT PALMIST

Motilal loves ballroom dancing and he and his wife or maybe some other Pavlova may often be seen shaking a mean leg at the C.C.I. He is a rhumba specialist.

He is quite a good palmist and reads feminine palms exceptionally well-especially in the moonlight, so his good friend Baburao Patel tells me.
He laughs his way through life and through films, and this is what makes him so successful in his light modern roles. 
I asked Motilal what his vices were and he said “Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but I tell you lady, I drink only in moderation and that only when I’m out with a party of bibulous friends. Smoking is my only vice. I have a novel cigarette case which automatically flicks a cigarette between my lips when I open it.

This irresponsible, gay Motilal shies away from any serious discussion and talks in the style of a P. G. Wodehouse character with every sentence punctuated by a joke.
He laughs his way through life and through films, and this is what makes him so successful in his light modern roles. 

If he has a genius, it is a genius for treating the most serious problem lightly and getting away with it.

He doesn’t even take a grown-up view of the money problem. He believes that everybody should make money but not keep it. May be Motilal hopes that by the time he is too old to act (perish the thought) there will be some pension fund for all the impoverished one-time actors who followed his theory and didn’t save. We hope so for his sake anyway.

THE DHOBIE-HIS BEST FRIEND

At the moment he is a very successful young man who hopes soon to start his own company and direct his own pictures.

He said “I have no inferiority complex where my work is concerned and I feel that with all the handicaps provided by the Indian film industry Indian actors and actresses do better than Hollywood stars would under the same circumstances.” Well spoken, young man.

But Motilal cannot remain serious for long and so he changed the subject abruptly by saying “I like unusual shoes, that’s why I like these I’ve got on”. Here he stuck out his feet and I saw the shoes in question. I thought they were pretty awful because I don’t like to see white shoes on men, especially fancy ones like those Motilal had. In fact, that was the only jarring note in his getup.
He said “I have no inferiority complex where my work is concerned and I feel that with all the handicaps provided by the Indian film industry Indian actors and actresses do better than Hollywood stars would under the same circumstances.”
Otherwise he looked rather nice. Nice shirt, nice tie, suit, all spoilt by the shoes.

Anyway I asked him about his likes and dislikes where clothes are concerned. He said “I don’t bother much about clothes as long as they are clean. I believe a man’s best friend is his dhobi.’ he was quite serious about this and I agree with him. But he forgot the barber.
Anyway I asked him about his likes and dislikes where clothes are concerned. He said “I don’t bother much about clothes as long as they are clean. I believe a man’s best friend is his dhobi.’
Apart from his shoes the only other real fault I have to find with Motilal is with his handwriting. It is such an untidy scrawl that it reminds me of my first writing lesson in the kindergarten. When I told him how ghastly I thought it was, he said “I’m mortally wounded, I’ve always thought my handwriting was superior to J. B. Taylor’s, and now you’ve disillusioned me.” He swears this bit of wit is entirely original and home made and who would doubt a gentleman’s word? Because Motilal is a gentleman.

He stands up and sits down when he should, shaves nearly every day, and never uses strong language in front of ladies.

What more could you ask of a gentleman, I ask you?

This is a reproduction of the original pulished in Filmindia, August 1941.

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