indian cinema heritage foundation

Sharmila Tagore discusses "Women" with Bunny Reuben

08 Oct, 2020 | Archival Reproductions by Cinemaazi

She frankly confesses that she prefers the company of men that of women. She doesn't believe that a sincere friendship can exist between two actresses both being women! And she says: "I do wish female film journalists had a sense of humour." She is a truly liberated woman yet not a Woman's Libber.
We were marking time for this article....

Where was Sharmila Tagore?

Well, for the best part of summer she wasn't in Bombay. First, she was in Calcutta for a fairly long spell, then she was away shooting in the South (opposite Sanjeev Kumar in AVA's Shandar). Then they said she'd go to Bangalore-Ooty for a short spell and return to Bombay.

Sharmila's colour transparencies for this Cove Feature had been "sent down" much earlier, and the deadline for turning in this article was beginning to loom uncomfortably large upon us.

Then, just when it seemed that La Tagore would fly back to film capital we got word that she'd flown with husband and son direct to Delhi instead, for a brief stay at Pataudi House!

Now it was late for the article... And then it came-the unexpected, long-distance call from Delhi. It was Rinku (the original Rinku) calling us from Pataudi House. "I'm coming to Bombay by the evening flight and I'm motoring straight to Khandala for Goel Sahab's shooting."

The Begum Sahiba spoke in dulcet tones, but right then no matter what tones she used, it was a relief to find that a star who worried about a journalist's deadlines still existed in Follywood. "Would you like to motor down with me? We can discuss your article on the way."

"Okay," I said, "Meet you at the airport."

And that's how it all began...

What can you talk about with an enlightened young woman like Sharmila Tagore? Well, literally everything: from air pollution to space-travel, from female film journalists to fellow-actresses, and from Ayn Rand to Indira Gandhi.

La Tagore is not only well-read, she converses intelligently as well. During our random discussion, I happened to ask her how she felt when the sob sister went on pin-picking her in their gossip columns. Sharmila merely smiled and shrugged.

"One learns to live with it," she said. "But I wish two things only: one, that they'd learn to be a little more accurate and stick to facts instead of inventing them; and two, I wish they cultivated a little sense of humour."

And that's when the idea struck us. We'd ask Sharmila Tagore to discuss the most fascinating subject in the world- "WOMEN".

Q: Is it true that you are more at ease in the company of men than women?

A: Not necessarily. I can get along equally well with both men and women. But I can guess what you have in mind, and there I agree with you. Men do generally make more interesting company because they can converse at length on variety of subjects whereas women, being by and large housewives, do not make interesting company, nor even interesting conversation.

Q: Does this mean that you find women boring?
A: I have eliminated all bores and all boredom- from my life! My men friends and women friends are both wholly interesting. I know some women who can hold my attention for hours.

Q: Some women?
A: Yes. Some women.A few. Not many women.

Q: So you dislike women? I mean, generally speaking? 

A: Not generally. I believe in specifics, not in generalities.  But there are two types of women I shun-because both types bore me to death.

Q: Which are those?

A: One is the placid Indian housewife- you know, the bovine, contented type who shouldn't be seen outside her kitchen. And the other is the other extreme-the too liberated, too sophisticated, chian-smoking, career-oriented westernised type.

Q: Have you seen many examples of both types in your own life?

A: Yes. And I give them a wide berth!

Q: So okay... what sort of woman do you admire most?

A: The truly liberated woman. The woman who finds fulfilment in a wide variety of activities.A woman who tries to imporve or change for the better her own milieu or environment. To boil this down to specifics, I must mention Begum Zaidi and the good work done by her in the field of polio. There are some women-again I say some, not many-who emerge as truly liberated human beings by the work they do. And this makes them ideal women in my eyes.

Q: Who are your favourite women authors?

A: Amongst Indian women, I like the writings of Shanta Rama Rao, Amrita Pritam and the poetry of Sarojini Naidu. I like to read Uma Vasudeo. In the West I must unhesitatingly name two very great women authors- Ayn Rand who wrote Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and Simone de Beauvoir who wrote The Mandarins and The Second Sex.

Q: That makes all serious reading!

A: (chuckles): Oh, but you mustn't for a moment even think that I do only serious reading! Not at all! I'm a creature of moods. In one mood I'll go on reading Denise Robins and Georgette Heyer- good heavens, all the mush they write really sends me! In another mood, I'll read comics. It all depends...

Q: Are you moviegoer?

A: Of course, and I know your next question! You're going to ask me to name my favourite actresses!

Q: Yes, of course! Do tell us...

A: I think Ingrid Thulin and Sandy Denys, Simone Signoret and Geneve Bujold are simply superb. They invest the practice of histrionics with a new dimension.

Then there are the grand professionals - women like Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis and Sophia Loren. The entire body of work they have done on the screen is something that will be remembered forever.

I liked Jane Fonda in Klute. Not all the time, mind you, but in Klute, yes... then I have also liked Vanessa Redgrave.

Q: Women's Lib! My editor will never forgive me if I don't ask you whether you believe in Women's Lib!

A: No. I'm not a rabid Women's Libber. Of course, I agree with the principle, but I don't believe in taking Women's Lib to its logical conclusion.

What about women who genuinely like to be subservient to their husbands, and who genuinely find fulfillment in their children and in their homes? To tell them to go out carrying a placard for Women's lib would be palpably absurd! In India, women have been traditionally oppressed for centuries and that's why Women's Lib in our country tends to take extremist hues. In this matter as in most other matters, I feel that it is a highly individual matter, best sorted out by individual women.

Q: Who would you say are the most interesting women in the movie-industry - aside from yourself, that is?

A: Thank you. Well, here again, I'd select the most 'liberated' women; the most fulfilled women. Nargis comes immediately to mind. What a fantastic life! She's done almost everything that a woman dared do or dared not do, without losing a prestige of a woman's essential dignity.

She has been an actress, a top star. She's gone through a torrid love-affair, made a successful marriage, had charming children and yet continued to be both a home-maker as well as a woman of many social commitments.

Yes, I think Nargis would be my first choice. And, for the same reasons, I'd name Devika Rani.
Amongst kids, I'd say that Shabana Azmi has a very interesting face, though I've never met her-

Q: She's a superb actress too.

A: Yes, I believe she's done very well in Ankur (1974). And yes, I'd say another interesting young woman should be Mallika Sarabhai.

Q: How do you react to your husband's women friends? I assume he still has some?

A: Of course he has! And they react very well with me, thank you! You know Pat, he has impeccable taste in women - after all, he married me, didn't he? No, but jokes aside, I think Pat's women are a likeable lot, and I get along fine with them.

Q: How do you feel about a woman who talks too much? You know, jabber, jabber, jabber all the time.

A: I'd say there's no enigma to her personality. I'd say she suffers from some awful insecurity complex. Most women who talk a lot without having anything to say are a pain in the neck.
But if there's a woman like, say, Padmaja Naidu, and she's brilliant and she also talks a lot - you hang breathlessly on every word she says. That's brilliant - but how many women are there like that?

No, I'd say a woman should talk less, if she wishes to appear move interesting.

Q: At what age should a woman stop being an actress? Or do you believe that the older a woman gets the stronger is her need to be an actress?

A: Look, if you're a successful actress you've been at it for at least ten years working on an average of fifteen to eighteen hours a day-and that's a hell of a lot of life gone into work.

You get involved with your work as an actress - at least, I do. I'm speaking for myself here, and I think any genuine actress worth her salt will agree with me on this. The longer you work at it the better you become.

The peak period for an actress would be between the age of forty and fifty years, though I don't think any actress would like to confess to those ages, when they get to it! Remember Anna Magnani, who died recently? I think the older she grew the better she became. I think she was easily the best actress in the world. An actress should continue to be an actress up to the day she dies, like she did.

Q: With which actress in the movie industry are you most friendly?

A: Frankly speaking, I don't think two actresses can ever be truly friendly. If they're working in the same film, a spirit of healthy competition must exist between them. Each one of them must want to outwit and outdo the other before the cameras. This is a good feeling for a professional but it can play havoc with friendships! Of course, I know Jaya fairly well. I knew her when she was very yount, and I'm very fond of her. I like Rekha a lot, also.

Q: Have you ever felt professional jealousy for another actress?

A: Professional jealousy, never. But once or twice I did feel annoyed at something a fellow-actress had done. One case especially comes to mind, but the actress concerned is now more or less at the tail end of her career, so I'd rather not discuss it. Do you mind?

Q: Certainly not. So tell me, what do you think of women' journalists?

A: I hld them in high esteem. I'm thinking of Amita Malik, the late Rajika Kirpalani, Kobita Sarkar, Nayantara Sahgal and Meenakshi Mukherjee. They -

Q: You're very clever!

A: (innocent smile). Am I?

Q: Yes, you are, I meant female film journalists!

A: You didn't specify. However, I'll answer you truthfully on this one too. The truth is, I don't take them seriously. I've been too long in the line for that.I preferred to talk about the other lot of women journalists I mentioned because their aim is more broad-based. They are knowledgeable on a very wide variety of subjects and can not only converse, but also write well on those subjects. We who are active and highly placed in our profession, we have, of course, to relate sympathetically with the film journalists. But if you allow what they write in the gossip columns to upset'd have had a nervous breakdown long ago! I find them amusing, not because they are humorous, but because they are not. Are you with me?

Q: Yes. Now a last question: do you have a male doctor or a female doctor?

Q: Both! I have Dr. Vyas and I have Dr. Mrs Rosy Vakeel, and I call on them both quite impartially! So you see, where the sexes are concerned I don't play favourites!

This interview was originally published in Star & Style Magazine on 21 June 1974 issue. All the images used are taken from the original article.

  • Share

About the Author


Other Articles by Cinemaazi

22 Jan,2024

A Painful Parting

18 Oct,2023


19 Jun,2023

Romance in Our Cinema

07 Jun,2023

Sangam (1964)

25 May,2023

Gandhi: Whose voice?

15 May,2023

Mangal Pandey

02 May,2023

Birbal Paristan Mein

27 Mar,2023

The Film Director?

21 Mar,2023

M Sadiq

20 Feb,2023

Do Dooni Chaar

15 Feb,2023

Rafoo Chakkar

03 Jan,2023

Nav Ratri

03 Nov,2021

An Actor Prepares

03 May,2021

Ankahee: The Unspoken

29 Apr,2021

Children’s Films

04 Nov,2020

Progress In Raw Film

30 Oct,2020

Freedom In Films

03 Sep,2020

Payyal's Lucky Break