Book Review: Dream Girl dreams

Sandhya Rao | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on December 10, 2017

Title: Hema Malini: Beyond the Dream Girl Author: Ram Kamal Mukherjee Publisher: Harper Collins Price: ₹599

A surprisingly insightful portrait of Hema Malini, undisputed star of the silver and other screens

Did you know that the first film Shah Rukh Khan signed up for was Dil Aashna Hai, produced and directed by Hema Malini? When her personal assistant phoned to call him over for a meeting, he thought it was a friend pulling a fast one.

In an interview, SRK recalled the eventual meeting: “…tell me who gets an opportunity in his life to sit across the Dream Girl and she says, ‘I like your nose, it’s very aristocratic and you got into my film because of that’. Vo naak jisko main chhupata phirta that, vo naak Hema Malini ko pasand hai! (The nose that I went about hiding, that’s the nose Hema Malini likes).”

Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s second book about Hema Malini isn’t a particularly grand example of good writing, but it is simple, refreshing and it paints a believable portrait of the life, times and mind of an actor who ruled the film industry in her time.

A success story

She had a dream debut, in Raj Kapoor’s Sapnon ka Saudagar (The Peddler of Dreams) — since then she’s been a dancer, a choreographer, a singer, a producer and director, a television actor and producer, a magazine editor, a politician, a grandmother… and she’s still going strong. She’s also possibly one of the few actors who looks as good today as when she ruled the film industry, and the effort doesn’t show.

Something of that effortlessness permeates this biography. Hema Malini’s life, on balance, has been a success story. She was disciplined and had a talent that people recognized and showcased. She was a traditionalist but she followed her own path, as her marriage to the already married star Dharmendra and her foray into politics prove. Despite gossip and endless questions, she remained calm. She didn’t hide from the press and the people, nor did she invite them into her home. She just kept going.

At least that’s what the book says, quoting Hema Malini extensively. You can almost hear her voice, speaking in an accent that’s unmistakably Tamilian despite all the years in the Hindi film industry and living in Delhi and Mumbai. Producer B Ananthaswami tagged ‘dream girl’ in the Sapnon ka Saudagar posters. “People often asked me if I made an effort to live up to the name. I didn’t!” she says.

“The tag came as a surprise to me. I guess my face and my personality went well with the general image of an Indian woman. Anybody could relate to my face — it’s a typical Indian face. Yes, the only thing I did do was never accept roles that would embarrass or hurt my family or my fans in any way. So, the name stuck on. Distributors and producers continued using it. But nowadays I feel embarrassed when people call me ‘Dream Girl’. I am hardly a girl anymore!”

That she is not, which is why when Mukherjee approached her for permission to do this book, his second on her after Diva Unveiled, she asked: “You think people still want to read about me?”

“This is for the new generation — those who have perhaps never watched your films,” he told her. He decided that “this wouldn’t be an ode — it would include the controversies, the challenges and all that had made her journey thus far so inspiring”.

And in this quest Mukherjee has been mostly successful. Although the tone is adulatory, it is not hagiographical. It is respectful but makes no excuses. That’s why you begin to see the person behind the persona, and in a strange way you also see that the persona never really existed. I grew up watching Hema Malini’s films, saw her superstardom, and read magazines. Somehow you always got the feeling that none of it touched her; she certainly didn’t speak about any of it. She just carried on with her life.

Taking it easy

The way Mukherjee tells it, that’s exactly what she did: she simply carried on with her life.

She is candid in her comments and observations. Speaking about her relationship with Dharmendra, for instance, she says: “I have not talked about it all these years, why do so now? My life is my own and I should be allowed to live the way I want to. I know there are sections of people who discuss me with pity. They make me out to be someone who is weeping and mourning at home, pining for my man who is not around. I am not a police officer who needs to keep tabs on him. And I don’t need to show people a roll-call register as to how many days he visits me and how many days he doesn’t. He knows his duty as a father and I’ve never had to remind him of it.”

At times her views seem simple, at other times practical, or philosophical. Once, when Stardust published an interview with SRK headlined ‘Hema Malini doesn’t know direction’, he was embarrassed as they were still shooting for Dil Aashna Hai.

He recalls: “... to my surprise, in her inimitable style, very sweetly, she said, ‘Look, magazines only write about famous people. So, either I am famous or you are famous. These days I hardly work in films, so it has to be you. And when you become famous, magazines will write all sorts of rubbish about you. So, that’s fine!’ That was a big learning for me, from a living legend like Hema-ji.”

Another time, as part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, she had 100 toilets installed at Rawal, a village in Mathura. She later found that all of them were being used as storerooms; the explanation was that the villagers preferred to defecate in the open. She says a villager “explained how they were having a hard time using the commode as the ‘pressure’ wasn’t enough!... I told him, ‘You might like to defecate in the open, but have you ever asked the women of your house what they like?’… This is the real story of our country.”

You could say Beyond the Dream Girl is the real story of Hema Malini — or it’s as real as it can get. The book is not a cover-up, nor does it reveal intimate details. It seems to be the way she is — harmonious. Only, I would have called it Dream Girl Dreams.

Ram Kamal Mukherjee is a journalist, film critic and TV show host. He has worked with The Asian Age, Mumbai Mirror, Mid-Day, Ananda Bazaar Patrika, Anandalok and TV18. He was Vice-President, Special Projects at Pritish Nandy Communications and edited film magazine Stardust.

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Published on December 10, 2017
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