A squirrel-like feeling, eyes popped open and swirling from one end to the other, turning into a cricket ball in a flash. Tube light moment. Fired imagination, an entire half and quarter bottled popped open at the club which we had no honor to see. As long as it’s pure scotch and alcohol flowing in the vein, this feeling of being hit by a harmless sniper running havoc and turning the brain into war zone.
First peg uncorked and still not outmaneuvered, gotta roll the ball, spin and close to hitting a sixer. Alcohol makes you the one batting and you are never out for just scoring. No pun intended. No inference to sex, you dirty minds. I am comparing alcohol to cricket since we were sitting in the restaurant facing the stadium where cricket and golf are regularly played. Time for the second round and being surrounded by friends. Stumped but not yet out. High time to run for cover and overs, yet to have the first sip in the second round when another glass staring at me, telling, “Take me for hire and heat it up, baby.”
The company of friends and a doctor who would constantly babble, making jokes one after the other, insisting that we hear all of them, thinking he is the Umpire high on beer. No need to create runs for the third peg poured and the head is swirling and dancing to murder someone thinking that every known man walking past and showing attitude is Donald Trump. Peg number four, five, six and seven are spins and curse yourself why the fuck on earth pretending to be a fast bowler and the Scotch the ball that you wanna hit. Surely, the alcohol does or doesn’t think you are a catch.
The time has come and now the alcohol has turned from friend-to-foe pretty much like India turning into Mumbai Indians vs Delhi Daredevils. The overs are soon getting over and you gotta make the runs before the dream run ends. Zigzagging at the club in front of fellow guests unaware what you pulling and imagining the celebration of a major win at Wankhede Stadium and the guests who don’t give a fuck about you are fans cheering.
The alcohol flavor riding high on the head and driven home on the steps till hitting the bed, pretending to grab the Man of the Match award but forget your cup…oops glass at the Club. Tossing right and left on the bed, a realization about being sloshed and you were not among Sachin and Virat playing batsmen to make maximum runs but pure alcohol swilling on the tongue and making the brain dancing like Panda, except they are not Congress supporters celebrate Three States. Alcohol, I repeat is quite a babe sparkling hotness. Wink!
There is a gazillion of stars who shine and look at us from the sky. We instantly recognize them for the place carved in our hearts. One among them is Smita Patil. The smoldering looks, haunting intensity flowing in the eye, aura, childlike demeanor and personality she commanded stay with us forever. It’s been 32 years since Smita Patil left us and today she would have been 63 today. In her entire career as an artist, she has had a tremendous impact on the viewer who would feel that Smita Patil is someone we know, is close to us and understand our emotions. Such has been my personal equation with her as a fan. I think we all do. I have discovered many of her films after her death and one cannot remain unaffected to the acting range she displayed, emotions, pain, love or the smile that haunts. Calling her a superstar would perhaps not honor Smita Ji as an actor since she didn’t confine herself to a cinema genre.
One of the most brilliant actors who sashayed on screen, I feel Smita Patil lived every role played on screen with this tremendous presence. The mark of a genius and an angel, perhaps too many of us. Call it my personal bias but I feel as an ardent lover of cinema that since her death, there hasn’t been anyone who has done her kind of cinema and it’s an impossible task to replace a Smita Patil on screen. Many fans keep falling in love with her, before or after her death, where she keeps earning admirers in drove. Even today, many among us feel the fact that she is not around is a personal loss and this is the kind connect we had with her as an artist.
Who was Smita Patil? An enigma, social activist, a misunderstood woman with a heart of gold and a strike of lightning sending the screen ablaze through one look capable to steal your attention. She was sheer magic on screen and a rare symbol of art cinema and commercial fares, who achieved the extraordinary in a short span of time in being a genius. Maithili Rao is a respected film critic, columnist and journalist, who was a jury member for National Awards as well as contributing chapters to books dedicated to Indian cinema. It couldn’t have been a better tribute to my favorite actress Smita Patil who lives forever in hearts by hosting her biographer, Maithili Rao ‘Smita Patil, A Brief Incandescence.’ The reason she penned the biography, personal equation with Smita-Ji and what she could have been as an actor in today’s times.
1. December 13, 1986, will remain forever etched in the memory of Smita Patil fans, admirers, filmmakers, friends and immediate family. Your book, ‘A Brief Incandescence’ offers an emotional narration at the time of her death through testimonies of fans and writers which came as a wave of shock. As part of the research, would you say it’s impossible to fill this void and how would you see her today had she been alive as an artist?
It is truly impossible to fill the void she left in a brief, dazzling career. Hence, the reason, I call the book: “Smita Patil, A Brief Incandescence.” By definition, Incandescence is unique to a person and irreplaceable.
Had she been alive today, she might have gone ahead to make films. Close friend, Aruna Raje spoke about Smita’s plans to be part of the directing team of Rihaee-a film which Aruna wrote, taking in mind Smita but was later made with Hema Malini. Aruna later conceded that it was a different film from what she has originally conceptualized.
Of course, the other possibility is that she could have gone on to become an activist. Director Shyam Benegal wrote in the book’s foreword that she had many interests and he was on tenterhooks every day while shooting Bhumika – would be turned up? He went on to say that it was Bhumika that convinced her to take acting seriously. Until then, it was something that happened by chance and she wasn’t really committed to it.
There are limitless possibilities but my gut feeling is that she would have continued acting and at least some directors would write films with her in mind.
2. In your book, you spoke about Smita Patil as Dasavatar and discussing the various performances in films like Jait re Jait, Bhumika, Bazar, Akaler Sandhane, Umbartha, Arth or commercial outings like Namak Halal and Shakti. Was she an artist in a hurry to do a plethora of roles combing art and commercial cinema, being a social critic in those days or a feminist through those roles and a misunderstood woman?
She was all of these. In retrospect, Smita seemed to have some premonition that she had a short time left with lots of things to do. Like many of her art film contemporaries, she tried to straddle between art and commercial cinema for a variety of reasons – to attract larger audiences to the parallel films she believed in because of her stardom in mainstream cinema. Also, the economic factor played a part. She did not hail from a wealthy family and financial security was important. Smita acted in so many films for free, like Bhavni Bhavai or the Kannada film Anweshane when she would travel to Mysore at her own expense for the shooting extended over time with many breaks taking place in between.
The fact that Smita adhered to the ideals of equality and social justice was part of her DNA but she brought the commitment to films centered on these themes. She was an immense support and help to the Women’s Forum and skeptical feminists believing that film star could be sincere when it came to gender justice and social work.
3. You asked a question in the book and I ask the same question to you: Was Smita Patil an unacknowledged genius and who would you pick up Smita, the star or Smita the actor?
Did I say an unacknowledged genius? I think she was one of the few whose genius was recognized in her lifetime and early in her career. It’s another matter that Smita never had the usual, airs of a Hindi film star.
I would call her an actor who became a star but that did not diminish the actor in Smita. Even in her atrocious commercial films, you could see that she tried to bring the same intensity to her performance. Sometimes, this was against the grain of the film where others seemed to walk through the roles.
4. On a personal level, Smita Patil was anchored to her Puneri and Maharashtrian roots studying in the Marathi medium school Bhave Girls School but, ultimately, made the cut to the English medium at Fergusson College in Pune. How tough was it for her as a young girl to make this transition and eventually doing the rich body of work, albeit artistic films?
Smita stayed true to her roots even when she became a star in the Hindi film industry. Anita (Smita Patil’s sister) has spoken about both (Smita’s and hers) their difficulties when they shifted to Bombay, having to adapt to the English medium. There was the usual South Bombay snooty crowd at Xaviers’ who looked down on her accent. Both sisters were resilient. Don’t forget that Smita became a minor celebrity as a newsreader on Bombay TV when she was still a teenager.
I wrote in my book how she wore a striking appearance on B &W TV with a vibrant and compelling voice that enraptured viewers. Filmmakers as different as Shyam Benegal, Dev Anand and even Manoj Kumar were all impressed enough to offer her roles. Benegal was the first and her mother had to do a bit convincing for Smita to give it a shot. Sound recordist Hitendra Ghosh, became a family friend and Vidyatai (Smita Ji’s Mom) was very fond of this lean Bengali who brought Benegal to meet the family. They were impressed by Benegal – his education, cultured personality – to give the go ahead.
It was serendipity that there were so many remarkable filmmakers working at that time so Smita had an opportunity to work with the best. Sometimes people are lucky to be born at the right time at the right place and meet the right people.
5. From what we have read in the book, the formative years in her life bore a large influence where she was a part of the Rashtra Seva Dal (RSD) along with her sister. What has been the influential role RSD played in her personal life, including respect for all faiths and every human being irrespective of social class?
For a family with a secular, progressive ideology who lived in Maharashtra at that time, Rashtra Seva Dal (RSD) became an integral part of their children’s upbringing. Smita’s father, Shivajirao Patil who was part of the freedom movement as a teenaged student, spoke about how RSD sought to inculcate ideas of equality and secularism among children. The aim was to negate the RSS who believed in catching them young. So the Seva Dal took children all over Maharashtra and India during holidays to perform in plays, folk dances and songs. This not only shaped Smita’s personality as a child but also formed lifelong friendships pretty much like her bond with Jhelum Paranjpye – Odissi dancer and teacher who runs Smitalaya named after Smita. What she learned during her years with the Seva Dal stayed with Smita all her life. Once, she went and hugged a young man who was working as a make-up assistant when she came across him in a studio. Smita was a star then and the poor chap was embarrassed. Another instance came later when Smita used to drop by to see how the sea-facing apartment she bought in Mumbai was coming up. She would serve the workers chai herself and sip her own glass of tea together with them. Smita wanted to have them as the first guests for a meal once the flat was completed. Sadly, she died before she could move into the house.
6. The films that she has been part of such as Nishant, Mandi, Mirch Masala and Kondura was ahead of times in addressing sexual fantasies in the face of celibacy. Yet, that didn’t deter her from entering the mainstream cinema and what would you say on the questionable choice of roles in some mediocre projects, a tale of filmmakers misusing her talent?
Recognizing and empowering sexuality in a repressive society was very much an inherent part of parallel cinema and specifically, female sexuality as a subject was explored as an intrinsic aspect of a woman’s being. But, filmmakers like Benegal, Ketan Mehta and Aravidan also used the theme as a wider metaphor.
It was not only a Namak Halal that exploited her sex appeal in the rain song sequence, ‘Aaj Rapat Jaye’ but also the arthouse Chakra did it, much to the consternation of her admirers and feminists. It was a tricky negotiation for Smita. Chakra centered on the slum setting where women had to bathe under a tap in the open which was very much part of everyday reality whereas mainstream films were in the “knowing” and calculated in tapping this aspect of her image.
7. As an actor, she was accused by her peers of betraying her art for money when she forayed into commercial films. I personally think she made an extremely valid point ‘it’s a way of getting a bigger audience for art cinema once its actors become stars of mainstream films’ yet a dichotomy when in a conversation with Amitabh Bachchan, she told him ‘I don’t fit into it…my world view of art is different.’ Your thoughts?
This is a dilemma that many actors of parallel cinema faced. Yes, she was really convinced that being a star would attract the audience to her art films. When she had to do the song with Bachchan in Namak halal, she felt very awkward and uncomfortable. She wept after going home, her mother said. Smita had to reconcile many contradictions in her life. It takes immense courage to admit the contradictions and live with them. She was honest about this as in so many other things.
8. There is not a character that Smita Patil couldn’t have played and seen as an effervescent person who would light up a room with her presence. Can you recollect your personal experience of watching the artist perform on screen during the younger days and meeting her as a person or put it that way, what was that one thing that pushed you to write A Brief Incandescence?
Like I confessed in my book, I never met her. It was a conscious choice made to stay away from film stars and interviews etc. In hindsight, I realize the loss was mine.
As for what made me write the book, it was the impact Smita had on me while watching her films, both art and commercial outings. You just couldn’t take your eyes away from her when she lit up the screen with that extraordinary presence. This intensity seemed to have seeped into my subconscious. I felt bereft and bereaved when she died as if someone really close had left the world so shockingly, so suddenly.
9. What is this one thing about her that even after her death three decades later, there is such a huge emotional connect with Smita Patil as an artist that she keeps drawing fans-those who witnessed the growth of the Smita years of acting and ones who became a fan after her death?
Once again, the intensity that she brought to her characters. Smita made you feel about knowing that woman on screen, her fears and hopes, her vulnerability and strength. It is amazing how many people I have met told me that they want to see all her films again after reading my book. And, themuch younger crowd said that she is their favorite actor. For those who saw her films when they were made said that it carried such a tremendous impact that they can never forget her. Those haunting eyes and expressive face, the voice, all conveyed honesty and the integrity of being her.
10. There are not many among us who knew that Smita Patil was a painter Photographer until you mentioned in the book and her work was showcased in Mumbai. What made her so underwhelming and the refusal to compete to stake her rights and was she the answer to mainstream, albeit the angry young man of yesteryearS, one fighting the system and the other doing roles on women empowerment?
She was a photographer, not a painter. (I stand corrected here, Maithili Ma’am). Smita was inseparable from her camera and loved shooting people, the urge to capture the essential person and not just the external image. A complete natural behind the camera in the same fashion she was in front of it.
If I understand your second question correctly, as an actor she did not believe in competition. She was totally involved with her work and felt betrayed when a role promised to her by a well-known director went to a rival. Benegal calls her guileless and her sister Anita says she did not know how to manipulate the system.
Smita made her mark as a woman fighting for her rights and to live on her own terms not only on the screen but off screen as well. The films she did redefine the Indian woman with all her complexities. That is her lasting and significant contribution to our cinema.
Tac! Tac! Tac! Fingers clattered on the old, rustic keyboard and face staring at the dusty screen sitting on the desktop so much that he could fling the head inside. The chat window uncorked like a champagne bottle popping in the air and caressing the mouse to click on names.
Woman of your dreams…finger moved the cursor, Chameli, boring….wizard queen…get a life babe…He clicked on Princess and dropped Hi.
Princess: Hello, asl
Random dude: 19, Mumbai
Princess: 19, Mumbai!
The cafe owner signals one hour is over and random dude asks for an extra hour.
Random dude: So
Princess: What so! Be creative dude and stop boring me! Puhleeze!
Random dude: Send a picture pretty gal
Princess: How do you know I am pretty?
Random dude: I know. Don’t ask how?
Princess: Say something new.
Random Dude: The sky is blue and hate college…my teachers are so boring like stuck gramophone..girls are pretty! How do I care…don’t mind it! I’m just blabbering. What are you wearing on this sunny day! I am in Churchgate, btw?
Princess: Woah! I am also in Churchgate and skipped classes. Wearing white skirt and black dress!
Random Dude: Kitne door kitne paas!
Princess: What are the odds! Seriously dude. And you?
Random Dude: Matlab!
Princess: Arre Baba! clothes…u sitting naked in front of a comp or what?
Random Dude: Oh that! Blue denim on white tee.
Princess: Why so random?
Random Dude: Just to spice up and be mildly relevent!
Five minutes later, his screen beeped red with string of messages.
Princess: Hello there!
Princess: Ok bye!
Random dude: Don’t go away….sorry went for a smoke!
Princess: Smoking is not injurious for our minds! What the fuck! Some strange smell in this cyber cafe!
She turned around and saw a dude in a white tee. He flashed a wide grin, peering at a pretty girl in white skirt and black dress.
Random dude: So, you are the pretty girl sitting next to me
Princess: Aha! Handsome dude sitting close and chatting to me.
Princess and Random dude excitedly high fived each other sporting sheepish grin and flashing a wide smile.
I am a waif and straddling from one place to another. Put it plainly, I am homeless and literally on the road. Life after college, I tell you! Sharma Ji comes to the rescue and took me to his Kondwa flat, far away from the city and traveling towards college side, Fergusson College, where I normally hang out for the entire day means lift hopping on his bike early morning and waiting at our college hang out till late evening past 10 p.m for it’s quite an ordeal commuting by bus. I spent the entire day outside the comfort of a room or bed for a nap. Alternately, I could walk from his home to the bus terminus for a good 10 to 15 minutes and then another hour to reach the city side.
A short stay with Sharma Ji and his friends in the apartment comes at one condition. The owner stayed upstairs and meaning that I sneaked out of his house early morning and reach late night so that the owner who stays upstairs doesn’t sniff the sight of an unwanted visitor. I was literally on the run but how long can one stay in the hiding. Like Mom says, you eventually get caught when you hide.
The fateful day came sooner and aunty visited her tenant when we came face to face. I was saved on the day for the guys in the flat told her that I visited them and will go home tomorrow morning. The rest is too easy to guess for Sharma-Ji told me aunty eventually got wind about the trick. I am off looking for a temporary accommodation. I was chatting and smoking with S at our college hang out Savera and the second friend who rescued me by taking me to his house for a couple of days. Few days of respite!
He stayed at the other end of FC and the outskirt off Katraj and bike hopping with him. There was no way I could have taken the bus to the city and forget about Rickshaw ride meaning to fork out 500 bucks one way. I remember waiting for S at VIT in Bibvewdi and it was already 10 p.m. Don’t ask how I reached there. Been bike hopping with friends from one place to another and S reached in high spirit, telling me he wants to drink more. A quarter of whiskey was shared over gossip, chana and smoke. It’s past midnight. Finally, we hopped on his bike and zooming ahead on the busy road, veering towards his apartment and the wind fluttering the long, unkempt hair and an icy cold sensation caressing the cheek. The blossoming Pune weather in the first burst of monsoon is simply beautiful.
I met S’s roomies in the most unusual fashion and post the formal Hi, the dudes scurried outside to sit on the stairs. S winked and signaled me to follow him. A couple of guys were sitting on the stairs past midnight and S told me, ‘Call center.’ Ha! Still wanna bet! Nah! They were not running a call center but everyone was busy with their girls friends and love interest. Midnight is always happy hours in the age where sms and calls fares were slashed. It was a daily affair and started teasing them with the tag call center, the moment it struck midnight. It was time to exit from S’s apartment who gave me a place for a week time.
I was loitering on FC Road and one rainy day, was broke and with hardly 200 bucks in my pocket. I plodded my tired feet, for cheap lunch and a Mosambi, getting a couple of cheap cigarettes. Night was approaching. I had no place to stay and asked some people who turned me down. The only option was to cross the road and sleep inside college at Kimaya. A second option was the railway station.
The face was blank, expressionless and wore a sullen look. I was on the verge of tears, pacing in and out of the restaurant to stand on the pavement. Mom and Dad already made the bank transfer but the money would probably reach in another 24 hours. The feeling that your favorite city has turned its back on you was difficult to fathom. It broke my heart. I was pinning for a miracle and drenched with a backpack filled with clothes and other stuff.
What a day it turned out to be. I don’t remember everything which happened in the flick of seconds but eventually was saved at the last minute. I saw K getting down from the rickshaw and he spotted me. He wore a bandage on the arms and told me about a bike accident saying, “Daaru peene se yehi hota hai na” (When you get drunk, you are bound to meet with an accident). I asked him for a smoke. He asked, “What else is happening?” Being someone who can’t hide emotions, I just told him everything was ok. My voice somehow cracked and K could see that I wasn’t my usual self. He asked, “Are you ok!” I made a very bad attempt to hide and pretend that everything is fine with hands firmly on the table.
K knew that things were awry. I was probably a mess. He firmly told me that something is bothering me and I am not looking my usual stuff, time to cut the crap and tell. I poured out my heart on the entire things and spoke in a rather uncomfortable, non-confident gaze and stammering telling that the plan is to go and sleep at Kimaya which is inside college. I was literally broke but knew once the night gets over, things will be fine.
I don’t remember the exact words but he scolded me, “Charsi hai tu that you will go and sleep inside college or the railway station. Friends are intuitive and get the hang when something is not normal. He stepped in and in an effortless manner told that I could stay at his house. It showed his pure and genuine heart. My friend and drink buddy forgot for a while that he got a night out and dragged me for alcohol at Namaskar. I took a sip and gulped the whiskey. The rain flowed outside and another friend R came to join him. It was their party and not mine. I felt a bit uneasy.
K was on a call with someone in Marathi and he told that arrangement has already been made to stay in a hotel near Pune station. He slipped a whiskey quarter in my bag and some money to settle the room for few days. There was no balance on the modest Nokia 3310 and the battery dying. The moment I picked K’s call in the morning, the phone conked. I walked to Pune station and sat in the PMT bus heading in the direction of Deccan. I met N, my classmate at Savera and borrowed his handset to call K. He called back on N phone who assured him that everything was fine with me. I returned the call and thanked him profusely for bailing me out. K in his own signature style signed off, “Ease out dude.” I can’t remember exactly what happened and think N took me to his flat or may have stayed in the lodge for another night or two. I am forever grateful for having friends like K whose heart beat for me. Friends made in Pune have always been my strength.
Priyanka Chopra is not only one of the most popular stars but belongs to the rare breed of successful crossover Indian stars, foraying into Hollywood through sheer hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Mariah Smith calls herself a writer and proves she is not in her slander and mediocre piece appearing in The Cut. Maybe the title comedian fits the bill for if she is one, making for a horrible and unfunny one lashing at Priyanka Chopra’s wedding to Nick Jones, calling her a global scam artist to score a white man is sheer desperation. It’s another thing that Smith apologized but it’s not enough on the damage done.
The worst is The Cut has done a terrible job at fact checking and one wonders how come no editor worth its name judged it appropriate, to edit the article since editors are the last line of defense in a newsroom. The fact that the publication chooses to remove the article and apologize doesn’t come as a saving grace to its lost credibility. The backlash faced on the internet has forced them to remove the article smacking of inherent racism, sexism, patriarchy, and jealousy.
In modern times, the modern women face a slew of challenges, if the Me too campaign is something to by in making a mark where gender equality is perhaps an ongoing battle and far from reality. Smith is a woman. She should know better right and her rant seems to tell, “How dare those Asians and bloody Indians take our place? We will show them their rightful place in society.” The irony is embedded in the fact that a woman chooses to run down another woman in the most vulgar, uncouth and crass fashion on an important day as her wedding and through this piece alluding a grown-up man is entirely incapable of making life choices, is just a baby and ensnared by a woman. What was Smith hinting? Nick Jones is brain-dead, unintelligent and cannot decide whom to marry that he needs to be mothered or fathered.
One thing which came out of this entire slander and obsessive hatred for Priyanka Chopra showcases how patriarchy is ingrained in our psyche as human beings and the various complexities that we suffer. Make no mistake, Smith is as much a migrant, if not her parents or grandparents, in the land of opportunity and whittling to the scars suffered in the distant past. It reflects poorly on her and the inferiority complex that many migrants cutting across countries or ethnic groups across the world face or are still suffering from. For long, as Indians, we have criticized our country rightfully in places for bearing the burden of caste, class, migration, gender or religious divide hinging on our national identity. One good thing that came out of this silly rant is that India is not the only country that faces challenges and the West we look up as a model grapple with their own issues when it comes to sexism and racism. It has just been proved right that skeletons lay hidden in the cupboard coated with luxury on the outside.
The allegations made in this article is of a serious matter in this online world and Smith does no better not just as a troll but a desperate fool with her publication desperation for clickbait. The latter served its purpose. There was no double-check in this column with a colorable device but also pushed us to ask questions on the real motive on a cross-cultural wedding. Honestly, I clicked on the article and couldn’t put myself to glean through it, an eyesore and entire garbage with hatred written all over, as if Smith is someone deprived of her constitutional rights, emotional stability or being turned down by a lover. You say that Priyanka Chopra is calculating, cunning and deceitful in a fraudulent marriage. First, go and prove it, substantiated with evidence in a court of law. It’s serious allegations and casting aspersion on someone’s character.
We have often argued that social media can be ugly with trolls but the irony is that Twitter has shown The Cut and Smith their rightful place which makes us hopeful on the productive role it can play in future. The golden rule in journalism is to check and re-check your facts and avoid passing value judgments where the word ‘alleged’ is the norm before reporting on any matter subjudice in a court of law. Clearly, The Cut has done a bad job at it and making us wonder on whether any sanction will apply in case of Smith for so much of hatred against someone on her most beautiful day. Certainly, this malicious 1,600 words column-it can hardly be called a column- but a call of desperation from an insecure and sick mind-reminds us about the racism subjected to Shilpa Shetty in the Big Brother show ages ago.