Moushumi Chatterjee, enchanted moviegoers in the 1970s with her childlike innocence and untarnished vivacity in films like Anurag, Kachche Dhaage, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan and Angoor. Over the years she has graduated to more mature roles. But her childlike exuberance remains intact. In conversation with Subhash K Jha.
You are back in Shoojit Sircar’s Piku. What prompted you to take up this role?
First of all, I hate to be told I’ve come back. I was right here. The role had to be right, no? Aaya raam gaya raam karne mein koi phayda nahin. I don’t have to work to make a living. I am financially sound. I will do the films that I am happy doing. Otherwise I am lazy.
Not when I take up the work. Right now I don’t have a maid. So I get up at 5.30 am every morning to do all the housework. I also keep travelling to Kolkata.
Why did you take up Piku?
Because of Shoojit Sircar. I saw his two films Vicky Donor and Madras CafÃ©. I became his fan. He’s a brilliant director. He insisted he wanted me in the film. Whatever I did in Piku the credit or discredit must go to Shoojit.
Your co-star Mr. Bachchan says you haven’t changed at all?
Main paagal tthi abhi bhi paagal hoon.
You recently did two films in Bengali with Aparna Sen. How was that experience?
I got a lot of critical acclaim for those films. People saw that Moushumi Chatterjee could play roles of women far older than her. I am thankful to Aparna Sen. I believe Aparna tried other actresses like Jaya Bachchan, Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee Gulzar for the role in The Japanese Wife. But it was my destiny to do the role.
You did some wonderful films in your time. Happy when you look back?
I always feel I’ve got more than I deserve. I was never career-driven. But circumstances were such that I got married and immediately started working. I balanced on the two boats of home-making and acting quite well. If I may say so myself. My family was not unhappy. I remember in the beginning of my career my father-in-law (the great composer-singer Hemant Kumar Mukherjee) was very supportive. Somehow I managed.
There is a little girl in you that remains intact to this day?
Raj Khosla with whom I did Kachche Dhaage and Daasi said that. I am childlike but not childish. Every person has a child within. You’ve to nurture that child, make sure it is healthy and it lives. I am blessed to remain childlike after so many years in this industry.
You opted out of Gulzar’s Koshish after shooting for the film. Why?
I’ll give you a brief answer and you will have to read between the lines. When it came to my self-respect I’d never compromise for any role. It could be Koshish or any other filmâ€¦I was not here to form relationships. I came to the film industry to work. I could never do anything that would have made me lose respect for myself. Whenever such a situation arose I quickly opted out.
And yet you did some fantastic films?
That’s because God makes sure no injustice is done. If in spite of my determination to never compromise with my conscience I could still do quality work that can only mean God was on my side. At the end of the day I could sleep with a clear conscience.
I could never do that. Our industry has remained male-dominated. Even today it is the same. Forget about the entertainment industry in every walk of life women have to deal with the male ego. Men behave either like a 6-year or a 60-year old. Some stars back then saw too much success too soon. They couldn’t handle the success.
Which among your films were your favourites?
I don’t remember them all. Sometimes I hear a song I like then my daughters tell me it is from my film. I like films like Anurag, Kachche Dhaageâ€¦down South I did some good films like Sawarg Nark and Swayamvar. Some films that didn’t click are my favourite, like Basu Chatterjee’s Us Paar. Then I did a good role in Basu Chatterjee’s Manzil which is to this day remembered for the song ‘Rimjhim Gire Saawan‘. While working together again after so many years in Piku we remembered that song.
What was it like working with Mr. Bachchan again after so many years?
His level of enthusiasm remains undiminished. He is like a newcomer, so professional at his age, it’s really admirable.
What about you?
I am a dedicated worker. One has to be serious about one’s work. Give me work worth doing and I’m all for it. There are certain dos and don’ts that I follow. I hate unpunctuality.
Are your daughters interested in movies?
The elder one Payal is working with Disney. The younger one Megha did two films. But now she’s a social activist.
If the daughters are as pretty as their mother they should be facing the camera?
Everyone comes with her own destiny. I was very lucky. I don’t know how I’ve lasted so long. I’ve no marketing team, no secretary. I never ask for roles. But they still come to me. It’s a miracle. I never pandered to anyone’s ego, made people angry because of my uncompromising attitude. No one can tell me what to do or not to do. Either you convince me. Or you get convinced by me. I like it when people who have wronged me realize their mistake.
Who among the current actresses do you like?
My all-time favourite is Kajol. And before her I like Tabu. And before these two I like Nutan and Durga Khote.
If your first film Ballika Badhu were to be re-made today whom would you like to be cast?
I don’t see any contemporary heroine can play a 14-year old bride. When I did the film they had to pad me up. I used to get very annoyed by the saree. I was told when the director shouted pack-up I could take it off. I was such a child that when the director said ‘Pack up’ I’d begin to throw off the saree on the set. They had to drag me to the makeup room. Where would you find that innocence today?
Any unfulfilled wish?
Yes, I want to get a maid and cook for my home. Right way.