It came as a shock to me to learn that Shashikala had passed away on the 4th of April, 2021. She was 88 years old, so a ripe old age, yes; but there was something so alive and vibrant about Shashikala even in her old age that I never actually realized how old she was. I would see photos and videos of hers in recent times, her brilliant silver hair stylishly cut, that trademark smile like a 1000-watt bulb. She was not one of those reclusive actresses who go into their shells and disappear after they retire; no. Shashikala always seemed so alive.
In her cinema, too.
Beginning as an extra in the late 40s, Shashikala graduated to bigger roles, including several as heroine (Aab-e-Hayat is one that’s been reviewed on this blog). Through the 50s and 60s, she moved on to a more varied lot of roles. On the one hand, she was the sympathetic sister (Sujata) or the encouraging friend (Anupama); on the other, she was the vamp, the villain’s girl with a pretty criminal mind of her own (Nau Do Gyarah). Somewhere along the way, the vamp roles began metamorphosing into those of the shrew, the mean, selfish woman out to get the hero for herself, even though she didn’t really love him, only his wealth (Chhoti Si Mulaqat, Hariyali aur Raasta). Later still, in the 70s, she became the sort of harridan Lalita Pawar was also so good at playing: the nasty, shrieking older woman (usually a mother-in-law, sometimes a sister-in-law) who makes life miserable for the gentle Sati Savitri heroine who falls into her hands. Not a nice woman.
And how well Shashikala played each of those roles. How much she made me hate her and long for her comeuppance. Yet, how she made me laugh. Or want to hug her for standing up for the timid Uma of Anupama (so what if she could be a bit exasperatingly cheerful too). Or make me wish I could shimmy like that…
You will be missed, Shashikala. But your films will live on.
In memory, therefore, a list of ten of my favourite songs in which Shashikala lip-syncs to the song. These could be solos or duets, but the main criterion I’ve chosen is that Shashikala gets to ‘sing’. As always, these are all from pre-70s Hindi films that I’ve seen. Also, no two songs are from the same film. In no particular order:
1. Kya ho phir jo din rangeela ho (Nau Do Gyarah, 1957): A very young Helen, from her pre-Mera naam Chin Chin Choo days, features in this song, but for me the dancer who actually rules it is Shashikala. With that long cigarette holder and cigarette tin, the dress flaring out about her hips, and Geeta Dutt’s sultry voice singing playback for her, Shashikala is oomph personified here. As the club dancer Neeta in Nau Do Gyarah, she got to lip-sync to a couple of other songs (Jaan-e-jigar haai haai and the tense See le zubaan), but it’s with her introductory song, Kya ho phir jo din rangeela ho, that Shashikala scores her biggest hit in this film.
2. Yeh raaste hain pyaar ke (Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke, 1963): At a poolside party, a woman watches as her lover, attracted by another woman, wanders off. Hurt and resentful, she sings of her pain, but addresses it also to the two people she sees before her, dancing, talking intimately, obviously enjoying each other’s company—and stepping every moment closer to adultery. She looks on, her song talking of the perils that lie in wait for those who walk down the path of love. Or of forbidden love, really. I love the expressions on Shashikala’s face: she’s hurt, yes; but there’s something also wistful about her, as if she dreads what lies ahead for her (now ex) lover.
3. Bheegi-bheegi fazaan (Anupama, 1966): A timid and lonely young woman has always been treated in a strange, tumultuous fashion by her father, who both blames his daughter for having caused the death of his wife (who died in childbirth) and who loves her too. Repressed and emotionally bereft, Uma seems utterly alone—but besides the poet who falls in love with her (played by Dharmendra), there is the young woman (Shashikala) who, with her verve and her outgoing nature, helps Uma assert herself. Yes, Anita ‘Annie’ is a bit too boisterous, but all said and done, she is a ray of sunshine in a home that can get very dark indeed. It’s obvious in this song, too, where while her friends settle down for a picnic, Annie wanders about, singing about the beauty of nature. Her joy and enthusiasm is so infectious, that the others end up watching her, unable to take their eyes off her.
4. Zindagi mein pyaar karna seekh le (Phool aur Patthar, 1966): Shashikala acted with Dharmendra in a slew of films, including Devar, where she acted as his wife. In Phool aur Patthar, though, as Rita, she was a dancer, a woman of the criminal underworld to which Shaaka (Dharmendra) belongs. In Sheeshe se pee ya paimaane se pee, she got to seduce Shaaka; and in Zindagi mein pyaar karna seekh le, she got to perform a pretty standard ‘cabaret’ song. The nonsense words of the refrain are an obvious distortion of the Brazilian Portuguese lyrics of the song (Andorinha preta) of which Zindagi mein pyaar karna seekh le is a copy. The platinum blonde wig Shashikala sports here is not flattering, but I like the song, and the way her expression changes—from the professional dancer, smiling to please the crowd, to the woman whose face lights up because the man she loves has arrived—is lovely. Still a bright smile, but the eyes change completely.
5. Nain tumhaare mazedaar (Junglee, 1961): Your average 60s film had, as the hero’s sidekick/friend, Mehmood (invariably teamed with Shubha Khote) or Rajendranath, perhaps with Helen or Laxmi Chhaya. Shashikala did not often appear in that role. But in Junglee (which remains one of my favourite films), she is both Anoop Kumar’s love interest as well as Shammi Kapoor’s sister. The effervescent Mala first appears sneaking out of home to meet her lover, and this defiance of her strict mother’s and brother’s illogical and stifling dictates makes Mala, from the beginning, such a likeable character. In a family that’s lost its humanity under the weight of its perceived ‘honour’, Mala is the bright spark.
And the brightness shines even brighter in this delightful song, where Mala and Jeevan express their love for each other. Fun, joyous, affectionate.
6. Bachpan ke din bhi kya din thhe (Sujata, 1959): Some of Shashikala’s most sympathetic roles she owed to Bengali directors. If she was the Annie of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anupama and the Mala of Subodh Mukherji’s Junglee, she was also the Rama of Bimal Roy’s Sujata. A pampered young woman, the much-loved daughter of well-off, high caste parents. But Rama’s wealth and her privileged position do not make her the snobbish evil foster-sister of the untouchable Sujata (Nutan). Far from it; she’s a friend to Sujata; she doesn’t see her as an outsider, but as a sister. And in this song, while the roles of the two young women are clearly defined (while Rama plays the piano and prances about dreamily, Sujata attends to the laundry), their voices meld together beautifully to sing a song about the childhood they’ve left behind. Carefree, happy childhood, gone forever and still longed for.
7. Ik jaan meri aur laakh sitam (Aab-e-Hayat, 1955): This adventure-filled fantasy film was one of Shashikala’s main roles as a leading lady. Here, she was paired with Premnath, whose character spends most of the film being wooed by fairies, threatened by monsters and magical creatures, and basically in high-adventure mode. His lady love, the princess Shahzaad, having spent the first few minutes of the film establishing herself as a feisty, strong-willed woman, then unfortunately spends the rest mourning the loss of her beloved, who’s gone off on these adventures all by herself…
While Shashikala did have some good songs to lip-sync to in Aab-e-Hayat, my favourite is this one. Ik jaan meri aur laakh sitam, where she grieves for her lost love. Fairly standard ‘sad song’, but I especially like the music of this one.
8. Tu mera jo nahin (Bheegi Raat, 1965): Another song with Shashikala beside a swimming pool. But Tu mera jo nahin is a far cry from Yeh raaste hain pyaar ke, even though both songs are sung by a woman bemoaning the fact that the man she is in love with is in love with another. But while there’s wistfulness and pain in Yeh raaste hain pyaar ke, in Tu mera jo nahin, Shashikala’s character is pretty blasé about it. He may not love her, but she’s confident of her own ability to someday win him over: she’s the flame to which the moth will be attracted, sooner or later. Let him go where he will; she knows he’ll be back. So much pep and such an infectious beat to this song, and how much sass Shashikala shows off.
9. Chaand ghatne laga raat dhalne lagi (Shart, 1954): Na yeh chaand hoga na taare rahenge was the more popular song from Shart, but another (also very good) song about the moon was picturized on Shashikala. As the lead performer and onstage singer, Shashikala lip-syncs here to a light, frothy number about love in the moonlight. She doesn’t get to do very much in the way of dancing, besides moving her arms about a bit and swaying, but the song is a lovely one.
10. Na baaz aaya muqaddar mujhe mitaane se (Sunehre Kadam, 1966): And, to end, a little-known song from a little-known film. Sunehre Kadam was, from what I can gather, not released: or at least released in a very limited way. I can imagine why it may have sunk into oblivion; in a time of vivid colour, this was a black and white film. In a day when Dev Anand, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt and the like were the male stars, Sunehre Kadam starred Rehman, and a Rehman too who was past his prime. Plus Shashikala, all said and done, was by that time, really not the standard leading lady for most filmgoers.
It’s a shame, really, because this was one of Shashikala’s better roles, one which allowed her to show off just how good she was as an actress, and how versatile. Plus, she got some nice songs to lip-sync to, of which this one, of despair and woe, is my favourite from this film.
Which are your favourite Shashikala songs?