Yesterday (November 28, 2009), I came across a rather disturbing piece of news on the net. Veteran actress from the South, Manorama, who has done all types of roles and regaled audiences in over 1500 films and is still active even today, is unconscious in the ICU of a hospital in Chennai following a surgery for her knee problems. She had to be given anaesthesia for the surgery and has not regained consciousness several hours after the operation. Even as I’ve tried to keep track of her well-being over the net through some sites where I keep track of current events in South Indian cinema, I am unable to find any updates on her current status. A couple of the so-called popular websites claiming to be up to date on all affairs of the Tamil film industry have not even reported on her.
But should one really be so surprised by this? I remember when the great Vijay Anand passed away, his death was reported in just a single sentence in the news scroll even as all News channels were going ballistic about the crockery and whatever at a current leading lady’s wedding! Why, when the great P Bhanumathi passed away, I did not find a single report outside the South about her demise. This, for a woman who was one of the biggest ever heroines in Tamil and Telugu cinemas, had an acting career of almost six decades and who at her peak, owned a studio, produced and directed films, wrote scenarios and screenplays, composed music and did playback as well besides acting. It was by sheer accident I came to know about her death a few days later when I visited Bangalore and so could do a tribute for Upperstall. Even recently, very little has been written about Abrar Alvi, who passed away on November 18, 2009 and whom I consider to be one of the greatest writers that Hindi cinema has ever had.
Several yesteryear artists have died, not just lonely and forgotten, but in total penury. Khan Mastana, Mohammed Rafi’s co-singer in the immortal patriotic song Watan ki Raah Mein Watan ke Naujawan Shaheed Ho died a beggar at the Haji Ali Dargah; when actress Vimmi (Humraaz (1967), Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969)) died, there was no one to even claim her body at the hospital and it is said Meena Kumari’s bungalow had to be auctioned to pay for her pending medical bills when she passed away. Across the border in Pakistan, Meena Shorey, known as the ‘Lara Lappa’ girl in her days under the sun, died in abject poverty while Ragini, known for her mesmerizing eyes and being the first heroine to charge a lakh rupees a film, died barely being able to see. And there are many, many more – Bharat Bhushan, Nadira, Bhagwan…the list goes on. And we’re only talking Hindi cinema here. The story must be repeated in all our various regional film industries as well. And forget those who have died, many old artists are living totally forgotten and neglected lives today. In fact, in an earlier blog piece of mine, I’ve mentioned how Shyama broke down in the course of her interview saying how lonely and isolated she felt these days.
And if public memory is short, the film industry is equally cruel and inhuman to its people. What’s the use of all the various associations if they are unable to help its seniors in their times of need? At least, the plight of yesteryear actors, filmmakers, writers, composers or singers still sometimes comes to light as they were known faces in their heyday. But what about the other technicians – cinematographers, editors, audiographers, choreographers, stunt directors, make up personnel, art directors and the like and the true workers – the assistants, light boys, spot boys, stunt men, junior artists and others?
Coming back to Manorama, I can only hope she recovers soon and one sees her where she rightfully belongs – in front of the camera and on screen. Get well soon Manorama Aachi!