Meeting the older generation of film people is altogether a different experience. I have vivid memories of my meetings with Kamini Kaushal, Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman, Shammi Kapoor, Shyama, Shakila, Tanuja, Kum Kum, VK Murthy, Abrar Alvi, Ravi and others for a project that fellow filmmaking colleagues and close friends Shivendra Singh (Shivi), Arwa Mamaji and I have been researching. Add to the list now, Smriti Biswas.
Smriti Biswas was an actress in the 1940s and 1950s, playing mainly the glamorous vamp or the second lead and sometimes parallel heroine. Some of her famous Hindi films include Shamsheer (1953), Chandni Chowk (1954), Baap re Baap (1955), Ab-e-Hayat (1955), Bhagam Bhag (1956), Arab ka Saudagar(1956), Jagte Raho (1956), Sailaab (1956), Yahoodi ki Ladki (1957) and Dilli ka Thug (1958) besides Bengali films like Neel Akasher Neechey (1958). She retired from films in 1958 following her marriage to doctor-turned-actor-turned-producer-director SD Narang in many of whose films she had acted. Looking at yesteryear Filmfare reviews of her films, she almost always received positive reviews for most of her performances and in films like Shamsheer, was said to be the saving grace of the film.
One had been trying to find Smriti for months, in fact, a good year or so. She was known to be good friends with Nargis, Nirupa Roy, Shyama, Hemant Kumar, Guru and Geeta Dutt among others in the film industry. We were given phone numbers by a couple of those we met but on calling up, found they were disconnected. We had no postal address but vague directions of the area where she lived. We even sent people physically to the leads we were given but…
However, thankfully things have a weird way of working themselves out in this crazy world. Shivi was making an advertising film which had another actress, Anju Mahendru, acting in it. During casual conversation, she told him of a friend she had who owned some old cameras and wanted them appraised. On being asked who it was, she said Smriti Biswas! Shivi could barely conceal his excitement as he called me. Immediately, a meeting was fixed up. Shivi and I met Smriti and her two sons at Anju Mahendru’s residence. Throughout the conversation, Smriti was full of life as she recalled her acting days, the yesteryears and the 1950s in particular. What’s more, she immediately agreed to grant us a proper interview a couple of days later at her residence.
Though Shivi couldn’t be present and with Arwa now staying in London, I would say that Smriti Biswas’ interview with me was one of the best interviews one has had and this is not taking anything away from the other people I have met, all of whom have been extremely gracious and kind by sparing valuable time to talk to us. Once Smriti opened up and the floodgate of memories came pouring out, she answered all questions patiently and honestly. Her eyes sparkled as she recalled the nights spent in shacks at Powai lake for fishing trips or as she described her role as a co-conspirator in helping good friend Geeta Dutt keep a tab on Guru Dutt’s whereabouts once he was out of the house! She clarified doubts on fellow vamp Kuldip Kaur’s death due to lockjaw, remembered the wild times the film industry had at Raj Kapoor’s legendary Holi bashes and enthusiastically recalled taking part in cricket matches the industry used to organise. She also made no bones about how much she missed acting post marriage and motherhood but admitted that Narang was very clear when they married that he wanted a housewife and mother to his children and not a working actress. All this, while she played the perfect hostess ensuring one was properly taken care of with snack after snack. What’s more, at the end of the interview, she graciously thanked one for helping her relive the good old days and generously gifted me some priceless (to me) movie memorabilia – a few of her film stills, a couple of books authored by husband SD Narang, a lobby card of Arab ka Saudagar and the song booklet of Yahoodi ki Ladki among other things. Needless to say, I was extremely touched.
There is a flip side, however, to the joyous experience of meeting these great film personalities of yesteryear. The more I meet people from the golden age of Hindi cinema, the more I regret not having been a filmmaker in that glorious era.