“You’re meeting all these actors and actresses of yesteryear. Have you met Sheila Vaz?” an old school friend, Eddie (Edward Anthony) asked me. I had to say no but my mind was already ticking and images of Ramaiya Vastavaiya, Leke Pehla Pehla Pyar, and Thandi Thandi Hawa were flickering before my eyes. Yes, Sheila Vaz was someone I definitely did want to meet.
Sheila Vaz was a dancer in Hindi films from 1953 – 1960. She was born and brought up in Bombay in Dadar, her family hailing from Goa. Taking to dance and unusually to Indian folk dance, she had to overcome initial resistance from her family before entering films. Beginning with Kishore Sahu’s Mayur Pankh (1954) (though Kidar Sharma’s Gunah (1953) released earlier), she danced her way through a whole lot of films right till 1960 when she quit after her marriage. Some of her important films included Shree 420 (1955), where she danced memorably not just to Ramaiya Vastavaiya (by far her best known song) but also to Dil Ka Haal Sune Dilwala, CID (1956), Johnny Walker (1957), Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957), Mr X (1957), Solva Saal (1958), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Bahana (1960).
I wondered where and how Eddie knew of Sheila Vaz since he is certainly not into Hindi cinema and certainly not classic Hindi cinema and here he was telling me about an actress – dancer of the 1950s. Turned out she was his wife’s sister’s mother-in-law. Thanks to Eddie, one contacted her son Rohit Lakhanpal and through him, spoke to Sheila Vaz, who is living a content and retired life as Rama Lakhanpal today. Extremely warm on the phone, she immediately gave one time to meet her. As I have mentioned a few times on this blog, I am working on researching a project on the golden age of Indian cinema along with my filmmaking colleagues Shivi (Shivendra Singh Dungarpur) and Arwa Mamaji and with Arwa away in London, Shivi and me promptly landed up at her Juhu residence at the appointed time.
It was needless to say a wonderful, wonderful meeting. Having aged ever so gracefully, elegance and graciousness are what describe Sheila Vaz best. Not just for us, she was nevertheless glad to go down memory lane herself as she told us how not knowing Hindi, she was given the songs in Roman script and explained their meaning so that she would know what expressions to give! She was full of interesting anecdotes regarding the shooting of Ramaiya Vastavaiya from Shree 420 and Leke Pehla Pehla Pyaar from CID, choreographed by Zohra Sehgal, and which was filmed on Worli Seaface in a couple of days! She was extremely grateful that she was fortunate enough to have worked with legends like Kidar Sharma, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt. In fact, she recalled how Guru Dutt had intended to give her a full-fledged role in one of his films but by then she had decided to get married, quit films and settle down. Her face lit up as she told us that even today when her songs are shown on TV, youngsters and neighbours come up to her and tell her how much they liked her dances!
Tragically, however, she had lost all of the memorabilia of her days in Hindi cinema as her ground floor flat got flooded in the July 26, 2005 deluge. But trust Shivi to do the needful. He not only traced out a still of her from Shree 420 and got her to autograph it for us, but also gave her a whole lot of copies of the photograph so that she could give her other fans autographed photographs of herself, if they so wanted.
As usual, after each of my meetings with these luminaries of Hindi cinema’s golden age, the one big, nagging thought I always have is – why, why was I not around to make films then?!