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Asha Sachdev : "I've Been Systematically Chased By Ill Luck"

06 Feb, 2021 | Archival Reproductions by Cinemaazi
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Like the rest of the howling mobs, I too had certain pre­conceived notions about Miss Asha Sachdev. That she was deadly sexy, deadly fast. That she was crazy about Dharam. That she had this big thing going with this guy. These and a lots of similar notions/stories/pieces of fiction, buzzed around the brain when I called her over Dr. Bell's instrument recently in Calcutta. She sounded friendly, warm, cute, chirpy. Yes, Shailendra Singh had spoken to her about  me. Why didn't we meet this evening at her hotel suite? No, no tape-recorders please, just old faithful pad and pencil or something. Okay teacher, I said, instantly abandoning the idea. Five-and-a-half minutes after the appointed time Shailenndra Singh had visually revealed great disturbance and imbalance at my punctuality earlier! Asha, a somewhat-ahem-­bigger name, might tear her hair, I reckoned. I buzzed her suite-buzzer, almost immediately getting a "come in" reply. I did that to find Miss Sachdev having a chat with her Calcutta producer and director Ashish Roy and Kanak Mukherjee respectively. She had come to the city to do a Bengali film against new young heart-throb Ranjit Mullick or Parivartan (1972) and Naya Nasha (1973) de-fame. I introduced myself to her and she smiled warmly -nice mouth and in turn introduced me to her two chiefs. We exchanged pleasantries for a while before her mother and hairdresser swept in after a mini-shopping spree. Sure, I had heard a lot about her mumsy-wumsy's young looks, but Jeez, she beat everything I heard!

Anyway, very soon her producer and director split and Mummy and hairdresser sweetly retired to grab some rest. (God knows they needed it. They were to see Dharam Karam (1975) that night !) clearing  my  throat  and  saying,  'yes'  to  a cuppa chai, I sort  of  started.

Where do I  begin,  I mentally  yelled  to myself  a wee-bit  confused - till Kamaal-ki-cheez dawned! But of course, what better opener than her so-called "reputation"? Obviously, this was not one of her favourite subjects. "This reputation-bit-of ­mine has been played up so much by all and sundry that there's practically no more play left!  Okay,  I  am  not  denying the fact that part of the fault lay  in  my  professional naivette, my frankness, my straight un-hypocritical talk, my honesty. But people have this wonderful knack of twisting simple words, gestures and decorating them with monumental symbolic meaning! Yeah sure, I  am  a  great  admirer  and  fan of Dharam and it's only because of this  that  I  am  doing  a small guest-role in his Mahaguru, does anyone mind Shyam Keswani next, huh? Shyam was a very close and  special friend; gentle, polite,  fun  to  be with,  Shyam was totally unlike most of the lecherous types whose lives seem to centre around 'grabbing'! But no - I had to have a solid, torrid affair with Shyam. So what to do? No problem, manufacture one! Why hamare peeche sub padey hain pata  nahin. Because of my deadly wild reputation at the FTII? Look, let's get one thing straight: What happens at the Institute happens everywhere. When a young girl goes to college for the first time isn't she thrilled with her new-found-freedom?   Doesn't she feel great? Isn't she ecstatic at the thought of dancing at a disco or going out for long drives with a bunch of pals? That's what happened there. Sure, I had boyfriends, but most girls did, so what's the sweat about anyway."  She paused, and just lost out to Mr. Hamlet for the most-durable-soliloquy award. "Things actually went wrong after a couple of my photographs appeared in a leading film fortnightly, exposing my...." bosom? I hopefully suggested. "Yes, it was admittedly very stupid and foolish of me to have those pictures taken. I guess it's no use blaming the press for having played it up.... And golly-gee-whiz did they play it up?

 Asha Sachdev and Randhir Kapoor in a still from Lafange

Time for a change of scene I thought, and moved to her career- but not before I had mentally made a note of returning (with feeling?) to her reputation-bit. She hadn't hit the high scots as many other equally, even less qualified aspirants, had Rekha and Neetu for example. "Rekha, you must not forget was presented superbly in her very first film Sawan Bhadon (1970). Rekha's cycling-act without a cycle and in a reclining position flashed through the brain. Superb presentation. Also very unusual and imaginative and mindboggling!

"The director Mohan-jee did a wonderful job. And she was lucky, the film clicked in a big way. And she has been lucky since, to methodically get reasonably good and big banners, directors and heroes. Neetu today of course has Chintu - a big star draw in his own right co-starring in most of her movies! What better way to zoom up?" I was beginning to feel bad for her. "As for me, I've been systematically chased by ill luck. My first film, Joginder's Bindiya Aur Bandook (1972), still remains one of my favourite films, because I consider that as one of my two best performances to date. In fact, do you know, that after its release, a couple of papers even went to the extent of suggesting that I was another Jaya ­in-the-making!" She glowed. I beamed. She continued "but the film didn't run and that was that. Ishara's Haathi Ke Dant (1973) was brilliant conceptually, but loused up in execution and if you haven't heard of the movie I don't  blame you. Few have! Hifazat (1973) starred me opposite Vinod Mehra. Now, while Vinod is a wonderful person and a good friend, he has never till date, ever carried a film to success on his own steam! Every hit of his has had at least one, if not more, big prop!" Vinod's going to be mad at this, but Asha couldn't have breathed a truer string of words. Keep on chic, I cheered mentally. She didn't disappoint. "And Double Cross (1973)" had me against Goldie.  A fine writer-director, Goldie saab as a hero emerged a super flop!  The public just didn't  accept him ."And how does that grab you, Goldie? "But with Mohanjee's  Woh Main Nahin (1974)  I was very happy! At long last I had a good meaty role. I was presented well, and I did my best...' Good meaty role, presented well, yeah, we remember  you Pamela sweetheart and  for  God's  sake  why  didn't  you  give us more of  the same, I asked  going insane at the memory  of it all! She winced a little, not at all sharing my enthusiasm, not at all amused. "I must have got dozens of offers to do similar roles. I refused them all." It was my turn to wince. I nearly broke down. "I didn't want to be type-cast, branded, labelled as a mere sex-symbol. Producers seemed to have overlooked my feyness, my potential talent as a comedian, and underlined only my physical-ness of the role. Disgusting. Most people tend to confuse good acting with a good role. It's actually the other way around.  One can do a good job only when the role is good.  Funny lot..." Ha-Ha, I gurgled and immediately shut my trap. Mercifully Miss Sachdev was deep in thought introspectively thinking down memory lane. "I stayed home with no work for six months! Sure, offers rolled in but none worthy of consideration. All were, the usual ornamental or sexy stuff. I had decided and was determined to make the switch, turn a new leaf, change my image-once and for all. I was fed up of being bandied around as a sex-symbol and nothing more."  She smiled "Eventually I won."
Asha Sachdev and Vinod Mehra in Khushi

And so she did. At the time of writing she has, amongst two dozen signed movies, at least four good roles with big banners against/along with top heroes. Shakti Samanta's Mehbooba (1976), a Rajesh-Hema starrer heads the list. She plays the ex-phenomenon's, present mortal's "bahu-rani" in the movie. She is all ga-ga over kaka. "He's a fantastically sweet guy. I don't know about other heroines, but he's consistently been sweet, helpful and nice to me. You know, when I was told to report on the sets of Mehbooba. I hadn't worked for long long time. I was out-of touch, rusty. And when I was sweetly informed that I was shooting with Rajesh, I was petrified with nervousness! But this thoughtfulness, sweetness and warmth saw the shooting through beautifully. Up to now, we have done a fair amount of shooting together and it's always been the same-wonderful! whenever be meets me, he says, 'Just wait and see. With your face and figure you are going to be a big star soon-or I haven't learnt anything in my fourteen years in the industry!' I don't know why he's so exceedingly sweet with me," Asha pauses, smiles wide, warm, generous-"may be I remind him of Mummu!" Does she, Kaka? While at Mumtaz, wasn't there some talk about Asha wanting to be another Mummu? "What actually happened was this: A journalist asked me to honestly rate myself how good I was or could he? Could I be another Meena Kumari? I said, not a hope in hell, couldn't come anywhere near Meenaji  and  it would  take Moushumi  saat janam to come anywhere near her too! But yes, within my limited talent, with  hard  work,  good  roles and luck, I could hope to be another Mumtaz. That was all there was to it. Now, what version did you hear?" I said never mind luv, I am interviewing you, remember? Aahuti (1978) is another big film in her kitty with Shashi, Rakesh Roshan and oldie Rajendra Kumar in the lead against three  heroines. Asha is teamed against second-best Rakesh Roshan and you can figure it out amongst yourselves who the best is, okay? Written by the great Roti Kapda Kumar this film is produced by his brother-in-law. So Manoj, you can bet, is going to be very much around behind scenes. And frankly he'd better, or else..." Asha also has good roles in Mohan Sehgal's, Jeetu-Shabana starrer, Ek Hi Rasta (1977) and a Chintu­ Neetu starrer produced by Nadiawala. Apart from these she has good lead roles in many films which are 'small but significant in terms of set-up." A strong believer of providence, she believes that it's her "fate" that has kept her down, while many lesser talents have zoomed ahead. Any super­pals within the biz? "Very few. Most friendships in our industry are matlab-oriented.  I stay away from them. Shabana is a dear, close and old friend." At the rate Sbabana continues to be loved, she must emerge as a clean winner for the best "best friends" award! Reeta Bhaduri and Neelam Mehra have spouted similar sentiments about Shekhar Kapoor's "best friend" too! Baburam Ishara is another good friend, "although we  don't  meet  often."

So, Asha Sacbdev is determined to turn a new leaf. And has already done so.

 This article was written by Manojit Lahiri and was originally published in Star & Style magazine's 2 July, 1976 issue. The images used are taken from the original article and the internet.  

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