Waheeda Rehman redefined womanhood in the golden age of Hindi cinema
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Waheeda Rehman redefined womanhood in the golden age of Hindi cinema

Waheeda refused to take a stage name and played characters that broke the mould

Waheeda Rehman redefined womanhood in the golden age of Hindi cinema

With the OTT offering a sea of new content, I think the millennials(including me) are yet to discover the classics of old Indian Hindi Cinema. We know the golden retro songs of Bollywood like Jaane kya Maine kahi, Piya tose Naina laage, Waqt Ne Kiya, and the names of veteran actors, yet there is a void when it comes to an insight into the challenges and conditions of that time.

I remember Waheeda Rehman from Rang De Basanti, wherein she plays flight lieutenant Ajay Rathore’s mother. In the song Lukki Chhupi, as officers arrive at the door with Ajay’s things after he dies, Waheeda Rehman stumbles in shock and his friends hold her. The look in Wahida Rahman’s eyes holds power to make hundreds well up at that point. It is just a moment, yet could not have been more powerful. Her eyes betray a depth throughout her lines in the films like when she says when the candle march is disturbed by authorities, “Main nahi uthungi, ye Ajay ke liye hai.”

This performance makes me realize that she must be a special artist, who knows her craft. That should have been a reason enough for us millennials to go back an era or two and rediscover Waheeda Rehman for ourselves. Something that I am doing now.

Rehman made her acting debut with the Telugu film and rose to prominence with her collaborations with filmmaker Guru Dutt: Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool, the Muslim social film Chaudhvin Ka Chand and the drama Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Rehman made her cinematic milestone with the romantic drama Guide for which she received immense critical acclaim and received the Filmfare Award for Best Actress.  She has also worked with Satyajit Ray in the Bengali film Abhijan.

Although she started doing films from the early age of 17, she set boundaries for herself and broke the mould with her unique roles. Set nearly six decades ago, she took risks in her career choices. Although discussions on female empowerment and breaking stereotypes have only come to formal terms recently, they have always been in force. Rehman’s characters denoted brave choices and progressive Indian Cinema.

In Pyaasa, she plays Gulaabo (a golden-hearted prostitute) who helps Vijay (an unsuccessful poet played by Guru Dutt) in publishing his poetry. In Guide, she plays a woman who abandons her husband to pursue a career in dancing. In Kaaghaz Ke Phool, she plays Shanti who after working with popular and married film director Suresh Sinha (played by Dutt), falls in love with him.

A still from guide

She captured the heart of people with her subtle beauty and natural acting style. Her beauty spot was also an iconic statement. She was widely acclaimed for her performance in Pyasa and Guide for which she won a Filmfare award for best actress.

Like Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Nargis, she was asked to take a stage name but kept her birth name and chose her costumes in her films.

Rehman considers Guru Dutt her mentor who noticed her after her Telugu film, brought her to Bombay and cast her in CID.  Some rumours say that Guru Dutt(married at the time) fell in love with Waheeda Rehman and himself used to write scenes for her. The facts make one think whether Kaghaz Ke Phool was a real story based on their own life.

A still from Kaagaz Ke Phool

Waheeda Rehman once said: “I think a director has to be a little in love with his leading actress so he will project her as the most beautiful woman in the world.” Despite being immensely successful, Waheeda has always been grounded and humble. In many interviews, she terms it mere destiny that she was a part of great films such as Guide and Pyasa.

Her filmography will always shine as a significant part of the Golden age of Bollywood and remain a testimony to her skill and dedication as an actor. CitySpidey wishes this veteran actor a very happy 83rd birthday.