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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Simi Garewal’s rendezvous with primetime: India’s Oprah who asked Rekha about Amitabh Bachchan, Jayalalithaa about MGR

Often more glamorous than the celebs she interviewed on Simi Garewal with Rendezvous, few would believe that the star of movies like Mera Naam Joker and Karz, in fact, had her roots in the Bengali avant-garde classics like Padatik and Aranyer Din Ratri.

Written by Shaikh Ayaz | Mumbai |
Updated: October 18, 2021 8:41:15 am
Simi GarewalSimi Garewal is a woman for all seasons. (Photo: Express Archive)

In the wake of Aryan Khan’s arrest in a drugs-related case on October 2 and the media circus that followed, a newsworthy clip from father Shah Rukh Khan’s older TV interview instantly went viral. This was truly what you’d call a ‘blast from the past.’ Or more accurately, ‘past that comes back to bite you.’ In the interview, King Khan, flanked by his gracious wife Gauri, is seen irreverently declaring that when Aryan turns “three or four years old he can run after girls… he can do drugs.” Young and reckless, SRK may have been simply working his charm but viewed today in the controversial light the clip was used in, you can’t see the humour as much as the horror.

This is exactly the kind of moment the media hounds live for. But thankfully this time round, you didn’t have Arnab Goswami tunelessly singing “mujhe drugs do” on nightly newshour. In this mêlée, everybody forgot who the host of the TV show was (it wasn’t Arnab), the one who pushed Khan for this quotable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons repartee. “I am sure you are going to spoil your son,” that trigger was shot by Simi Garewal (of Rendezvous with Simi fame) who was Oprah to a certain generation of Indians even before they knew who Oprah was (Did you mean opera?). She might even be the first one to popularise the word ‘rendezvous’ in the Indian parlance.

Garewal’s Twitter handle reads, ‘Movie actor & TV Host in front of the camera. Writer, Director, Producer behind it. Love animals.’ It’s a long list befitting a remarkably durable innings. Punjabi by blood and raised in a Westernised way in London, it was apt for Garewal to make her debut with an English film back in 1962. Titled Tarzan Goes To India, the fantasy caper also starred Feroz Khan. Then, even more apt of her to appear in Teen Devian in 1965 as one of on-screen poet Dev Anand’s three dream girls, or “haseen pareshaniyan” as his hypnotist puts it.

For a while after this, Garewal became the toast of the Bengali avant-garde. In Mrinal Sen’s powerful Padatik (1973), the final part of his acclaimed Calcutta trilogy, she played an affluent woman who provides refuge to a political activist at a time when West Bengal is riven by unrest and turmoil. Youthful discontent is rising and there are marches and protests everywhere.

Clad in stylish saris as she sashays down her modest but tasteful drawing room of her home, Garewal cuts an elegant figure here. What is even more striking is that her political ideology rests firmly with the subversive Leftist movement. In one scene, when she reveals to her fellow comrade that she’s a Punjabi and not a Bengali he’s as surprised as the audience is. Well-cast by a director who was at the peak of his talent, she manages to pass off as a typical Bengali bhadralok. Some years earlier, by comparison, Sen’s rival Satyajit Ray had reimagined her as an Adivasi beauty in Aranyer Din Ratri (1970). Hidden behind a blackened face, Garewal is nearly unrecognisable but her doe eyes easily give in.

simi garewal talk show Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan appeared in an episode of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal. (Photo: Express Archive)

With her pin-up persona and stylish attitude, she could have made a killing in Bollywood but it’s a shame that the dream factory couldn’t make good use of her. One of her most memorable Hindi screen appearances tried to capture this sex symbol aspect of her. An episode of Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker revolves around the classic schoolboy fantasy come alive, with the chubby Rishi Kapoor (playing the younger version of his real-life father) shown as having a crush on his new teacher Mary (Garewal). Even today, the film is known for its bold scenes featuring Garewal and though a resounding flop upon initial release, it has been reassessed as Kapoor’s magnum opus over the years. According to one Garewal interview, Satyajit Ray saw Mera Naam Joker at a preview. They met at Raj Kapoor’s home for dinner later that night and the Bengali man of letters was charmed by her. Eventually, in typical Ray fashion, a letter arrived offering Garewal the role of rural belle Duli in Aranyer Din Ratri.

dev anand Film star Simi Garewal and Dev Anand. (Photo: Express Archive)

Hostess with the Mostess

In 1980, she reunited with Rishi Kapoor in Karz. A reincarnation drama with chartbuster music, the Subhash Ghai-directed hit saw Garewal in her career’s most unusual role yet — as the villain. For Kapoor, she was the obscure object of his desire in Mera Naam Joker. A decade later, there’s no love lost between the two and the film ends with the femme fatale Kamini (Garewal) getting killed at the hands of Kapoor’s popstar Monty. At the turn of the millennium, the ‘woman in white’, as the media labelled her thanks to her sartorial preference for Nargis-like pristine blanche, transformed the otherwise tedious TV talk show format with Rendezvous with Simi Garewal. It may have inspired Karan Johar’s news-making Koffee with Karan. Most of her interviews with bigwigs from all walks of life grabbed attention and remained in circulation long after they were telecast.

This was simply because they were juicy and revealing. The Shah Rukh Khan episode was just one of the many that became a pop cultural hamper (sorry KJO), creating fresh controversies and resurfacing on YouTube in the digital age. Always a fashionable belle, she conducted herself with grace and poise in her interactions with the celebs. She got Rekha to talk candidly about her relationship with Amitabh Bachchan. (“I have yet to come across a single man, woman, child who can help but fall completely, passionately, insanely, desperately, hopelessly in love with him”).

Simi Garewal and Rekha Simi Garewal and Rekha. (Photo: Express Archive)

The AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa opened up to her about MGR. (“After Mother died, he replaced her in my life”). One of her favourites, Dev Anand held forth on his life, show business and secret marriage to Kalpana Kartik. (“The cameraman of Taxi Driver noticed the ring on her finger in continuity, he said it was not there”). She even drew out the normally reticent Ratan Tata, perhaps because, as we learnt later, the two were once romantically involved. (“There are many times I feel lonely for not having a wife or family”).

Due to her graceful and gentle style that immediately put her high-achiever subjects at ease (reminds one of the cultured Farooq Shaikh on Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai), she managed to deliver one blockbuster confab after another, in a less media-saturated time when celebrities still had an aura and sense of privacy about them. And yet, no matter which superstar graced her couch, Simi Garewal was often the more glamorous one on the set. The chat show “kept me relevant,” the star, who returned to TV with Simi Selects India’s Most Desirable, once admitted. What’s also keeping her relevant these days is her Twitter feeds which provide a glimpse into a feminist and humanist who tells it like it is. Whether it is her politics or roaring love life, this is a woman for all seasons and we wish her the best birthday rendezvous.

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