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Monday, November 29, 2021

When a 16-year-old Hema Malini became Bollywood’s ‘Dream Girl,’ how she lived up to the title

On Hema Malini's birthday, we try and understand the rise and success of the actor as Hindi cinema's quintessential Dream Girl.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi |
Updated: October 17, 2021 10:41:49 am
hema maliniHema Malini was given the tag of 'Dream Girl' very early in her career. (Photo: Express Archive)

Hema Malini is now known to many as the original ‘Dream Girl’ who made her way into her fans’ hearts, slowly but surely. But how did it all begin? In her authorised biography by Ram Kamal Mukherjee, titled Hema Malini: Beyond the Dream Girl, there is an incident that specifically points to the birth of this term. It happened when Hema Malini made her cinema debut with the 1968 Raj Kapoor movie Sapno Ka Saudagar.

This was the first time anyone had referred to Hema Malini as ‘Dream Girl.’ Malini was to make her debut with a Tamil movie, to be bankrolled by CV Sridhar. But things didn’t quite pan out, it was then that another producer by the name of B Ananthaswami found Hema Malini to be the perfect fit for the new Hindi movie he was making with the Showman of Indian cinema, Raj Kapoor.

hema malini Hema Malini with Dharmendra on the sets of the film Chacha Bhatija. (Photo: Express Archive)

“They were keen on casting a fresh south Indian face who could dance well and match up to the status of Vijayanthimala,” Hema is quoted as saying. But no one becomes a ‘dream girl’ overnight. Doing that would not only mean looking a certain way, but talking and wearing certain clothes too that would fit the image. And Malini was only 16 when she had said yes to the project. From then on, her grooming began. From her costumes to her accent, everything was polished. Her voice training was done by none other than the well-known anchor of All India Radio, Lakshmi Sharma.

Producer Ananthaswami also became like a godfather figure to Hema Malini. And yes, he was the man who was responsible for giving Malini the tag that has now become synonymous with her. During the poster designing process, it was Ananthaswami’s idea to add ‘Raj Kapoor’s Dream Girl’ under Hema Malini’s name.

“After Sapno Ka Saudagar released, the press and people started calling me Dream Girl. I could see how the name had caught on. People often asked me if I made an effort to live up to the name. I didn’t! The tag came as a surprise to me. I guess my face and my personality went well with the general image of an Indian woman. Anybody could relate to my face – it’s a typical Indian face. Yes, the only thing I did do was never accept roles that would embarrass or hurt my family or my fans in any way. So, the name stuck. But nowadays I feel embarrassed when people call me Dream Girl. I am hardly a girl anymore!” Hema Malini has said in the biography Beyond the Dream Girl.

But some section of the aforementioned statement is debatable. Because Hema Malini’s face was not relatable in the strictest sense of the term. It was the kind of face people wanted to be around. It was stunning in its beauty, and her skills as a bharatnatyam dancer definitely added more value to her as a performer. And as she became more successful, it was easy to see why various distributors and producers thought having the prefix of ‘Dream Girl’ would bring their projects more attention.

But it was in 1970, when Hema Malini made her appearance in Vijay and Dev Anand’s acclaimed Johny Mera Naam, that the actor’s star really began to rise. People noticed that she could stand shoulder to shoulder with someone like Dev Anand and still hold her own. If Dev Anand could do comedy, so could his female lead. And what a mover she was! Everything added up to make Hema Malini a fan favourite. And then two years later, in 1972, Hema Malini did a double role, thus truly proving how she had really arrived. Seeta Aur Geeta, where Hema could be seen doing the double act of a sassy woman and a docile doe-eyed beauty, won over both the critics and the audience. The Ramesh Sippy directorial fully represented the range of Hema the performer, making her fans cry and laugh in turns.

Sholay came when Hema was already a star. Despite the starry and talented cast, Hema was able to carve a special niche for herself in the blockbuster. Her chemistry with Dharmendra, the memorable song “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” and her continuous chatter and connection with her horse in the film Dhanno has its separate fan base even today. By this time, the tag of Dream Girl had stuck so firmly with her that makers thought it would be great to milk it, and two years later, we saw her in the film tilted, yes, you guessed that right, Dream Girl! From then on, Hema Malini went on to star in many big films, including the likes of Trishul, Meera, Kranti, Satte Pe Satta, Naseeb, Razia Sultan, Baghban, Veer Zaara and Aarakshan. She was last seen in the 2020 release Shimla Mirchi alongside Rajkummar Rao.

Hema Malini may feel a bit odd about being called a ‘Dream Girl’ today, as she herself had said once that she is no longer a girl and therefore that title rings a little hollow. But people who have loved Hema Malini on-screen will always identify her as that, their forever Dream Girl.

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