For Waheeda Rehman, when it came to her beliefs. it did not matter whether it was her first Hindi film or if she was cast opposite the then biggest star, Dev Anand. It was her conviction that made her choose the role of a sex worker in her second Hindi film Pyaasa to the shock of many.
“It wasn’t hard at all. Once I made up my mind, I didn’t bother what people said. People told me playing Rosie (in Guide) was my life’s biggest mistake but I wanted to do it so, I went ahead with it. Even today, the character is remembered. So, it’s about my conviction,” the veteran Bollywood star said as she shared her life’s philosophy and film journey during a session at We The Women conclave on Sunday evening.
It was, hence, inevitable the actor mentioned the famous CID (1956) story, where she refused to shoot until she was given an outfit which she felt comfortable in. Waheeda Rehman said the film’s director Raj Khosla was livid how a debutante could throw tantrums. “He kept saying, ‘You are behaving like this in your first film itself. Do you realise you are working with a star like Dev Anand?’ And I would tell him that while I do realise I am working with a star, something’s that I am not convinced about, I won’t do. I was very sure about being logical and for that, I would fight irrespective of which movie I was working on,’ she shared.
Of course, being strong-headed came with a price as people in the business called her arrogant. But, according to Waheeda, the biggest advantage of living by her own rules in the male-dominated industry, was that people knew she could not be taken for granted.
She added, “In the beginning itself, I set certain rules (like), you wouldn’t call me for work after a specific time. So, people were cautious with me since the beginning. I would tell them not to call me after 9.30 pm and they would say, ‘We are writers/directors. We are creative people. It’s natural for us if our discussions last till 1 am.’ So, I told them, ‘You have your discussions. But I am an early riser. So, you can also call me seven in the morning to discuss.'”
Being opinionated also meant she would not hesitate to call out her co-stars or directors for their sexist attitude, regardless of their stature. “When (a female actor) touches 30, they say, ‘She has become old. Now, we will have to cast a new girl.’ I used to be so bugged by it and would think how can they do something like this.”
“They would tell me, especially Dev (Anand), ‘You don’t know Waheeda. Public wants to see us.’ (And I would tell him), ‘Yeah, see you and me also.’ He would reply, ‘No. What happens is that a man stays young forever.’ I would ask him that who said that. This is a problem that has existed since the beginning and it continues even today. A 60-year-old or 52-year-old is being a romantic hero and for a girl, after 25, it’s said, ‘It’s enough.’ They (male actors) think, ‘We will look as young as the age of the actresses we work with.’ There’s an insecurity,” she said.
It was also the most logical thing for Waheeda to fight with her producers over the huge pay disparity. “Pay disparity was same during our times as well and it used to make me angry. But the producers would tell me, ‘More girls go to the theaters to watch films and they want to follow the men, not women!’”
Waheeda Rehman also talked about the status of women in the industry five decades ago and how it has changed today. Sharing her take on the ongoing MeToo movement, the actor said she never had an unpleasant experience on a film set nor did she see something happening with women around.
“I think in those days they were scared to misbehave with the leading lady because there was a big chance that the lady would say, ‘I am walking out of the movie or throw him out.’ So, it was a risky thing for them to do.”
The actor said the #MeToo stories in the industry that broke last month shocked her as they had names of people who she thought were decent. She said, “Yes, I was very shocked and very pained actually that I thought they were decent people, how could this happen, why should this happen? It’s very sad actually. It affects the family, the children. It’s very sad.”
Waheeda Rehman said because the society empowers women much more than it did five decades ago, women should not fear calling out their perpetrators.
“Men have to behave themselves and women have to be very alert. And whatever happens. report immediately. Don’t wait for long because society is with you. We are with you. Your parents are with you. What more do you want? You shouldn’t be scared. Report and sort it out,” she said.
Apart from that, Waheeda also believes the increasing presence of women on a film set is also one of the essentials for a safe environment. The actor said, “If there are more women on sets, then you will feel more secure and that person will be more sympathetic towards you.”
“The industry is more equal for women today. There are a lot of girls on set now. There was a gap of 16 years in my career. When I returned, I saw a lot of girls on set and I wondered what were they doing there. They are now art directors, assistant directors, directors and it’s very good,” she said.