When Beauty Is More Than Skin-Deep

Surprisingly enough – and sure to put some top heroines’ noses out of joint – some of the loveliest natural beauties hail from the south of India! Move over Madhuri, Rani, Kareena, Priyanka and all the other cosmetic queens.

I had the pleasure of meeting Hema Malini when she was visiting Hyderabad for a dance performance and stayed at the Taj Krishna. Frankly, I must have come across as a total moron as all I could do was gape at her! Hemaji has unblemished, fair skin and large, almond-shaped, soft brown eyes. She is quite tall for an Indian woman of her generation – actually, the word I would use for her is ‘statuesque.’ The vision kinda gets shattered though soon as she opens her mouth, because she has these strident tones with a heavy idli-sambhar accent underlying it! If you were to just listen to her voice you would think she is angry at you, but the eyes belie that; this is just the way she speaks. In point of fact, she is charming and even, a little diffident.

Hemaji would have been in her fifties when we met and she could then, as now, quite easily give most of these young, scarcely-clad youngsters a run for their money. Her daughter Esha is no patch on her; strangely, while she resembles her a lot she has darker skin tone and eyes, and none of the grace or loveliness of her mother. In fact, she puts me in mind of a startled fawn.

If you saw the movie ‘Baghbaan’ you will get what I am talking about – Hema Malini looks exactly like that in real life too. Minus makeup, she is luminously beautiful. I have always envied her the serenity that is so transparent on her face and lends a dignity to her bearing – here is a woman who has indeed lived life on her terms and come to peace with all it entails, even taming that Punjab da puttar, Dharmendra. It couldn’t have been easy going against her battleaxe of a mother either   – Jaya Chakravarthy was quite formidable. It’s not that she was completely against north Indians; she approved of the rishta that came from Ravi Kapoor (Jeetendra) because he was single and eligible, but the married, father-of-four Dharmendra was a strict no-no. While on this note, Hema had two leading men of the day, Jeetendra and Haribhai (Sanjeev Kumar) quite lattoo over her; it is said that the latter remained a bachelor because he could not get over Hema.

I first met Sridevi when she was performing in New Delhi for one of Subhash Ghai’s shows. This was well after her ‘Himmatwala’ and ‘Tohfa’ days and the thunder thighs were a thing of the past. ‘Mr India,’ ‘Chandni’ and the ‘Nagina’ series had established her comfortably in the top slot. She was confident enough in herself to explore uncharted territory with ‘Gumraah,’ ‘Lamhe’ and ‘Judaai.’

Sridevi, in spite of her dizzying popularity, is not too good with crowds; she is quite shy and retiring by nature, unless it’s with people she knows really well. And so I walk into this room for my scheduled interview to find a slender lissome girl, extremely fair with clear skin and round black eyes, looking somewhat petrified by the screaming pushing people around her clamouring for her attention – the security, her coterie, other journalists, fans trying to get a peek. Subhash Ghai walked into the room then for a last-minute instruction to which she listened most obediently, more like a schoolgirl and, after he left, I got my spot of fame with her.

What struck me about Sridevi the most is what a natural beauty she is. She had no makeup on except a touch of mascara and she was as pale and fine-skinned as a china doll. The other thing that struck me is how unstarry she is. She is quiet and refined in her behaviour and I found it most noteworthy that someone of her stature was addressing all male journalists as “sir” and lady journalists as “ma’am.” I would go so far as to say that she is a very ‘contained’ person. When not required to do anything or answer something she sits quietly by herself without fidgeting. As opposed to Hema Malini, who has the voice of a tartar and the face of an angel, Sridevi comes across as vulnerable and gorgeous while her voice is high-pitched, like that of a child. Call me a sentimental fool but I do think she looked the happiest in her Mithun Chakraborty days, vivacious and exuberant. Her relationship with Boney Kapoor brought her into the limelight for various unsavoury reasons with a lot of allegations flung at her which would be anathema to someone as introvertish as Sridevi, and I can’t help thinking the radiance and mischief has dimmed considerably.

One of my all-time favourites is Jayaprada – I consider her the classic Indian beauty. Mind you, I have seen this woman without makeup and she positively glows! She has an oval face, flawless complexion, doe-like expressive eyes, perfectly shaped teeth and long hair (it broke my heart when she went and dyed that blonde. Gaaah!) The difference between these two contemporaries, even though they’re pretty much of an age, is that Sri is quintessentially a young girl, while Jaya has always been all woman.

I met her soon after she had decided to venture into politics and had joined Chandrababu Naidu. Babu (as he is known) created this special women’s cell for her (Telugu Mahila Mandal) of which she was in charge. She was happy, excited and vibrant as I went to her new home in Hyderabad’s MP Colony. Her laughter, unrestrained, uninhibited, rang out through the virtually empty rooms. Jayaprada had long been a fan of NTR and that perhaps influenced her to join politics herself, although she is an introvert by nature.

I feel more of a ‘friend’ with Jaya, compared to the other two ladies mentioned above as we have been in more intimate surroundings. I love the happy, laughing Jaya, the woman who confesses unabashedly to a love for diamonds and shopping in general, “I can just shop and shop and shop,” she trilled. Jaya puts in her complete self into everything she does and, when she fell in love, she did that too wholeheartedly, with a deep passion, and was disillusioned fairly quick. She used to say the words, “my husband” with so much visible pride it was almost tangible. The man, Chennai-based producer Shrikanth Nahata, treated this lovely woman most shabbily. All she ever wanted was a husband, children and a home of her own. What she got is a much-married man, father of three, but no babies of her own. Jayaprada also went through an attempted suicide bid some years ago, in Bangalore.

When I first saw Shrikanth, I was aghast. A short, balding skinny moustachioed dude with a huge paunch – what did this stunning woman see in him, I wondered? Next to her, he looked like her secretary! I guess it was the need for an emotional anchor. And the fact that he promised her a lot to begin with; it’s a different issue that he never kept many of those promises. I have oft been tempted to wring his scrawny little neck. It saddens me to see how she has put on weight and how the light has been dimmed from her eyes. A woman whose natural loveliness has been praised to the skies by all who saw her and yet…woh kehte hain na, ‘ghar ki murgi daal barabar’

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