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The actress Simi Garewal Underrated, underused, undervalued

The actress Simi Garewal Underrated, underused, undervalued

The actress, who turns 75 today, is articulate, witty, erudite and gossipy… who could be all of this at the same time, and then some more? I wish we could see more of her on screen.

If asked to name the one actress from Hindi cinema who has worked with the maximum number of exceptional filmmakers, who would you name? Simi Garewal is not a name that comes easily to mind. She has been out of the limelight ever since her immensely popular chat show Rendezvous With Simi Garewal was shut down. Her career as an actor came to a near-standstill .

But look at her staggering repertoire of directors: Raj Kapoor (Mera Naam Joker), Satyajit Ray (Aranyer Din Ratri), K A Abbas (Do Boond Pani), Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Namak Haraam), Mehboob Khan (Love & God), Ramesh Sippy (Andaz), Yash Chopra (Kabhi Kabhie). Then there are her unacknowledged triumphs in arthouse films like Prahlad Sharma’s Vidyapati (in which she got to sing one of Lataji’s most beautiful melodies Morey naina sawan bhadow, tori reh-reh yaad sataye) and Girish Ranjan’s Dak Bangla in 1974, which was not a pleasant experience for Simi.

Always the outsider, Simi was raised in London. At the age of 15, she came to Mumbai to become an actor, only to be greeted with abject coldness. An incident early in her career proved a pointer to Simi’s future in Bollywood. Attending a filmy party and feeling completely isolated, Simi chatted up with another more established actress who came from a background similar to hers. The actress seemed pleasant and friendly enough. But a while later, Simi heard the actress whispering ugly insults about Simi to her mother in the restroom.

Simi, just a young teenager back then, cried her heart out and decided that if she were to survive in Bollywood, she would have to be much stronger emotionally and not look for friends in the film industry.

All the Rays of hope (pun intended) came into Simi’s life on her own merit. She won two Filmfare awards, for Raj Khosla’s Do Badan and Sridhar’s Saathi, where she was the second lead. Her biggest success as an actor was Subhash Ghai’s Karz. Simi played the first bona fide female villain of Bollywood. Simi had grave reservations about playing such an evil woman who murders her husband for money. The film won Simi a lot of accolades. But she refused all the negative roles that came her way after Karz.

Always living her life her own way, Simi’s talk show Rendezvous With Simi Garewal brought into our living rooms exotic guests like Benazir Bhutto, Jayalalitha and Ratan Tata. All of them opened their heart out to their hostess. She won her celebrated guests’ confidence. They knew she was genuinely interested in their lives.

Who but Simi could have got Jayalalitha to sing Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum tum on her show?

A perfect hostess, one of the pleasures of visiting Mumbai was to have dinner with Simi and her lovely sister Amrita. They don’t only make you feel special, they also serve the most appetising food.

No one knows this. But Simi is the best mimic in the world. Her takeoffs on….never mind…are so pitch- perfect even Never-Mind would be flummoxed. Simi didn’t only serve fabulous food…she also served food for thought.

The actress, who turns 75 today, is articulate, witty, erudite and gossipy… who could be all of this at the same time, and then some more? I wish we could see more of her on screen. Perhaps a sequel to Mera Naam Joker, where the Catholic teacher Mary returns to re-ignite her association with the Kapoors. This time, with her favourite student Rishi Kapoor’s son Ranbir doing the ogling, perhaps?

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