She was pure poison.
Spewing hate and unleashing hell, film after film, became her brand equity for decades. So much so, that her name Shashikala became the synecdoche for women of ill-intent and ill-will.
But behind the pancaked masquerade, lurked a woman so sensitive, so vulnerable... that it took years of prayer and penance to heal her hidden hurt and humiliation.
When her friends played with dolls, young Shashi (her pet name) was ‘dolled up’ to amuse spectators during festivals…
When it was the phase to dabble with crayons, the kid scarred her hands scrubbing pots and pans as a child 'maid'…
When girls her age nurtured adolescent dreams, she was precociously faking them on screen…
The marriage, which she hoped would warm her hearth proved to be a raging tempest that blew away her home…
Perhaps, in search of respite, she left behind her daughters and husband and escaped over shores with her paramour. That pipedream too perished when battered and abused, she fled from there only to find herself on the ‘streets’.
A tryst with meditation, an abiding association with Mother Teresa and losing herself in the service of the dying and the destitute helped Shashikala Jawalkar-Saigal find herself. Hers was truly a tragic life but with a glorious farewell as the devout Shashikala breathed her last this Easter – a day that commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as also the hope of salvation…
FAMISH & FAME
Shashikala Jawalkar was born on August 4, 1932 in a Hindu Bhavsar Shimpi family in Solapur, Maharashtra.
Her father Anantrao Jawalkar was a wealthy cloth merchant in Solapur. Later, the family fell on hard days. “We often went without food for 8-10 days. We’d wait to be invited to someone’s home for lunch,” once shared Shashikala. Young Shashi (her pet name) became a dance-drama troupe artiste to ease the hardships of her family and five siblings.
When still in high school, prodigious Shashi, was brought to Mumbai looking for a break in films. With no place of their own, Shashikala was taken in by a family as unpaid help. “I lived on dog’s food and was made to do everything from helping madam with her bath to cleaning her shoes (Cineplot.com),” revealed Shashikala as she waited to be called for auditions.
Once at Central Studio, she bumped into singing star Noor Jehan, who was taken aback by the girl’s resemblance to her. When husband Shaukat Hussain was scouting for a girl to play a young Noor Jehan in his film Zeenat (1945), the star mentioned Shashikala.
Not knowing Urdu, Shashi couldn’t play Noor Jehan’s younger self but was included in a qawwali scene with actors Shyama and Shalini in the film. For being the ‘best’ amongst them, she was paid Rs 25.
Shashikala’s family celebrated Diwali after years that time. Her father bought gifts, sweets and crackers for the family and two Nagpuri paatal saris for Shashikala.
At 13, Shashikala signed a four-year-contract with Shaukat at Rs 400 remuneration, a huge sum those days. Her first film was Jugnu (1947), a Dilip Kumar-Noor Jehan starrer.
The Partition soon followed and mentors Shaukat Hussain and Noor Jehan moved to Pakistan. Shashikala’s career took a dip with obscure films.
MARRIAGE & MOVIES
At 18, she fell in love with rich entrepreneur, Om Prakash Sehgal, relative of the legendary K.L. Saigal. “Infatuation or whatever… I was besotted with O.P. Saigal… I thought I’d settle down but destiny kept me fettered to the camera as his business failed,” she said in an interview with DNA India. Sehgal even began a film with Shashikala titled Krorepati (1961) but the shelved film left them bankrupt.
Then, V Shantaram signed her for Teen Batti Char Raasta (1953) along with Nirupa Roy. Next, she was to do his Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje. But a damp Surang (1953) nixed her chances. Shashikala lost Jhanak Jhanak… (1955) to Sandhya.
Shashikala, now a mother of two girls Rekha and Shailaja, accepted offers that came her way. After playing vamp in Vijay Anand’s directorial debut, Nau Do Gyarah (1957), she did Bimal Roy’s classic Sujata (1959).
Here, she played Rama in whose household Sujata (Nutan), a Dalit orphan has been brought up. The two regard themselves as soul-sisters (crooning Bachpan ke din) with Rama sacrificing her love for Sujata.
Following this was Rajshri Pictures Aarti (1962), where she played the shrill sister-in-law to Meena Kumari’s soft Aarti. Her first line to Meena, “Tere haathon mein jaadu hai aur mere haathon mein jhaadu!” is still remembered. Aarti won Shashikala the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award.
Soon, she signed a two-year contract with Filmistan for Rs 22,000 a month. But despite the financial stability, Shashikala felt short-changed as peers Shyama and others graduated to lead roles, while she was stuck as a character artiste. Waqt (1965), Phool Aur Patthar (1966) and Chhote Sarkar (1974) underlined her troublemaker image.
Shashikala’s best-remembered role is as Leela the menacing blackmailer in B R Chopra’s Gumrah (1963), for which she won her second Filmfare Award. While in Neel Kamal (1968), she played Waheeda Rehman’s tormentor.
Mention must be made of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anupama (1966), where as the high-spirited Annie, she’s a perfect foil to Sharmila Tagore’s reticent Uma. The songs Kyun mujhe itni khushi and Bheegi bheegi faza showcased her fulsome personality.
Committed to gruelling schedules, Shashikala would be away from her husband and children for days. One day on her return from the studio, barraged with grievances from her ayah, she vented out her frustration on her two daughters and beat them up.
“That incident haunted me for days. Finally, I sent them away to a boarding school in Panchgani so the incident would not be repeated,” she recalled (Cineplot.com). Differences between her husband and Shashikala worsened.
“In a misguided moment... I eloped with another man abroad, leaving behind my husband, kids and career. It was the biggest mistake of my life... I was humiliated and tortured till I returned crazy and broken. For days, I roamed the streets like a mad woman, sleeping on pavements, eating what I could lay my hands on, touring ashrams in search of peace,” she confided (DNA).
That’s when filmmaker, Mahesh Desai (she’d done his award-winning Satyavan Savitri) recommended her guru Satyanarayan Goenka’s Vipassana course. Reportedly, for the next 15 years, she followed him to Gaya, Banaras… eventually finding some semblance of equilibrium.
Her second innings began in the late’70s with Sargam, Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhayee and Swami. Remarkable was her performance as the Badi Bhabhi in Khubsoorat (1980), which is remembered for her unbridled dance in Piya baawari with Rekha. As the aging and harsh prostitute in Ahista Ahista (1981), hers was a layered act.
By the time she did Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani (1988), Shashikala was on the edge again. “There seemed no purpose to life. All my life I’d been breadwinner for my parents, my siblings, my husband, my children. Now everyone was well-settled. I felt lonely and hollow and quit again,” she said (DNA). She returned to her home in Pune wanting to lead a life of anonymity but the star halo preceded her.
And then one day she met the renowned Mother Teresa at the airport. When the missionary saint hugged her, Shashikala felt a sense of peace. Later, she flew down to Calcutta to meet Mother again. But she could only meet Sr Agnes, Mother’s right hand.
When Shashikala insisted she wanted to work with the Missionaries of Charity, she was sent to the ashram in Pune. “Cleaning toilets, removing maggots from wounds, changing dressings, mopping the floor, I did all that,” she said (DNA).
Then she had the good fortune to meet Mother again. She revealed that ‘inner peace’ eluded her. She was then sent to Nirmal Hriday, a home for the dying. In being with the terminally ill, praying with them and helping them ease out… Shashikala found ‘peace’ and ‘forgot her past’.
Reportedly, she spent months with mentally disturbed children, who called her Babua. She worked for leprosy patients in Surat, the elderly in Goa… and other underprivileged sections. “This was my way of repenting for my sins (Cineplot),” she said.
When she returned to Mumbai, the reality of her eldest daughter Rekha suffering from cancer came as another challenge. In her last dying moments in 1993, Shashikala made her recite the Gayatri Mantra and the rosary. “Rekha’s last words coaxed by Shashikala were, ‘I forgive everyone, including you mother’. (Cineplot).”
After around spending nine years at Mother Teresa’s ashrams, Shashikala returned to the industry with the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Baadshah, Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Jhankaar Beats, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi and Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav in (between 1999 -2005). She also did serials like Apnaapan, Dil Deke Dekho and Son Pari.
“I washed out the sorrow of my deprived childhood, my untimely and heavy responsibilities, the loss of my parents and the guilt of my mistake — all in one blissful touch from the Mother,” the ‘reborn’ Shashikala told The Tribune.
She received the Padma Shri in 2007, the V. Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. When asked why she wasn’t penning an autobiography she told DNA, “Given what a brutally frank person I am I will not be able to withhold anything. And it will end up drawing a lot of blood.”
END ON EASTER
During her last years, she lived at Wodehouse Apartments in Colaba. She was a regular at the Cathedral of the Holy Name there. However, the pandemic prevented her from visiting the church, something that distressed her. On Easter 4 April 2021, Shashikala passed away peacefully at home in the presence of her granddaughter Soniya and her great-granddaughter Shanaya.
Reportedly, she had expressed her wish to donate her organs, which wasn’t possible because of the pandemic.
But a sublime funeral service was held for her, something which would not have been possible had her body being bequeathed.
This again was one of the many happenstances in her life.