'Chaudvin ka chand': Waheeda Rehman is a woman for all seasons

Farhana Farook
·9-min read
MUMBAI, INDIA - APRIL 30: Bollywood actor Sonam Kapoor interviews veteran actor Waheeda Rehman at her residence at Bandra on April 30, 2013 in Mumbai, India.  (Photo by Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - APRIL 30: Bollywood actor Sonam Kapoor interviews veteran actor Waheeda Rehman at her residence at Bandra on April 30, 2013 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The Chaudvin ka chand, who walked on earth… A tribute to Waheeda Rehman on her 83rd birthday.

Exquisite yet earthy, Waheeda Rehman value-added to mentor Guru Dutt’s films just as he sculpted a star out of the danseuse…

Kahin pe nigaahen kahin pe nishana in C.I.D. where she distracts the baddie with her curls and coquetry had an unrehearsed ease.

Pyaasa, where she played a hooker-with-heart, was notches higher. The camera flirting with her kohl-rimmed eyes as she teases the protagonist with Jaane kya tune kahi… the ghoongat-pulling Waheeda brought out the amiable dichotomy of her character. Just as Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo... in the same film captured her quicksilver emotions as she moved from the sensuous to the sublime.

Next, Chaudvin ka chand ho… was Guru Dutt’s sonnet to her luminescence, something the silver skies will have to contend forever.

However, Kaifi Azmi’s Waqt ne kiya kya haseen situm from Kaagaz Ke Phool remains the zenith of her synergy with both Guru Dutt and his songstress wife Geeta Dutt. Two superstars – played by Guru Dutt and Waheeda – consumed by the lurking shadows behind the limelight had Geeta voicing the lament… Irony was never more in-your-face.

Waheeda Rehman and Dev Anand in Guide
Waheeda Rehman and Dev Anand in Guide

Phase 2 began when Waheeda became Vijay Anand’s Rosie in Guide. A woman, who dares to dream and is unapologetic about it. A woman, who walks out on her callous husband right into the arms of her lover and is unapologetic about it. A woman, who denunciates her mentor for a ‘breach of trust’ and is unapologetic about it… And yet Waheeda’s Rosie walked away with the sympathy and the awards… such was the dignity she lent to the roles.

A lingering reverie for her fans, Waheeda, as a person however has remained rooted and real.

“I’ve been through emotional and financial ups and downs. But I enlarge the positive and avoid negative people,” she once said about dealing with life’s curveballs. “Success and fame… both are temporary. There today, gone tomorrow,” she explained why there’s more to life than past glory.

That also explains why decades ago she gave up camouflaging her grey strands and went all out to celebrate the autumn sonata. “When you accept reality, you’re relaxed… I believe beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Though I never believed I was beautiful,” has been her unassuming retort.

“I don’t mind being born as Waheeda Rehman again. But I’d definitely do it better.” A sumptuous dash of realism to the romance… that’s been Waheeda’s way…”

Waheeda Rehman was born on 3 February 1938 in Chengalpet, Tamil Nadu, India. She was the youngest of four daughters. Her father, district collector Mohammed Abdur Rehman, influenced her to be her own person. “Courage is something I learnt from my father. When I was learning Bharat Natyam, my relatives asked him, ‘Kya Musalman ladki ko nachaaoge?’ His answer was, “Art is never bad. It’s the human being, who errs,” shared Waheeda in a recent interview.

Waheeda lost her father when she was 13. A fine dancer, she made her film debut in the Telugu film Rojulu Maraayi (1955) with the track Eruvaka sagaloi. At 17, she left Visakhapatnam for Mumbai with mother Mumtaz Begum for Guru Dutt’s production C.I.D. (1956), directed by Raj Khosla.

A self-assured Waheeda laid down the rules before signing the contract. That she wouldn’t change her name for a commercially saleable one. That she’d only wear costumes that she was comfortable with. “Raj Khoslaji was taken aback that a young girl was so adamant. I told him it’s not slavery. We respect you; you should respect us,” recalled the actor.

C.I.D. won her attention, her playful vibe engaging the audiences. This was followed by her act as a good-hearted prostitute in Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1959). Kaagaz ke Phool (1959), in the same year, was said to resonate Guru Dutt’s life, where he played a filmmaker in love with his muse (played by Waheeda).

Dubbed as poetry on celluloid today, when released the grim film received tepid response. However, Waheeda’s portrayal as an actress, trapped in the game of fame, is still remembered.

The love triangle, Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960), was Guru Dutt’s biggest hit. By then rumours linking Guru Dutt with Waheeda and his consequent disharmony with singer-wife Geeta Dutt, had grown strong. Thereon, Guru Dutt and Waheeda distanced themselves from each other professionally even though the film won the President’s Silver Medal.

Two years later, on 10 October 1964 Guru Dutt died allegedly of an overdose of sleeping pills. Some alleged suicide given his professional and personal turmoil.

Guru Dutt’s sister, well-known painter Lalitha Lajmi, emphatically denied that her brother was depressed over his alleged fall-out with Waheeda or his estrangement with wife Geeta.

“My brother did not commit suicide over either of the two women. Professionally, Waheeda and Guru Dutt had moved away much before he passed away. In fact, for the last scene of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), he had to request her to complete it,” she reportedly said.

“Guru Dutt’s speculated relationship with Waheeda has become a myth. She’s been unnecessarily blamed for his disturbed marriage. Maybe, Guru Dutt saw a muse in Waheeda," Lalitha Lajmi emphasized in an interview

Guru Dutt’s brother, filmmaker Devi Dutt, equally protective towards Waheeda reportedly said, “The relationship between Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt was that of a teacher and a student… There must have been something emotional between them. When people work together a bond, a friendship develops.”

Waheeda has always maintained a dignified silence where queries about her personal equation with the late filmmaker are concerned. More recently, she was quoted saying, “I don’t want to get into it. My private life should remain private. It is nobody’s business. I know we are public figures. So, when I fight with my husband do you want to know about it?”

However, the actress has never shied away from acknowledging Guru Dutt’s contribution to her career. “I’m proud to be part of Guru Duttji’s films. Even 50 years later, they’re talked about. They’re classics. I’ve made no contribution towards them… I just happened to be part of them,” she said.

“Guru Duttji spoke little. He’d just observe. But he was extremely sensitive. If I had difficulty in saying the lines, he’d ask writer Abrar Alvi to change it. He believed no matter how beautiful the lines, the actor should be able to say it. Also, he encouraged me to read,” she added.

After moving away from Guru Dutt, Waheeda did acclaimed films like Satyajit Ray’s Abhijan, Bees Saal Baad, Sunil Dutt’s Mujhe Jeene Do, the Rebecca-remake Kohra, Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966) with Dilip Kumar and Asit Sen’s Khamoshi in the ‘60s.

But the milepost was Vijay Anand’s Guide (1965). The odyssey of a woman, who breaks free from misogyny and chauvinism, finally to find herself, was a gamechanger.

“There can be Rosie in every woman… in every era. Sometime back, when Asha (Parekh) and I visited Kutch – a guide there told me that Rosie is our first feminist and Aaj phir jeene ki tamannah… the first feminist song,” beamed Waheeda in an interview. “Rosie doesn’t leave her husband (Kishore Sahu) sobbing. She slaps him before walking out. To hell with the husband and the world!”

Mention must be made of Sunil Dutt’s Reshma aur Shera (1971), shot against the sand dunes of Rajasthan, which won her the National Award.

In 1974, Waheeda married businessman Shashi Reiki aka actor Kamaljit. “I met my would-be husband, an extremely handsome man, during Shagoon (1964). He’d liked me then. But he had placed his hopes on the film, which flopped,” she said.

Kamaljit’s Son Of India (1962) with Mehboob Khan didn’t work either. Disappointed, he left India for Canada. Years later, late filmmaker and friend, Yash Johar, urged Kamaljit to propose to Waheeda.

Post marriage in 1974, Waheeda moved to her farmhouse in Bangalore and dabbled in marketing her cereal brand along with doing character roles as in Trishul (1978), Mahaan and Coolie (both in 1983). Memorable is her role as Daija in Yash Chopra’s Lamhe (1991), which had her replicate her Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai act from Guide.

In 1997, Shashi Reiki suffered a stroke. After his demise in 2000, Waheeda shifted back to Mumbai. She featured in Om Jai Jadgish (2002) and 15 Park Avenue (2005). Her performance in Rang De Basanti (2006), as a mother who’s lost her son, was a moving blend of grief and grace

Apart from cherishing long-lasting friendships with peers, Helen and Asha Parekh (the late Nanda and Sadhna were also part of the girl club), octogenarian Waheeda is now cherishing her time behind the camera.

“I’ve always been interested in photography. I’d carry a Rolleiflex camera when we shot outdoors. I’ve shot sunsets, landscapes,” she was quoted saying. “I enjoy shooting wild life. I feel close to God amidst nature. There’s no pretension. You’re just yourself.” Well, that she’s always been.

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