She would wait at Marine Drive bus stop to catch a double-decker home after college every afternoon. Home was at a distance, a gully away from a rickety subway bridge in Santa Cruz.
Just another pretty girl from the campus? Not really. She was drop-dead cool and bound for show-town glory. It’s no secret that Dev Anand was her Christopher Columbus, discovering the ingenue for Des Pardes - never mind if the age difference was wider than today’s Worli-Bandra sea-link.
Now the news of the day (February 11): Tina Munim-Ambani (Nivrutti was acronymed to Tina) has just turned 60. Sixxxxxxty? Unbelievable. Age marcheth on however and in this case, I’d like to believe, gracefully. And to think there was a morning way back in 1978, when I saw this Teen Princess India pageant winner appear in the balcony of a wintry Shimla hotel, freshly showered and towelling strands of wet hair. Aah what a soft sun-lit vision!
She was shooting for Lootmaar with the ever-jaunty Dev saab. I was asked to join them for breakfast. Easily prone to insta-crushes, the cup of coffee rattled in my quaky hands. She tee-heed, assuring me that neither of them would bite me. The pretty woman radiated warmth like a fire log.
Anyway that Shimla ki mulaqat led to regular interviews on or off the record. Years later, when I saw her up close in the company of Rajesh Khanna, I was dismayed. My shower-fresh apparition was carrying a tin of paan masala, its effect had done something to her teeth. The pearly whites were stained. “How can you do this Tina?” I sobbed. Mercifully she seemed embarrassed, promised to give up her chewing poison, presumably visited a dentist and all was well with the chameli smile and the Tinaworld again. Or was it?
Following rocky relationships with Rajesh Khanna and Sanjay Dutt, Anil Ambani appeared to signal towards a perfectly happy denouement to the life and career of Tina Munim. No more more back-biting from her female colleagues, like the one who had purred, “The moment she opened her mouth to speak in Karz, the audience at the preview show started laughing.” Sure Tina had a sing-song cadence in her dialogue pitch, but she didn’t vault over-the-top and possessed a wardrobe style which, if she could help it, avoided the blindingly blingy.
But shiver your timbers, what on earth was she doing in an oddity called Kamagni, a sex flick of sorts, with Alok Nath as her leading man? There she was on a lurid screen, breaking into erotic fantasies. Shhh, I’m sure she wouldn’t like to be reminded of that. On the personal front, after a lull of will-he-won’t-he-pop-the-question, Anil Ambani did. Consequently, she assumed other multi-roles: of a wife, mother, art connoisseur, educationist and philanthropist.
That’s the Mrs Ambani I now meet sporadically, to badger her with the mandatory question: so let’s talk of your movies. To which her firm response has been, “Keep quiet, no one ever asks me about the movies but you.”
Still, how about picking three or four fondly-remembered movies at least.“Difficult, difficult,” she says but concedes, “Okay maybe spontaneously I’d select Des Pardes, Baaton Baaton Mein and Souten.”
She’d rather talk about the need for top-of-the-line medical care, the dignity of senior citizens, dissemination of education and clockwork family maintenance. So how do I convey Tina’s updated avatar? Hopefully by recalling brief passages from a conversation once conducted with the showgirl who turned her back to the big booming Bollywood biz.
Haven’t you changed?
Tina Ambani: No, I don’t think so. I do keep putting on and losing weight. I feel happier and healthier though.
What’s your first thought on waking up?
TA: That I can do my little bit...something meaningful, to make a little difference to this world.
You’re sounding very Mrs Ambani.
TA: I hope I’m sounding like myself. I’m the same Tina who grew up, matured and is focused. I broke away from acting over 25 years ago (the last one was Jigarwala with Anil Kapoor). We’re in the 21st century now. There’s so much more to do...the past is over. I’m more than aware ever before that our parents and grandparents held our hand at every stage of our lives. Yet we don’t give them their due respect. They need compassion, not sympathy. So often we don’t say the simple line, “I love you so very much”... and then sometimes it’s too late. I was the youngest of nine siblings. I lost my father when I was just 13. For me, the elders have been my gods.
When did you first get interested in art?
TA: I bought my first painting when I was 17. There was this exhibition by a young lady... one of the canvases gave the impression of a woman’s face with just a touch of red to symbolise the sindoor. It’s still with me.
Haven’t you become…erm...politically correct?
TA: I may be boring but that’s okay. I don’t want to hard-sell myself.
What are your sons Anmol and Anshul like?
TA: Subconsciously, they must want to be like their father...and grandfather.
And what’s Mr Anil Ambani like?
TA: How can I tell you about my husband in an one-off interview?
Where did you first meet?
TA: We first met at a common friend’s wedding.
How would you describe the marriage?
TA: Absolutely rocking.
Any ups and downs?
TA: Isn’t that normal?
Have you ever accompanied him on his long daily morning runs?
TA: There was a time, I’d walk for the same length... and he’d run. Then I stopped. By the way, why are you making me run all over the place with your questions? Let’s talk about something else...art?
Personally, how do you relate to art?
TA: By instinct, never as an investment. There was a time when I could only relate to happy works. With time my taste has evolved. I can take in all moods, the strong and the powerful works, even if the colour red has been used to signify violence.. blood.
Whose paintings do you have in your living room?
TA: The paintings are quite calming ones actually... by Atul and Anju Dodiya, Jehangir Sabavala, Akbar Padamsee, Raza.. .and Pichwais .
Ever thought of opening a gallery yourself?
TA: Please, why should I want to become a gallerist?
TA: Chhote se museum mein mazaa nahin hai. Who knows? Some day, it would be thrilling to build a grand museum with a high quality collection.
As you can perceive, my chats with L’Ambani are now on the desultory side. She has to do and say the right thing, be diplomatic, get seen at a few exclusive events only, hang out with those she’s unquestionably comfortable with and host low-profile evenings.
Result: my hands wouldn’t quake any more during a coffee with Tina Munim.
(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and a weekend painter.)
(This article is from The Quint’s archives. It is now being republished to mark Tina Ambani’s birthday.)
. Read more on Entertainment by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsBerlinale 2019: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Film Noticed . Read more on Entertainment by The Quint.