The telephone began ringing, incessantly, almost annoyingly. It was about 7.30 in the evening. I had just returned home after a hard day’s work under the blazing studio “solars” and “babies.” I was tired, feeling as if I was convalescing after a severe illness. After washing off the day’s weariness, I had thrown myself on the bed and was almost fast asleep the next moment. Sleep heavy on my eyelids, I had shouted: “For God’s sake, somebody attend to the phone.” Then I heard someone entering my room and picking up the receiver. Suddenly, as if by some kind of telepathic instinct, I sat up, and said: “Wait, it is Nanda—it’s for me.” Sure enough, it was. There was all that familiar excitement. My weariness was gone.
It was the beginning of another of those long telephone conversations. Of late we had resorted to them for want of leisure to meet, to set off on those long drives to Khandala at some unearthly hour or dash into one of those posh eateries after everybody else has deserted it and the board outside indicating that lunch time is almost over, or drive to one of those lovely sea-shores when there isn’t a soul around.
“Where have you been all these years?” Nanda asked, frantically. “I almost thought I had lost you, Waheeda.”
Years? That’s Nanda’s way of putting it. We had not met (or talked on the phone) for just 20 days.
We almost began as foes, it was about nine years ago that I had landed in Bombay to work in films. It all looked so strange, so stuffy and unnatural, this Bombay life. I didn’t know many people in the film industry and I was myself a nonentity then, the future holding a big question mark.
On my way to the studio, I used to pass by the Plaza Cinema. Outside there was a huge poster of a Marathi film. “Shevgyache Shenga.” It didn’t change for months—the film was very popular. There was a little girl in the cast—Baby Nanda. She had given a fine performance, somebody had casually told me.
A year or so later, I was shooting for “Kaagaz Ke Phool,” at the Central Studio (now defunct). On another stage in the same studio there was another film, “Naya Sansar.” I had come to be recognized as an actress after my role in “Pyaasa.” Nanda had liked my performance and since we were shooting at the same studio, she had thought of meeting me.
I did not know of her plans. l am very quiet by nature and my expressions off the screen can be confusing. As I was going up the stairs to my make-up room a charming little girl passed by. She wished me, it seems, and I didn’t even smile back: I hadn’t heard her greeting. Nanda misunderstood, naturally, and decided she would never even look at me.
But we were destined to be friends. Shortly after, I was signed up for “Kala Bazar.” Nanda too had a starring role in it. The first day I reported for work, director Vijay Anand introduced us. She quickly reacted with a wry look. But as the days passed we became so fond of each other that we would go to the studio an hour earlier just to sit and talk.
We had joined hands in a pact of friendship. I have often wondered what is it that holds us together so closely. It is true we have many things in common. The lists of our likes and dislikes are identical. We have absolute faith in our respective religions but—no dogmas for us. We do not subscribe to extremes, it is always a happy compromise. We are also fatalists.
Nanda has an enormous sense of humor. She can burst into loud laughter without provocation, but that’s only when she is with people she likes. It is difficult to pin-point her attraction. Perhaps it is a mixture of her simple but immense charm, her disarming smile and the most important ingredient (to me at least) the way she talks.
She is fond of films, any film is good enough for her. But she always insists that I accompany her. She is very sensitive and sentimental. I am even more so.
Once I remember we went to see “I Want To Live.” We were both weeping after the show.
And she is not the kind to fuss over anything. I have learned quite a few things from her.
Yet there was a time when Nanda nearly faced a nervous breakdown. After her fine delineation of those deglamorised roles in a series of films, they kept type casting her. Nanda was distressed. She longed for glamorous roles. And they wouldn’t come to her somehow. She used to be in tears. Then came the break with her first glamorous role in “Jab Jab Phool Khile.”
But to get back to the telephone. Every time we finish a phone conversation, Nanda comes out with a bright idea. This time too she had a bright idea. “Listen, Waheeda,” she said. “How about getting married?” “What!” I gasped. Her explanation: When we get married, it will be on the same day and it won’t be an arranged marriage for us, please. Say some kind of love marriage and then even after marriage, the same warm friendship. Yes? But then who knows? After all we are fatalists. That’s how the long conversation ended that day.
—Waheeda Rehman, 1964-65