Zubeida’s Interview

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This interview of Zubeida was conducted by T. M. Ramachandran, executive director of Indian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which appeared in the Academy's brochure in December 1981.

Meeting Zubeida face to face in her palatial flat at Dhanraj Mahal, Apollo Bunder, was a dream come true. e. She had scrupulously avoided the media for years. She had preferred to live in a world of her own. But when she met me, she was grace personified. There was an air of old-world charm about her. Attired in a simple saree and with no make-up, she looked beautiful—though she must be in her early seventies. She posed for photo­graphs as a veteran does, without any trace of discomfort or reluctance. She even invited her friend—a co-star of bygone days—Goharbai, who happened to call on her that day, to pose with her. The atmosphere was one of bonhomie and warmth.

Photographs over, we settled down on huge, heavily-cushioned sofa-chairs for a tete-a-tete. Zubeida broke the silence by asking, “What do you want to know about me? As you know, I retired long ago. I live in isolation. It’s all dull and prosaic. The only thrill I get is watching the present-day movies now and then.”

“What movies did you see recently? And how did you find them?” I asked.

“I saw `Insaf ka Tarazu’ and ‘Kranti’. I liked them both. Zeenat looks so beautiful in ‘Insaf ka Tarazu’. And she acts so nicely. The other young girl Padmini is marvelous. In ‘Kranti’, Dilip and Manoj Kumar are superb. The movies today are, of course, much better than those in which we had all acted,” Zubeida observed. Yet,there was a tinge of sadness, a shadow of discontent in her voice.

She continued, “I’ve had my innings, my share of glory, but the good old days are gone. Today, I see nothing but decadence in spite of the scientific advancement there has been. The present-day young people don’t listen to the elders. They dis­miss us as fossil, and believe that they know much better than us. I admit they are intelligent but they should benefit by our experience. They want to experience everything themselves and learn directly from their own mistakes.” Gohar, the former star of Ranjit Movietone, who was seated next to me, nodded in agreement.

Good Old Days

The conversation turned to the working conditions during their heyday. “The stars in those days never gave any trouble tothe producers or directors,” observed Zubeida. “Everything was well- organized. There was no tension. Work progressed at a leisurely pace. We workedat one studio, one place, most of the time. We were part and parcel of the studio set-up. Once in a while, we were “loaned” to other studios, other producers.

We implicitly obeyed themanagement—the producers and the directors. Our full cooperation was always available to them. And we had the security of the job, since we were on the regular pay roll. Today, I find the whole thing has turned topsy-turvy. The stars are ruling the roost. They dictate. They demand. They don’t seem to care for the welfare of the producers, their em­ployers. The star-system as it is today is terrible. Free-lancing by artistes is the root cause for all the troubles in the industry.”

Whom does she like among the present- day stars?

“I like Rekha and Hema,” Zubeida said instantly. “It’s amazing how these two Tamil girls are dominating the Hindi screen. Rekha seems to be quite clever and ingenious. Hema is just lovely. God be with her. Among men, let me see…I think I’ve a crush on Amitabh. He is great, incomparable. He is so humane on the screen. I wonder if he is so off the screen as well? I hope he is—and not proud.”

Talking of the astronomical figures that the stars of today take as their fees, Zubeida said, “I’m amazed at the chang­ing times. When I joined Kohinoor Film Company, I got a salary of Rs 300 per month. That was in 1924. The highest salary we received before our retirement was Rs 4,000 per month.”

Who were the people who helped her in her early career?

Zubeida said she owed a great deal to directors like Manial Joshi, Chandulal Shah, Chowdhury and Nanubhai Vakil. She made her debut in 1924 in a silent movie called `Gul-e-Bakavali’ made by Kohinoor Film Company. She was just fourteen then. She said she inherited her talent and love for the screen from her mother Fatima Sultana, who was a stage celebrity and later a film producer and director.

Zubeida’s first film proved a hit, and paved the way to a bright future. Whenever she was not making any filmfor Kohinoor, her services were “loaned” to companies like Ranjit, Sagar and Imperial. She appeared in 36 silent films, prominent among them being Prithvi Vallabh’ (The Lord of Love and Power), directed by Manilal Joshi, `Indra Sabha’, ‘Laila Majnu’, ‘Heer Ranjha’, ‘Devdas’, ‘Love Angel’ directed by Jayant Desai, and ‘Wages of Sin’, her last silent film. Now and then she turned to Gohar to check up the names of her films. ‘My memory is failing. You must forgive me,” she smiled.

Zubeida had the distinction of playing the feminine lead in the first Indian talkie Alam Ara, a fantasy, opposite Master Vithal. Prithviraj Kapoor, who also appeared in Alam Ara, rendered asong in it.

Zubeida used to act in only one film at a time and on that basis, in just a couple of films each year. Of the 20 odd talkie films in which Zubeida had acted, men­tion should be made of Munshi Premchand’s `Seva Sadan’, directed by Nanubhai Vakil, Ezra Mir’s ‘Zarina’, Ramnik Desai’s ‘Meerabai’, and Prafulla Ghosh’s ‘Maa’. Last, but not the least, who can forget the whole series of Maha­bharata, especially ‘Draupadi’ and ‘Veer Abhimanyu’; in which Zubeida playedthe feminine lead.

“After a glorious and hectic career, it is now time for peace and tranquility,” she says.