Film dynasties are becoming as common as, well, bhelpuri in Chowpatty. But a matriarchal film dynasty, that's pretty rare. And the Samarth-Mukherjee family with its four generations of actresses must be unique in the world. The thing about this film family is that there's always at least one of them up there on the marquee. (More if you count the rare male actors on the family tree like Nutan's son Mohnish Behl and, by marriage, national award winner Ajay Devgan.) Some of them—legends in our cinematic history—have made their final fade-out: Shobana Samarth, Nutan, not to forget Shobana Samarth's mother, theatre actress Ratanbai. Others are either growing in the wings, like the newest entrant Tanisha, Tanuja's daughter. Or just out there like Kajol, Tanuja's elder daughter who made a quiet exit when she was right there on the top to savour life as a new mother.
These days, the mother-daughter duo is moving centrestage. Tanisha, three and half years younger than Kajol, has one film slated to hit the screens soon, Pawan Kaul's Shhh with Dino Morea. Another one is on the anvil: Mani Shankar's Tango Charlie in which her leading man will be brother-in-law Ajay Devgan. For Mama Tanuja, it was all quiet until she made a splash comeback after a long interlude of over two decades (her last memorable role was in Raj Kapoor's Prem Rog in 1982) with Saathiya late last year, and with Bhoot and Rules—Pyar Ka Superhit Formula this year. Her performance in Rules as the wise and sassy grandmother has been widely appreciated.
It looks like Tanuja is going to be spending less and less time in her beloved Lonavala home, where she loves "waking up and looking at the trees". The sexy-at-sixty actress—she turned 60 on September 23—with a cigarette-enhanced husky voice and whose sprightly screen spontaneity can only be rivalled by daughter Kajol, is currently acting in two new films: Raj Kumar Santoshi's Khaki and Milan Luthria's Deewar.
Boring is a four-letter word in Tanuja's vocabulary. It pops up like a refrain in her conversations. "I will do anything but boring roles. I don't want to play the boring mother who says 'Haath muh dho lo aur chai pi lo (wash your hands and face and have some tea)'. I am bored with the mothers you see on screen and on television—mothers with white hair. Women in India have changed. We have changed. Grandmothers have changed. The mother pressing her hubby's feet, the concept of mother, all this has changed. So has the old idea of Indian women, forever barefoot and forever pregnant. So the face of Indian women in cinema has to change."
No wonder she enjoyed playing the 'with-it' grandmother in Rules. Even today the soignée actress with a figure younger women would kill for can say "I know I am a sexy woman" without batting an unmascara-ed eyelid. At present, Tanuja is quite pleased with her role in Khaki. She plays a Muslim woman whose son has been arrested as he is suspected of being a terrorist. And no, she doesn't act the simpering mother.
The three women, Tanuja and her daughters, are determined, professional, at times wilful, with a strong sense of self. Director Karan Johar, one of Kajol's closest friends, thinks that although Tanuja is a "very strong influence on her daughters, the girls have minds of their own". "They love their mother and they take a lot of advice from her. They are strong-minded, level-headed girls. Kajol will definitely seek her mother's advice but will eventually do what her heart tells her."
Family friend and photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha believes the strong genes come from Shobana Samarth. The beautiful actress who started her career in silent movies was known for her business savvy. She produced two films and launched both Nutan and Tanuja. "The whole concept of economic independence is something she imbued in her daughters.And they, of course, became very, very successful.... I think even Tanu (Tanuja) is trying to imbue that in Kajol and Tanisha," he says.
Listen carefully to Tanisha and you can hear the family genes talking. "I went through all my options and took a very informed decision that I'd sacrifice my privacy, all that goes with getting into films and do my best and be very good at what I do." Tanisha returned from Australia two years ago, where she graduated in Arts with Media and Communication and Films as subjects. She learned her lessons well. "When you are living on your own, like I did in Australia, you have to learn how to manage yourself, manage your funds, you learn to be practical. I was always interested in money. I love money."
She is, as she iterates, very determined: she will make sure the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will one day be in her grasp. "I'm very logical. I dream. I have these grandiose dreams but I think of a way of achieving things, of finding a way. I don't dream of owning a palace. But I think of it like this: by the time I'm 35 I'll be able to own a palace." Tanisha's happy about her debut Shhh, a thriller, as it will be challenging and not, yes, boring.
If you look at the three women, they look so different. Kajol with her signature Frida Kahlo-ish unibrow and dusky complexion looks more like a Mukherjee (father Shomu Mukherjee is the son of producer S. Mukherjee). Tanisha looks more fragile, more like a younger Tanuja, and Tanuja looks like, well, Tanuja. Yet they are close as peas in a pod and have similar interests. They are fanatical readers, for one. Kajol reads even while she brushes her teeth and consumes everything from historical romances and science fiction to trash. In fact, they can spend an entire evening reading together, "in absolute silence", as Tanuja puts it.
The trio is also known for its bluntness. Shahrukh Khan, one of Kajol's closest friends, admires this trait in the family. "They are all very natural, nice, straightforward people. We have to accept their straightforwardness." The three women definitely stand out in the sycophantic world of Bollywood. What you see is what you get, according to Rajadhyaksha: "If Kajol says, 'No ji, I don't want to do this' it means just that. While this may not go down well with the media, at least they won't lead you on and then disappoint you."
But they can collectively disburse sunlight on cloudy days: underneath the bluntness, the three will do anything for those they like. For Shahrukh, Kajol is like Mary Poppins. "I believe that she gets up in the morning deciding to love the world and the people inhabiting it. She just gets out of bed thinking that the first person she meets she'll greet with a lot of excitement. I think she gets up from the right side of her bed and decides to spread sunshine."
Madhu Jain And Lata Khubchandani
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