What does one say about a beautiful legend like Waheeda Rehman? I would call her an elegant soul who personifies beauty and has conducted herself beautifully in life as well. Graceful, soft-spoken and liked by whoever has come in contact with her, this beautiful soul has dignified Bollywood with her presence and vitality. Her versatility in the roles she has played, the flair for living the character she was given to play, the natural way she conducted herself on screen and the gentle manner off-screen as well makes Waheeda Rehman one of the most charismatic personalities that Hindi Cinema has been blessed with.
Not standing tall at her supposedly 5’1”, this tall-by-stature film actress Waheeda Rehman, was born on February 3rd, 1938, in Chengalpattu, Madras Presidency, then in British India, to Mohamed Abdul Rehman and Mumtaz Begum. Her father being a District Magistrate, was posted at several places across India. That brought her to Vizag, where she did part of her schooling. Youngest of four sisters, Zahida, Shahida, Sayeeda and Waheeda, she and her just elder sister Sayeeda learnt Bharata Natyam from master exponents of the time Guru Trichunder Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai in Chennai and Guru Jayalaxmi Alva in Bombay (Mumbai) and performed together on stage.
For one who wished to pursue a career in medicine, fate willed otherwise. With the demise of her father in 1951, her two elder sisters Zahida and Shahida already being married, Waheeda and Sayeeda could not pursue their studies. Over and above their mother was ailing. In such straitened circumstances, Waheeda decided to enter the film industry. With a scintillating dance sequence that marked her debut at the age of 17 in the 1955 Telugu film Roju Marayi (remade as Kaalam Mari Pochu in Tamil), Waheeda Rehman’s body of work spans several decades of unusual roles.
Actor-producer-director Guru Dutt, happened to spot her in the party celebrating the success of her first movie, the dance she performed for which she is praised even today. Her knowledge of Urdu and her dancing prowess made him eventually sign up for a 3-year contract with his production house in 1955, persuading Waheeda and her mother to shift to Mumbai from Chennai. Thus she set off on a new journey – Hindi Cinema.
Her first movie was as a vamp in C.I.D. and her brilliant performance got her tremendous applause from Indian audiences. Their partnership flourished in films like Pyaasa, Twelve o’ Clock, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Chaudvin Ka Chand and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Almost all of them are recognised as classics today, though commercially these films had mixed fortunes at the box-office.
She formed a hit pair with the legendary star Dev Anand. The box office hits of the pair include CID (1956), Solva Saal (1958), Kala Bazar (1960), Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962) and Guide(1965); However Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1961) and Prem Pujari (1970) did not do well.
She acted opposite all the top heroes of her time, Sunil Dutt, Dilip Kumar, Biswajeet, and the movies did well, but her career peaked with Khamoshi opposite Rajesh Khanna.
Her personal life
Her just elder sister Sayeeda got married in 1953. And while she was enjoying her success in Hindi films, her mother Mumtaz Begum passed away in 1957. Her younger sister Sayeeda and her husband helped her in her film assignments. Her other elder sister Shahida also helped at times.
The sisters didn’t compel Waheeda to get married once she became an established star. “After a certain age, you cannot force a young woman to do anything. Besides, Waheeda was busy working, and we couldn’t tell her to drop everything to get married. So only when she felt she was ready, did the issue come up,” says Mrs Shahida Malik.
Waheeda Rehman married former actor Kamaljit (real name Shashi Rekhy) who had acted opposite her in Shagoon in Bombay on July 26, 1974. A son Sohail and daughter Kashvi to care for she silently withdrew from movies till she returned in the 1980s, this time to play mature roles. Both children are well-settled today.
The sisters and their extended families (the eldest sibling Zahida also having re-located to India, there is still tremendous bonding between the four sisters. The late actress, Nanda, Asha Parekh, Helen, have all been very close friends for years.
On 21 November 2000, her husband died following a prolonged illness. She moved back to her ocean view bungalow in Bandra, Mumbai where she currently lives.
But more than an acting career Waheeda Rehman has always been known to be sympathetic towards the downtrodden. She is also an ambassador for Rang De working with them in the fight against poverty.
We salute the grace and elegance of an actress and dancer par excellence, who definitely has made her mark in being different, through a series of images.