Veteran Bollywood actress, Waheeda Rehman, 85 has been conferred with the highest honour of Indian cinema- the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for the year 2021, which is given for “outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema” by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s (I&B) Directorate of Film Festivals. The Dadasaheb Phalke Award’s selection committee comprises of prominent Indian cinema personalities, Asha Parekh, Chiranjeevi, Paresh Rawal, Prosenjit Chatterjee and Shekhar Kapur.
Waheeda Rehman’s Journey
Waheeda Rehman’s performances throughout her journey as an artist have been an undoubtable proof of her grace, versatility, and resilient appeal. Born in Chengalpattu, in Tamil Nadu on 3rd February, 1938, she made her debut in the film industry in the 1950s. She has worked in over 90 films, winning awards dedicated to films. She was also conferred with the Padma Shri by the government in 1972 and the Padma Bhushan in 2011.
With films like ‘Pyaasa’ (1957), ‘Reshma Aur Shera’ (1971), ‘Guide’ and ‘Neel Kamal’ under her belt; she has won several national awards and was the most sought-after leading ladies in the period known as the Golden-Age of Hindi Cinema. Guru Dutt can be credited with the emergence of her persona from a minor star in the Telugu film industry to bringing her talent and beauty to the forestage. He created the image of an innocent girl with kohl-lined eyes which held sensual power and mystery that still captivates and stands out among the many characters of the film industry. She truly outshined and made her mark, especially in the Hindi cinema industry.
Her Innate Feminism
She has always commanded respect and immense star power, even being billed higher than her male co-stars. She is especially known for playing unconventional roles in mainstream Hindi films. She made the audience empathetic towards the feelings and resilience of a sex worker, which was considered extremely controversial during those times. In her most famous film, ‘Guide’ (1965), she is seen walking out on two men who were using her for their own gains. Even today, if a mainstream actress walks out on men in a movie, it causes a sensation; Rehman’s Rosie did it back in 1965. She set the stage for films like Alia Bhatt’s Gangubai Kathiawaadi
These are only two examples among many of the complex, unconventional and intrepid characters she played, in a largely male centered industry. She essayed the role of Hira Bai opposite the ageing Raj Kapoor in the movie, ‘Teesri Kasam’; which not many actresses would have taken. She taps into the very essence of a story with a rare quality, which is why she has remained in demand till now.
Waheeda Rehman has faced challenges on every step of her journey, from being refused to be taught Bharatnatyam by a Hindu Guru, to being asked to change her Muslim name to a more popular one; she stood steadfast to her decision and only did what was right. She rebelled, and fought for her right. The Guru finally agreed to teach her a dance devoted to the Hindu Gods. She even seamlessly made the transition from an actress of the South to that of the Hindi industry. This can be credited to her command of different languages, her discipline, punctuality and undoubted talent.
In her career spanning over five decades, she has been an idol of feminism, breaking boundaries and stereotypes alike, and portraying every role with delicate finesse. She has exemplified dedication and the strength of a Bhartiya Nari with her resilience and hard work. The Dadasaheb Phalke award will be presented during the 69th National Film award ceremony.
She was last seen in a coming-of- age sports movie, ‘Skater Girl’ (2021), and will forever be recognized as an epitome of beauty, grace and talent.