Unbeknownst to many, there was a sentimental reunion between the ailing Kolkata actor Sandhya Roy and Raakhee Gulzar during the latter’s visit to the city last week to attend the Kolkata International Film Festival, where her film Nirvan was screened.
The one-hour-long reunion was kept under wraps from the media, to avoid the paparazzi. Sandhya Roy, often cast in mythologicals and as an ideal housewife, had earned the epithet of ‘screen goddess’ in her heyday.
The story of the lasting bond between the two is an unusual one. Back in 1957 in the small town of Ranaghat, the iconic actor Sandhya Roy (she went on to serve as MP of the Trinamool Congress from 2014-19) had sighted Raakhee, who was barely 8-years-old then, amidst a large crowd watching the film shoot.
“I wasn’t fascinated by the shoot,” Raakhee narrates. “My elder maternal cousin, Reva, who was married and pregnant had died under mysterious circumstances a few months ago. Reva had been adopted by my mother before I was born. I was at the shooting just because it was close to my school. To date, I don’t know why Sandhya di formed a connect with me from that very day. Something must have been ordained for us. Willingly, I would visit her at the week-long shooting, she would cajole me, ask me so many questions, oil and braid my hair.”
Next: During her school holidays, Raakhee would visit Sandhya Roy in Kolkata regularly. On being asked to pursue her studies at the Sir Nripendra Nath Girls’ High School, she agreed: “That was my decision, not my parents’. My father’s jute business was doing well, we had a comfortable family house in Ranaghat.”
The old-worldly Tollygunge bungalow, Sandhyaneer, which Sandhya Roy built when her career flourished, was designed from a diagram from one of her ward’s home science school books. “ I don’t know what she found special in me,” Raakhee rewinds. “Her brother, Gaurang, was studying at the Ramakrishna Mission in Birbhum district. Since she couldn’t go to school herself, maybe she wished to see I receive a proper education. A lady tutor, Gauri di, was hired to give me extra lessons after school. She was Satyajit Ray’s sister-in-law.”
From Sadhya Roy, Raakhee picked up her food habits, simplicity of manners and like her became tomboyish, climbing up trees, wandering into deep forests and swimming in the Brahmaputra. “It was neither her agenda to make me a film star, nor mine to become one. I wished to become a scientist. I guess destiny had something else in store. Instead of smoothly flowing into the Bay of Bengal, I meandered towards the Arabian Sea. Bengal gave me birth while Maharashtra raised and reared me like Yashodha maiyya,” Raakhee notes emotionally.
Sandhya Roy, who mostly acted in rustic dramas and mythologicals, as the ideal wife, would hardly use make-up and avoided film parties and publicity. Among her prolific filmography, the most well-remembered ones are Ganga, Nimantran, Sansar Simante and Tin Adhya, besides appearances in Hindi cinema’s Pooja ke Phool, Asli Naqli, Rahgir, Bandgi and Jaane Anjaane.
“I wouldn’t say I learnt acting from her,” Raakhee states. “But yes, I would observe how she led her life and conducted herself as a public figure. Although she was married to the top director, Tarun Majumdar, she wouldn’t hesitate to mingle with villagers and share their home-cooked meals.”
The 78-year-old former MP, Sandhya Roy, is suffering from a knee ailment, and was resting when the once-unknown girl from Ranaghat dropped by, hoping to give her a surprise.
“She was resting around 3:30 pm,” Raakhee says. “As soon as she saw me, she got up. We both clung on to each other. Now don’t ask me if we cried our hearts out please, naturally our tears wouldn’t stop. I was with her for over an hour. There was no need to talk much, discuss politics or the weather, or go through the usual chai or coffee routine. We hadn’t met for over 17 years. It was a precious moment for me - just seeing her smile, meant the world to me.”
(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and weekend painter.)
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