Satyajit Ray had first thought of adapting R K Narayan's "Guide" into a film with Waheeda Rehman in the lead but destiny had other ideas as Vijay Anand went on to make the movie, considered to be among the classics, says a new book on the veteran actress.
Noted documentary maker and film writer Nasreen Munni Kabir's "Conversations with Waheeda Rehman" provides a rare view of the much-adored and award-winning actress of Indian cinema.
In this engaging book of conversations, culled from interviews conducted in 2012-13 by Kabir, Rehman proves to be a lively raconteur, speaking about her life and work, humour and insight: from the devastating loss of her parents when she was young to making a life in cinema on her own terms.
She also gives insightful accounts of working with extraordinary film practitioners like Guru Dutt, Raj Khosla, Ray, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Vijay Anand to her friendship with stars like Nargis and Nanda.
On her alleged affair with Dutt, Rehman only says, "I know we are public figures, but I strongly believe my private life should remain private. What ultimately matters and concerns the world is the work we left behind." She married actor Kamaljeet Rekhy and has two children.
"It was Mr Ray who asked me to read the novel (R K Narayan's 'Guide') because he was considering adapting it. He told me if the film ever took off, he would cast me as Rosie.
"She had to be a good dancer and he knew south Indians were usually good dancers, and so he had thought of me," recalls Rehman about what would possibly have been a totally different approach to the novel had Ray been its director.
But Rehman had almost forgotten about it when a year or two later Dev told her that he was producing the film.
When she asked wasn't Ray making it, Dev replied, "No, no, I know about that. I have bought the rights of the book." According to Rehman, Ray would have conceived the film in a completely different way.
"But I believe I was fated to play Rosie, no matter who was going to direct the film. Many actresses were keen to play Rosie, including Padmini and Leela Naidu. They sent me letters saying I should let them know if for any reason I did not accept the part," the 76-year-old actress, born in Chengalpattu, formerly known as Chingleput, a southwestern suburb of Chennai, says.
Rehman says Ray's wife always wanted her to encourage him to make films in Hindi.
"When I spoke to him about it, he said: 'Someday I want to, but then you have all those lengthy songs and dances and all that.' I think he was reluctant to make a film in Hindi because he did not know Hindi well and believed that was essential. 'One thing is certain - if I make a Hindi movie, I will cast you.'
"Many years later when he was making 'Shatranj Ke Khilari', he called me and said: 'Waheeda, I promised to cast you, but I don't feel the role in this film will suit you'," she recalls in the book, published by Penguin.
Rehman acted in only one film directed by Ray – "Abhijan", where she played Gulaabi and spoke in a mix of Bhojpuri and Bengali.
Rehman has high regards for Ray.
"Ray Saab was meticulous and explained everything in great detail. He sketched every scene and made detailed shot breakdowns, even noting the lens he planned to use.
"His storyboarding was extremely helpful. In those days no one had heard of storyboarding. He was also one of the few directors who gave me a bound script."