The Gangster’s Moll (sheer nostalgia)

Much before I joined the Film Institute as a student, I began to go there as a reluctant actress. I was flattered at first by the offers that came my way, but soon realized that in the conservative town that Pune was then, the Film Institute with it’s reputation of rowdy, ‘junkie’ students was not exactly one where parents were keen to send their young daughters.

However it may have been, I found myself doing all manner of incomprehensible things in the Tarkovsky-Bresson-Godard influenced student films. “Walk, no, more slowly, more slowly, walk to that window, then look out, then turn slowly, no, more slowly, and smile.” That was the least of it.

I spent one evening floating on a makeshift raft in the middle of a make-believe pond in the ancient Studio No.1.

Another day, I was put to playing the guitar. Since it was the first time, in my 23 years, I was holding one, I did what most Hindi film actors do, plucked away on the strings with huge gusto, swaying my head, my shoulders and arms in what was meant to be musical involvement. I wonder now how the director hid his horror, though I’m certain the crew went back to their hostel rooms that evening and bitched about what an idiot I was.

Once someone wanted to recreate Vermeer’s paintings in his film, and I spent a week, reading letters at a window, and pouring milk from a jug and so on.

So, when I did become a student at the Film Institute, and had some voice in the proceedings,

and Gurpal, the irreverent, wicked Sardarji decided to make a spoof on Hindi films as his diploma, I begged and pleaded to be the vamp in his film. Being one of only six women in a campus full of boys, I knew there would be a role for me, but what I wanted was to be the gangster’s moll, nothing else. I’d had more than enough of playing strange, mysterious women, whom I knew nothing about. Gurpal, perhaps out of pity, agreed.

Out came the bottles of make-up that I had hoarded all this while, out came the eyeliner, and the mascara, and the shiniest eye shadow I could find. I worked out elaborate designs for my hair, for fake moles and fake tattoos. I went scrimmaging in the musty, forgotten trunks inherited by the Costume Department, from the Prabhat Studio, which no one ever used any more. I found odd, jangly, grotesque bits of jewellery, masks, eye-patches. I rummaged for shiny, satiny costumes, and wondered if I could make holes in them,


a la Bindu

or Faryal

or Sonia Sahni,

then aware of the smelly bits of history I was holding in my hands, I refrained from using my scissors. I found a cigarette holder for one hand, and a gun for the other. I practiced crossing my legs with a mini-skirt on, and more than ever, I practiced leering lecherously at good, nice men, one of whom would be the hero, who would rather die than be tempted by me.

Finally, perched on the armrest of the gangster’s throne like chair, legs daringly crossed before the entire set, cigarette holder and gun held proudly aloft, I reached the peak of my acting career. After that role, I did not ever want to essay any other. I had been the gangster’s moll. No way you were going to catch me smiling vacantly out of set windows, onto dark studio lots again.

By the way, Teja played the hero in this film, a village boy who fights twenty villains at the same time.

34 comments

  1. Oh Banno, this is a fabulous post. I am left speechless by the glory of it, and how jealous I am🙂

    No Helen dance though? and do you have a photo of yourself in the role we could see? and oh! how I wish I could see the whole thing.

    Okay, I’m not so speechless.

    It’s just fabulous.

  2. What I would give for some photos? I did a hunt yesterday, but no, none. I’m going to try and get the film though on video.

  3. Gr8 post! Finding out new things about you in your pre-director days. Of course, that Teja had to be the hero (all valiant and good hearted) in the role of your lifetime is hilarious! Would love to see the film.

  4. Kuntal, I know. Dhanno couldn’t believe the story, and also that we had no photos or the film itself.

    Dipali, yes..

  5. what a wonderful welcome back to blogs!!!

    you got to be a moll??? not not fair. one month into looking blankly out of windows and catching the light i was asked to do a role in a playback exercise- the song, mehbooba mehbooba. i did go back to my room, thrilled, and look in the mirror to see what seductive make up i would put on, and which skirt i should rip for a knee high slit- my hope were shattered. i was the good girl dear pritam was to chase!!! i wore a prissy top and ankle length skirt, and looked alarmed that the hero, pritam, looked at me coyly! he wasnt even lecherous!!!

    you are one lucky gal banno.

  6. Ah … and suddenly I remembered Shabnam’s song – o hasina zufon wali —- I got to play a mucchi wali woman who as it turned out was a man … or something like that if I remember right! – and is it fate or just a coincidence that Teja was my partner in crime, my brother (sister?!) in arms! Hee hee – sorry but I think it beats both you and Sur hollow!

  7. and while i’m on a roll here … a gangster who fingered a teddy bear with bloodlustful glee while watching my flunkies stab someone to death … hmmm, but the director never gave me a moll. Sigh. Can’t have everything I suppose?!

  8. Oh when are those pix/video/something coming already??? I am fainting with overt eagerness….

  9. sorry banno for taking up so much comment space, but now i have to get it out of the system…

    and kuntal, the roles he has made me do!!! goody two bit shoes all of them. kya be???

    eg: looking spaced out in a party and in another one being the didi/aunty telling an excrutiatingly long story to a child walking away from camera.i did not even get to give ‘the gaze’ into camera!

  10. Kuntal, yes, yes, remember you and Teja with the long hair. But wasn’t that Mohnish’s song? With Shabnam acting in it? But it does beat me hollow, I guess.

    Poor Sur, you should just have put your foot down. Refused, refused, overslept, thrown heroine tantrums.

    Shweta, I wish. Getting photos/film out of FTII archives is going to be like …. I don’t know, horrendous task. But will do it one day, I promise.

  11. how arty not to have pictures of yourself as evil hottie. and by the way what about Komilla Wirk? Or Sheetal? These busty ladies are too ignored. Someone needs to resurrect them. (not me, I’ve already revealed too much of my knowledge of film history from Stardust. But Komilla in fishnet cape strumming a guitar was definitely high porn worth emulating).

  12. Wait. How does any of this beat Banno’s own song, where some dude with a mole on his butt…no! nahin! i vote, moll or no moll, moles win the day!

  13. yes yes i remember. and banno, your song was introduced to me by spacebar. it was on her list of things i must see. ummm…i think this was the only item on that list.

  14. God, I confess not to artiness, but being generally spaced out while at the Institute. Can’t believe I NEVER thought of keeping a photo.

    Oh yes, my song! Saurabh Shukla’s bum. Will he ever forgive me?

    That will be another post. Teja will hate it. He HATES my song.

  15. Boy, so many comments, I forgot what I wanted to say.
    Yes, Sharad Raj’s diploma. You played the unattainable, dream woman and I was the deflowered virgin. I remember the shot. I was sitting in the restaurant with that asshole who later does the deed to me, and I had to pour a drink in a glass. It must have been the first time I held a beer bottle in my hand. The beer overflowed and I gulped the froth. In spite of my protests, the first take was okayed.

    Uf! Insti days…

  16. Was I playing the unattainable, dream woman? Wow! A measure of my daydreaming – that I didn’t even know what I was playing. Wasn’t the deed-doer Sanjay Mishra? Right, it all comes back to me.

  17. Too bad about the photos ! Maybe the film is still with Gurpal. And the hero did finally succumb to the charms of the no good vamp😉
    Please please find the photos, and more stories about your campus days please!

  18. Hi…wonderful post! It was all the more fun reading this coz having passed out of FTII fairly recently, I remember having watched most of the playbacks mentioned above- during the pre-holi celebrations in the MT. The “Khali Bali” song is a favourite!

  19. Ah, how serendipitious! I just returned from Amsterdam and saw those very same Vermeer paintings at the Rijksmuseum🙂

    Lovely, lovely post by the way.

  20. So fabulous I know not what to say! Other than: when can we organize a raiding party of the costumes and old studio and take another crack at your moll role? You can have Greta and me as evil vite vestern backing molls.

    • Thanks, Beth. Sadly, the old Prabhat Studio trunks have been de-sanitized and made into the most boring museum ever. But it would be such fun, no, to play 3 crazy, glamorous molls.🙂

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