Kamal Haasan's deep connection with Waheeda Rehman & Guide
The most interesting role of Waheedaji’s career was Rosy in Guide. The ageless actress advises filmmakers against re-making it. “Hollywood would never dream of remaking Gone With The Wind. Likewise, we should not remake Guide or Pyaasa.
To play his dancer-mother in Vishwaroopam 2 in 2018, Kamal Haasan went ambitiously to Vyjayanthimala who politely showed him the door. He then approached another Bollywood legend Waheeda Rehman who rather reluctantly agreed.
The best thing about this lengthy lumbering but never uninteresting ode to anti-terrorism was the lovely wizened Waheeda Rehman. But we had to wait till after interval point for her to show up. The veteran actress was cast as the protagonist’s mother who suffers a memory loss and can only remember her son as a dancer not a nationalist fighter.
If you’ve seen the first Vishwaroopam film 5 years ago, you’d remember what the lady has forgotten. Kamal Haasan’s Kathak recital in the film resonated rather quaintly with all the macho desh bhakti/jihadi stuff as he had infiltrated into a Jihadi camp as an Islamic insurgent.
Waheedaji says she did it for Kamal Haasan. “It’s the role of an aging ex-dancer. I play a woman on a wheelchair. But to show my past as a dancer, Kamal Haasan decided to morph my face from my young Guide days. I am lucky to be still getting roles at my age. Getting meaty characters is impossible for actresses beyond a certain age. And it isn’t just in India. In Hollywood, older actresses are equally starved of substantial roles.”
Said Waheedaji, “Even Susan Sarandon, whom I met in Goa some years ago, faces the same problem. I am a big fan of Sausan Sarandon and Meryl Streep. But where are the roles for them? Meryl Streep, in fact, made a statement that she would quit Hollywood because there are no roles for her. Luckily, I never had to make such threats. I was never that ambitious.But I am not willing to play the typical grandmother, mother or aunt.”
Waheedaji sees great irony in the fact that the rules are different for the male actors. “Amitabh, who is almost my age still gets to play a variety of roles. The rules are different for actresses. I was lucky to have done some interesting roles in my career.”
The most interesting role of Waheedaji’s career was Rosy in Guide. The ageless actress advises filmmakers against re-making it. “Hollywood would never dream of remaking Gone With The Wind. Likewise we should not remake Guide or Pyaasa. These classics just happened. Even directors who make these classics are unable to repeat their achievement. After Dr Zhivago, David Lean made Ryan’s Daughter which was equally brilliant. But it did not get the same kind of success. Classics are not made. They just happen.”
Guide is not just Waheeda Rehman’s most iconic film. It was also Dev Anand’s most celebrated work. Shockingly, Waheedaji initially refused to do Guide. When the project was initiated, the director was Raj Khosla with whom the legendary actress had a difference of opinion during an earlier film Solva Saal (1958). She never worked with him after that. And she wasn’t willing to change that for Guide or any other film.
But then, Dev Anand switched on all his legendary charms. He called up Waheedaji and said, ‘Come on, Waheeda. Let bygone be bygones. Everyone makes mistakes.’ But she refused to budge. Instead, she asked Dev why his brother Vijay Anand wasn’t directing Guide. But Goldie was busy with Tere Ghar Ke Samne. Eventually, Raj Khosla was replaced by Chetan Anand. But he didn’t want Waheedaji! He to cast wanted Priya Rajvanshji as Rosy in Guide . But Dev Saab was adamant. They needed a dancer. And Priya couldn’t dance. Eventually, Vijay Anand directed Guide. That’s how Waheedaji got Guide.”
Guide in hindsight is as unimaginable without Waheeda Rehman as Agra without the Taj Mahal. I am sure Kamal Haasan agrees.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.
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