- Vikram Chandiramani
She began her Hindi film career with Shammi Kapoor in 'Kashmir Ki Kali' and 'An Evening In Paris'. Although she was too young for a film career (she was barely thirteen), her freshness and ebullience made her a selling proposition. "Acting happened too early in life," she recalls. "In fact, 'Apur Sansar', my first film and then 'Devi', were supposed to be my only films. I worked in them during my school holidays."
Being Satyajit Ray's discovery in 'Apur Sansar' gave Sharmila a distinction from the onset. In their second film together, 'Devi', her portrayal of a teenage wife whose father-in-law believes her to be the reincarnation of Kali, moved America's most respected film critic, Pauline Kael to remark, "? she is exquisite, perfect (a word I don't use casually)".
"But because of my early success with these films and because I was inundated with offers from with Shakti Samanta and Sachin Bhowmick who were known to my parents, I succumbed. So my career in films was a kind of chance with pressure, mingled with curiosity. But it was never meant to be a long-term goal. And when 'Kashmir Ki Kali' happened, it was suppose to be my only film in Bombay and I was going to get back to Calcutta. But films kind of kept happening and the acting bug slowly got hold of me." Although her initial films didn't give her much scope to prove her potential as an actress, she made an indelible mark in the minds of the audience with her performances. And with films like 'Aradhana', which charted the growth of her character from a young girl to an old woman, her career changed soon afterwards. Likewise, in a series of Rajesh Khanna hits like 'Daag', 'Amar Prem' and 'Safar', she was established as a star.
However, she continued to work with Ray, in films like 'Nayak', (where she surprised everybody by wearing spectacles throughout the film), 'Aranyer Din Ratri' and 'Seemabaddha'. "Looking back, I realise I was very different from the other actresses of my time. My behaviour was grossly misinterpreted. I felt I was making mistakes all the time. I'd wear clothes that were not suitable. Everybody would be wearing a sari and I'd turn up in jeans. I was also accused of being snooty and arrogant, which I was not. I didn't know that one was expected to lead a certain lifestyle."
However, her marriage to the former Indian cricket captain, Mansoor Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, has been one of the most successful ones in the industry, so much so that her best performances have been with the support of her husband. "Tiger was totally supportive. People were hundred percent convinced that our marriage would not last. But we have proved all of them wrong."