Sharmila Tagore – ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ of Bollywood cinema

Sharmila Tagore is a former actress who predominantly worked in Bollywood and Bengali cinema, mostly in the era of 1960s and 1970s. She was one of the A-grade actresses of 1960s and early 1970s. She played lead role in some of the blockbuster hits of 1960s and 1970s, mostly directed by Shakti Samanta. Aradhana is the biggest hit of her career which she did after her marriage with former Indian cricketer and captain Mansoor Ali Khan. Apart from Aradhana, Amar Prem, An Evening in Paris, Kashmir Ki Kali, Amanush and Charitraheen are her major works with Samanta. Among all Indian heroes, her pairing with Rajesh Khanna remained super hit. In fact they were paired for the first time in Aradhana, which became a trendsetter of early 1970s and also gave the first superstar to Indian screen through Rajesh Khanna.

The Bengali beauty Sharmila Tagore was born in Kanpur, present-day UP in 1944. She has both Bengali and Assamese background. Her father belonged to Rabindranath Tagore’s family of Bengal, and thus Sharmila is a member of the intellectual Tagore family. Interestingly both her parents are related to Tagore family. She has two younger sisters. Satyajit Ray’s 1959 Bengali film Apur Sansar marked her film debut, and she played the role of a child bride. Also read: Sharmila Tagore’s best Bollywood songs.

Shakti Samanta’s Kashmir Ki Kali in 1964 was her debut Bollywood film, and the success of the movie established her career in Bollywood. Since then she became the muse of his lion share works of 1960s and 1970s. Some of her major works later include – An Evening in Paris, Anupama, Aradhana, Amar Prem, Daag, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Mausam, Mere Humdum Mere Dost, Yakeen, Safar, Chupke Chupke, Satyakam, Charitraheen, Aavishkar, Faraar, Besharama, New Delhi Times,  Desh Premi, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi etc. After each film she just wanted to get out of films, as she didn’t like it initially. But with the success of each film, she went on to sign more.

She married cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi in 1969 in a Muslim wedding ceremony, and also changed her name to Begum Ayesha Sultana Khan. Unlike many Bollywood heroines, her career best performances happened after marriage, which helped her to gain the fame of one of the talented and popular actresses of Bollywood all-time. In fact she got her biggest hit of her career – Aradhana exactly at the same year of marriage. She got married a couple of months after the movie’s premiere. With late 1980s she moved to character roles and reduced her work significantly. She was last seen in 2010 Bollywood film, Break Ke Baad.

She received her first and only Filmfare award for best actress for playing Vandhana in Aradhana. She received National award for best actress for 1975 movie, Mausam. She played double role in the film. She received National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2002 for Bengali film, Abar Aranye. In 2013 she was honoured with Padma Bhushan along with her popular co-star Rajesh Khanna. But Khanna received the honour posthumously.

Sharmila Tagore – Some interesting and less-known facts

sharmila tagore songs

A scene from Charitraheen movie

1. She is related to famous Tagore family of Bengal both through her father and mother. Both of them were distant relatives. Her father Gitindranath Tagore was the grandson of the noted painter Gaganendranath Tagore, a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. Thus Gaganendranath was the paternal great-grandfather of actress.

2. Her maternal grandmother Latika Tagore (maiden name) was the granddaughter of Rabindranath Tagore’s brother Dwijendranath Tagore. Thus Sharmila is related to painter Abanindranath Tagore and other artist members of Tagore family.

3. Tagore is also a distant relative of the actress Devika Rani.

4. Noted Assamese writer and freedom fighter Jnanadabhiram Barua was her maternal grandfather while maternal great-grandfather Gunabhiram Barua was a writer, historian and freedom fighter of 19th century. Thus she is also related to Anandaram Dhekial Phukan, a pioneer of Assamese literature.

5. She never wanted to become an actress and dreamt to become a dancer. She claims herself to be an accidental actress and never liked herself in ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ when she watched it.

6. Many of her family members are associated with Bollywood film industry. Her son Saif Ali Khan, former daughter-in-law Amrita Singh, present daughter-in-law Kareena Kapoor (thus linking to famous Kapoor family), daughter Soha Ali Khan, son-in-law Kunal Khemu and granddaughter Sara Ali Khan are all into acting, and have earned name and fame in this field.

7. She joined film industry at the age of 13 and left school studies after that. When she had to choose one among the two, she chose films over studies, and her decision was supported by parents.  

8. She was one of the first Bollywood actresses to appear in a 2-piece bikini on the cover page of a film magazine Filmfare in 1968, and she also wore a bikini for ‘Aasman Se Aaya Farishta’ song of ‘An Evening in Paris’ one year earlier. The usage of bikini shocked a lot of conservative Indians. But she insisted to wear it. Bollywood actresses like Saira Banu (April Fool), Nutan (Dilli Ka Thug), Sadhana (Waqt and Budtameez), Nalini Jaywant (Sangram) and Tanuja (Chand Aur Suraj) have also appeared in swim suits earlier. Sharmila was the first mainstream actress to appear in a 2-piece bikini for any magazine cover.

9. Though she mostly played traditional roles till mid-1960s, she preferred to call herself as ‘Sex Symbol’. Cover page shot in bikini was her idea to break that barrier, and so was her decision to wear swim suit for An Evening in Paris. Interestingly she played a traditional girl next year through same director’s Aradhana released the following year, and her screen reformation was warmly welcomed. She played a young woman, lover, mother, widow and old woman in a single movie, and this work is regarded as her career best performance, though she didn’t over act or shed too many tears. Shakti Samanta was a bit doubtful if audience would accept her in this role after she established as a glamorous girl and sex symbol in Bollywood.

An Eveining in Paris – which idolized the actress as a sex symbol

10. Pataudi was head over heels in love with the actress when he proposed her. He was serving as Indian test team captain when they briefly dated and got married. She was one of the most popular and successful actresses then. After marriage she continued with her film journey and received her career best roles after that. Earlier known as a glam doll she gained recognition as a performer after marriage, bagging one Filmfare award and two national film awards.

11. Her successful pairing with Rajesh Khanna happened only after her marriage, and interestingly her career best films too.

12. Her association with both Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna, directed by Shakti Samanta gave her the milestone movies of her career. In fact she marked her Bollywood debut through Shakti Samata’s Kashmir Ki Kali playing lead role opposite Shammi Kapoor. Her pairing with Rajesh Khanna for Samanta’s Aradhana and Amar Prem are regarded as her career best roles. Though both were woman-centric roles, it was Rajesh Khanna who got benefited most.

A screenshot from Aradhana – The milestone movie of her career, and the single movie which bagged her Filmfare award for best actress

13. She was pregnant with Saif Ali Khan when her biggest blockbuster ‘Aradhana’ got released. The film ran in full packed houses and also completed platinum jubilee. She was carrying Saif in her womb when she attended most of the success parties and functions, related to the movie’s success. She also bagged her single Filmfare award for best actress the same year (1970) for this film.   

14. While doing mother’s role in Aradhana, initially she was not willing to dye her hair. She went on to argue with the director that even her mother in the 40s don’t have grey hair. Even director’s words that hardships can turn a person’s hair grey easily were not enough to convince her. Director even told that it won’t differentiate between screen mother and son if she appears with black hair. Later the director shot a few scenes as she demanded, and she could easily identify her mistake.

15. Shakti Samanta remained one of the top directors of 1970s. Yet Sharmila remained only one heroine who was courageous enough to argue with the director and made him give a node for her demands, either wearing bikini for An Evening In Paris or to appear without dying hair to play Rajesh Khanna’s mother in Aradhana.

16. She along with Rajesh Khanna appeared in one of the most sensuous songs of Bollywood – Roop Tera Mastana, at a time when such erotic songs were not common in Bollywood. Interestingly the entire song was pictured in a single shot, perhaps for the first time ever in Bollywood.

aradhana songs

Roop Tera Mastana – song filmed in a single shot

17. Among all heroes, her pairing with Rajesh Khanna was most appreciated, and is always regarded as one of the best Bollywood jodis. In fact their Jodi was also frequently compared with Khanna-Mumtaz pair, who also delivered numerous hits. Apart from Aradhana, they worked together in Malik, Amar Prem, Daag, Raja Rani, Avishkar, Tyaag, Safar, Choti Bahu and also Badnam Farishte (cameo roles). The pair delivered 7 box office hits out of 10 works together.

18. She played an extended cameo role aside Rajesh Khanna in the movie, Badnam Farishte which featured a bunch of newcomers. It was Khanna’s first flop after registering 17 consecutive hits during 1969-1971 (a record still to be broken). Interestingly his next flop movie ‘Malik’ where he played lead role also starred Sharmila Tagore as this atheist wife. Thus two flop movies of Rajesh Khanna between a series of hit films also had Tagore in a pivot role.

Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna in ‘Daag: A Poem of Love’

19. She worked with Shashi Kapoor in maximum number of films, and they worked together in more than 10 films. Waqt, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Aamne Samne, Suhana Safar and New Delhi Times are the major works together. She also gave two blockbusters with Shashi Kapoor’s brother Shammi Kapoor through Kashmir Ki Kali and An Evening in Paris, and both these roles are poles apart. As far as I know she never worked with elder brother Raj Kapoor.

20. Her pairing with Dharmendra was also well appreciated. They did 7 movies together including Anupama, Yakein and Mere Humdum Mere Dost. She was paired with Rajendra Kumar in 1969 film, Talaash, one of the most expensive films made in the era.

21. ‘Mere Sapnon Ki Rani’ song was a trendsetter in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Sharmila’s ‘Sharmili’ looks while Rajesh Khanna tries to woo her is one of the iconic romantic scenes of Bollywood ever. Interestingly, in reality, she is not looking at Rajesh Khanna and her scenes were entirely shot in a film studio. The combination scenes were just camera tricks and a clever editing perfectly nailed the song. She was busy shooting for a Satyajit Ray film, while Rajesh Khanna was filming the song sequence.

22. One of her two younger sisters – Oindrila played the pivot role of Mini in Bollywood iconic film, Kabuliwala released in 1957. It was her single screen appearance. Thus she was the first member from her family to join films. Now she is not alive.

23. She appeared in a total of 58 films – 10 Bengali, one each in English, Marathi and Malayalam and the rest in Bollywood.

24. Sharmila Tagore was heading Censor board when Saif Ali Khan won National award for best actor in 2004. When an average performance in a humour role for Hum Tum earned him National award, it was heavily criticized. But the movie is also known as the first solo box office hit of the actor’s career.

25. Through her first daughter-in-law Amrita Singh, she is related to socialite Rukhsana Sultana, builder Sobha Singh, politician Ujjal Singh, writer Khushwant Singh, Bollywood actors – Begam Para, Dilip Kumar, Nasir Khan, Ayub Khan etc.

26. A film was to be made on ‘Devdas’ starring Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore and Hema Malini. Due to lack of funds the project never materialized. 

27. She is the first actor/actress to receive National film award for portraying a double role on screen, belonging to any language. She won the honour for 1975 film, Mausam, where she played a simpleton girl as well as her prostitute daughter. 

rafi madan mohan

She was the first actor to receive National film award for portraying a double role on screen

28. She shares her birthday with her favourite co-star Dharmendra on 8th December. They worked together in movies like Anupama, Yakein, Mere Humdum Mere Dost, Chupke Chupke, Satyakam etc, and they remained one of the top pairs of 1960s and 1970s.


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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