Hema Milini: All in the Family

Hema Malini Hema Malini's dance career has been a journey of passion and deep involvement. She is now joined by her lovely daughters, Esha and Ahana, who seem to have inherited a lot more than just their mother's beauty and charm. They have also inherited her grace and talent. WEX corners the lovely ladies for a chat


Hema Malini has enjoyed a career most of us can only envy. As cinema's dream girl, who soon became the darling of the masses, she reigned supreme. And all throughout, she juggled a successful film career with an equally successful dance career, rising steadily in both.

Today, she's tossed up her film career in favour of more meaningful pastures, including direction, writing and primarily classical dancing. A visit to her residence finds Hema fresh from a dance performance, and lazing around with beautiful daughters, Esha and Ahana. Amidst tomfoolery and mother-daughter banter, Hema speaks of her long-standing affair with Odissi. Presenting excerpts from the conversation:

Q: When was your earliest association with dance?
Hema Malini: Oh, it's a long story. It happened in Delhi, when I was just six years old. My mother put me in dance. And it was only because she wanted to learn it, that I did, and not because I really wanted to. Even as a small girl, I used to perform on stage and lots of people including foreign dignitaries, would come to watch me. Slowly, the attraction grew and then I took it up seriously. Though I took up dancing, my mother was not very satisfied with the teaching, so it was a blessing when my father shifted to Chennai. I was 12 then.

Q: Considering you were pushed into it, what were your earliest feelings for dance?
H.M.: As a small girl, anyone would prefer to play. I recall my friends playing and I would be pushed into practice. So, initially, I was a little irritated. Dancing was also difficult for me, as I was too thin. I was constantly being fed lots of eggs and milk, so I would fill out. I developed a hatred for eggs. Everyday, I'd practice before going to school and in the evenings, the dance teacher would come home. I'd alternate between music and dance.

Q: Did you have a formal arangetram?
H.M.: No arangetram. I just started dancing, first for 15 minutes and then for half-an-hour. In Chennai, I started learning from Guru Tritappa Pillay, who was also the guru of Vaijayanthimala. He taught me the perfect way of dance. He taught me till as recently as seven to eight years ago. Though bharatnatyam remaines my forte, I also learnt Kuchhipudi, Mohiniattam and Odissi.

Q: Was there ever a conflict between acting and dancing?
H.M.: Even when I was acting, I continued my dancing, because it was very essential for me. Outdoor shootings would be quite boring for me, so I'd call my guruji and learn new items. And monthly, I'd accept a few shows religiously, so as to be in touch with the stage. I remember shooting for Dharmatma in Afghanistan, and my dates were clashing with a show in Delhi, at Ashoka hotel. So, I flew down just for the show and went back. And dance was never for money, because there is no big money in it. It was just my commitment to it and for the pure pleasure of it.

Q: But didn't dancing get sidelined by acting?
H.M.: Well, what used to happen was that because of my film popularity, my dance audience increased. Everybody wanted to come and see Hema Malini dance.

Q: Did your star status prove to be an advantage or disadvantage?

Hema Malini The advantage was that the audience multiplied, but they wanted to see the filmi dance, and that I would never do. And it's my record that I haven't even done it to date. Film dance has its own place and on stage, I'm no character, but Hema Malini, the dancer. Intially, it was the thrill of watching me perform which brought in the crowds and that did disturb me. But over a period of time, the audience has matured and they come to watch and understand the dance. I think they've even forgotten that I was a film star (laughs).

Q: Do you feel our cultural dances are getting the attention they deserve?
H.M.: Yes, I feel they are. In fact, more and more youngsters have taken to one or the other form of Indian classical dances. Numerous dance institutions have sprung up. It's more of a status symbol today, to learn a dance.

Q: Is dance a form of release for you?
H.M.: It's a part of my life. If I weren't dancing, I have no clue as to what I'd be doing. There would have been a big void in my life. That's why I keep creating new concepts. Recently I did a performance in Bharathatyam at NCPA. It was a tribute to goddess Durga. I did on half of the programme on Karnatic music and the other half to Hindustani music. It was very well receivd by the audience.

Q: Would you consider doing another TV project after Noopur?
I'd loved Noopur which was a big success. I've approached a few channels but unfortunately they only want sitcoms. And I can't do that. I am very keen on doing a dance-based progamme.

Q: After you stopped accepting film work, has your involvement with dance increased?
H.M.: Definitely. I started doing many more shows, all over the country and abroad. A few years ago, I ventured into dance ballet too, and I enjoy doing it. Every show for me is a memorable and challenging show.

Q: Do you have regular practice?
H.M.: More or less, yes. It is regular. But right now, I've just done a show, so I'm not going to do any practice for a few days. I need to unwind.

Q: What is your dream project?
I want to do many more grand stage productions. When I do a production, the set can be likened to a film set. I put in a lot. I also want to open a dance academy where all forms of classical dance will be taught.

For this to happen, I have to put in a lot of money and I am looking forward to support from big corporates. I can't do it alone. I want to create this academy, not so that people can remember me, but that it continues even long after I'm gone.


Q: How old are you and what are you studying?
ESHA DEOL: I am currently studying in the tenth grade at Jamnabai Narsee.

Q: What prompted you to take up dancing?
E.D.: Earlier, I was more into enjoying life with my friends. Mamma wanted me to take up dancing instead and she enrolled me for Bharatnatyam classes when I was eight. I didn't like is as I found it too cut-to-cut. It didn't gel with me. As a result, I'd find all kinds of excuses to bunk classes. I changed many teachers too. I enjoy much more now.

Q: How often do you practice?
E.D.: As I have school, I only get to practice on Saturday and Sunday, for an hour each. Otherwise during vacations, it's more regular.

Q: Are you learning dance purely out of interest or do you want to take to it professionally?
E.D.: I'm definitely interested. I do agree that earlier it was because mamma wanted me to. But now I enjoy doing it, I won't mind taking it up as a career.

Q: But wouldn't you rather learn Western dancing like most people of your age?
E.D.: I do go to discos and enjoy Western dancing too. At one point, I wanted to join Shiamak Davar's classes but nothing worked out. In fact, I met Shiamak recently, and he told me that before I do his kind of dancing, I should study Indian dances.

Q: Does your mother inspire you to dance?
E.D.: When I'm sitting alone with her, she tells me that I must dance and it would be good for me. And it is. It's good for both the mind and the body. Yes, she does inspire me to dance.

Q: Will you be doing solo shows regularly?
E.D.: When mamma used to do her ballets, I would go and join her on the stage for a little while. So, I am quite used to the stage. Recently, I gave my first solo performance that went off quite well. I was quite nervous initially but my stage fright disappeared once I come on stage. Soon I will be performing at Poona. I am doing a solo and a duet with mamma.

Q:Is Indian dance losing its importance with your peers?
E.D.: Oh definitely. Often when my friends want to go out and I tell them that I have to stick back for dance practices, it's difficult for them to understand.

Q: Do you have any plans for a career?
E.D.: See, I'm definitely going to continue to dance, but I want to study interior designing also.

Q: What about films?
E.D.: I haven't given it any thought right now.

Q: Without being biased, whom would you rate as the best dancer between Vaijayanthimala, Jaya Prada and your mother?
E.D.: See, I've hardly seen the other two, dance. I've only seen my mother dancing, so I'd say she's the best.

Q: How has being Hema Malini's daughter affected your life?
E.D.: It doesn't really make a difference at home because she's like any other mom. But when I go out with her, people stare at me. I've gotten used to it now. When I go out with her at a function, both Ahana and myself take a step behind and just observe her. That's when we are in awe of Hema Malini, the star.