EXCLUSIVE: It was difficult to watch mom with other co actors, says Esha Deol on mom Hema Malini
Five decades and Dreamgirl Hema Malini’s aura continues undiminished. A superstar who front-lined innumerable blockbusters. A danseuse who lends spirituality to her skill. A politician equally in command in the portals of power… Hema Malini’s persona is way larger than the 70 mm.
But to her daughters, Esha Deol Takhtani and Ahana Deol Vohra, she’s simply their beloved mother, at times indulging, at times inspiring. To her grandchildren, Esha’s daughter’s Radhya and Miraya and Ahana’s son Darian and twin girls Astraia and Adea, she’s the generous grandma – showering love and goodies.
In an exclusive with Pinkvilla, Esha gives an insight into her bond with her mother, from whom she derives the passion to pursue her dreams and preserve her dignity.
IN ESHA’S OWN WORDS…
“My earliest memory of Mom is of her getting ready for shooting. As a kid, it was exciting for me to watch the flurry of activity around her every morning – her hairdresser, make-up man and others busy around her. I was enamoured by the colourful lipsticks and would end up breaking them. After a point, Mom had to get me a wig of sorts and some outfits like hers to keep me from destroying her stuff.
“When I began attending school, it was a different scene. I had to get ready for school while she would be leaving for shooting. But I’d insist on accompanying her. I’d bawl my heart out. A tug of war would ensue with the nanny pulling me from her arms. It was a huge task for the nanny as I was a heavy kid. With the resistance I showed, the nanny would get scratched with my nails.
“There’s a four-and-a-half-year gap between my sister and me. I remember this conversation when Mom asked me, ‘Do you want a baby to play with and give you company?’ I said, ‘Yeah I want’. Then Ahana Deol arrived. Though Mom gave us both all the attention, I’d get possessive about the nanny and the nurse tending to Ahana. Mom and I’d sleep on the bed while Ahana would be in the cot. I’d do silly things to win attention like insisting I drink milk from Ahana’s bottle.
“Our regular trips to London during the summer vacation with Dad (veteran Dharmendra) and Mom were memorable. Mom would cook and we girls would do the dishes. We have also been on adventurous trips to the jungles in India including the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. They were not always about comfort. We roughed it out there. Visiting Vrindavan, Kashmir and even the Swiss Alps were wonderful experiences. Mom enjoys photography and horse riding.
“We accompanied Mom on film outdoors and experienced India extensively. Her film Rihaee (1988) was shot in Gujarat. It was fun to watch so many actors on the set and the activity around. After I joined films, just the three of us went for a holiday to Mauritius. Ahana and I wanted her to be a ‘beach babe’. But Mom refused and was happing relaxing on the sunbed.
“Coming back to my childhood, there was a library of VHS cassettes in Mom’s room. After school, I’d select a film of my choice for viewing. Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) would be on repeat watch every day. It was my favourite film. As a kid, I found it difficult to watch her with other co-actors on screen. It was the same with dad. Though I could never voice my dislike to them. With time, I enjoyed watching Satte Pe Satta (1982).
“Mom was a loving and caring mother but she was clear about maintaining discipline and decency. Like she didn’t approve of late nights. She didn’t stop us from wearing shorts or spaghetti tops but there was a line drawn. While we were young, we were lovely babies. But when we hit teenage right up to the early 20s, she truly tolerated us. She being strict about certain things, we started hiding and doing things from her.
“I was a rebellious kid. I wanted my way or the highway. I made some mistakes and learnt from them. She watched me from a distance, making the wrong choices. But she never said ‘don’t do this or don’t do that’. She’d just say, ‘This decision may not turn out to be the best. If you want to experience something like this, then you have to fight your own battle’. The ‘fight your own battle’ stance toughened me. That’s the only way you learn. You fall, you get up and move on. But Mom always had my back.
“My desire to move towards films was an organic process. I have grown up seeing my mother dance and act. Every daughter is in awe of her mother. So, I too was drawn towards the arts. In fact, I find her looking her gorgeous best when she’s on stage performing in the Maa Durga get-up.
“When I became an actor, she gave me a few handy tips. One of them was how to hug a co-actor on camera without letting him actually hug you. It was a cool trick where the control lay in my hands, whereby I could move them away or draw them closer. Having said that, all my co-actors have been great. They smell great too. Most of them are my friends. But it was subtly clear how close they could get.
“When I entered the industry (Esha debuted with Koi Mere Dil Se Poochhe in 2002), I had no clue about what was coming my way. I was 18, naïve and innocent, and coming from a place that makes you believe all’s so beautiful in the world. When the reviews started coming in, I was shocked being directly compared to my mother. Gradually, like most star kids, you become immune. (Smiles) We have no choice.
“Mom’s my advisor, my go-to person in the personal aspects as well. She may say something in a matter-of-fact way. But later you realise that she’s said something so important. Like when I got married, she said you may be settling down but never lose your identity.
“She insists on keeping patience. As women, we both have the same outlook towards our life partners – like holding them in respect and looking up to them. We also believe in giving space to our partners and not making them feel claustrophobic. Just as we appreciate the same space for ourselves. Mom has always underlined that a woman should hold herself with dignity.
“I am more like Dad, be it in my outlook or physicality. But the ambition and the willpower to pull it through comes from my mother. Like I recently wrote a book (Amma Mia: Stories, advice and recipes from one mother to another) and turned producer (starred in and produced the digital short film Ek Duaa). Being creative, we need to keep doing something or we drive people around us mad.
“You realise there’s no end to learning when you observe her. During the lockdown, for the first time Mom was at home for so long. She joined online Hindustani singing classes. She has a fine voice and practises singing every day. She also joined online Urdu classes. Incidentally, Dad writes beautiful Urdu poetry.
“As a grandmother she’s extremely sweet. She breaks the rules we set up for our kids. With her around, they do all the things they’re not supposed to do. My daughters raid her dressing table. Nani lets them use her lipstick, her make-up, wear her shoes… I don’t deprive the children of screen time but there’s a limit. But with Nani they keep on playing games.
“I love Mom immensely and tell her that often. The day doesn’t go by without calling her. If by chance she’s missed calling me then I joke in Tamil, ‘Nī eṉṉai maṟantuviṭṭāy (you have forgotten me)!’ Whatever I can do in my capacity to keep her happy, healthy, safe and comfortable I do. We’re more like friends and enjoy fun conversations. We’re both strong individuals – a child is what the mother is. The umbilical cord between us is intact.”