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Ludhiana Personality :: Simi Grewal

Simi Grewal

Simi Garewal is an Indian hindi movie actress. Born in Ludhiana District, her father was a Brigadier in the army. She is a Sikh by birth, Simi was shunted to London when she was barely six years old and stayed in the foggy city till she completed her O levels. She grew up in England and came back to India as a teen to become an actress. With her Armani clothes and silken hair, Simi Garewal has been one of the most stylish actresses in the film industry for 40 years.

But the early exposure to Hindi films had already won a convert. Simi remembers seeing the Raj Kapoor classic Awara when she was just five and says it "blew my mind". Her father wanted her to study drama but a determined Simi, who was still in her teens, was keen on coming to India. Her father capitulated after she threatened to go on a hunger fast. In the early 1960s, Simi came down to India with her mother with little more than a working knowledge of Hindi.

They stayed at the plush Hotel Ambassador in Mumbai, but Simi had to scrabble hard for success like any other newcomer. She joined the Filmalaya Acting School and jogged Mehboob Khan's memory about a chance meeting between the two years earlier when a childish Simi had professed her eagerness to act. Khan remembered the spunky child and, since he was in the process of wrapping up Son Of India (1962), he offered Simi a small role in the film.

Other supporting roles came Simi's way and she humbly made the most of them. She was one of the Teen Deviyan in Dev Anand's life in the ambitious 1965 film. The same year, Simi acted in Johar Mehmood In Goa, which surprised people by becoming a hit.

The newcomer with expressive eyes, sylph-like figure and measured manner captivated the audience when she played the third angle in Raj Khosla's love story Do Badan (1966). As the doctor who falls in love with her blind, melancholic patient (Manoj Kumar) but cannot make him forget the love of his life (Asha Parekh), Simi was the picture of grace and restraint. She bagged Filmfare's Best Supporting Actress Award.

Sure, Simi's accented Hindi could sometimes raise sniggers among the audience but many noted directors rushed to control this and utilise her keenly thought out acting ability.

Simi won another award for Saathi where, in a departure from her sympathetic image, she played a spoilt rich girl who sets her eyes on Rajendra Kumar and marries him -- though he remains faithful to his first love Vyjayanthimala. Director Sridhar lavished a couple of heavenly Naushad-Lata Mangeshkar combinations on Simi (including the title song) and the sari-clad young actress did full justice to that paean to unrequited love, Yeh kaun aaya roshan ho gayi mehfil.

But Simi's genteel cucumber sandwich image stopped her from being accepted in the regular naach gaana (song and dance) genre. She needed directors of calibre to tap her potential.

Raj Kapoor cast her perfectly in her career-defining role in Mera Naam Joker (1970) as the soft-spoken teacher who loves Manoj Kumar but maturely handles her adolescent student Rishi Kapoor's massive crush on her.

When Satyajit Ray cast her in his Bengali film Aranyer Din Ratri (1969), Simi was over the moon. Especially because the auteur went against type and cast her as a tribal girl seduced by a city slicker.

Noted director K A Abbas also experimented with Simi's image and cast her in his Do Boond Paani (1971) as a demure rural wife battling against a perennial water shortage, but keeping alive her hope represented by the canal her husband (Jalal Agha) is busy building.

Simultaneously, in commercial cinema, Simi struggled to make the best of the non-pivotal roles opposite major stars that came her way. In Ramesh Sippy's Andaz (1971), she was endearing as Shammi Kapoor's sweeter-than-molasses wife who dies to gift him a much-desired child. In Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Namak Haram (1973), she was the rich but eternally sympathetic voice of sanity who tries to curb Amitabh Bachchan's anger. In Prakash Mehra's Haath Ki Safai (1974), she just threw her long hair around in the hit number, Waada kar le saajna.

International filmmaker Conrad Rooks' Siddhartha (1972) was considered the high point in Simi's career at this stage. Shashi Kapoor played the salvation-seeking protagonist who learns much about the art of loving from Simi's character. Unfortunately in India, much of the film's finer points were overshadowed by the brouhaha over Simi's topless shots.

By the mid-1970s, Simi's career seemed to have run out of steam. Films like Chalte Chalte, which cast her as older woman opposite newcomer Vishal Anand did not make waves despite the melodious music; while a blockbuster like Kabhi Kabhie had her in a peripheral role (as Neetu Singh's foster mother).

Simi's marriage did not work out but the actress did enjoy resurgence in 1980 with Subhash Ghai's Karz, where she let go of her vanity to play a Machiavellian vamp that cold-bloodedly kills her husband (Raj Kiran) only to encounter her nemesis in his reincarnated version (Rishi Kapoor).

Later in the 80’s, she decided to expand her role in the world of cinema and tried her hand at writing & direction. She formed her own production company Siga Arts International. In 1983 she wrote and directed a full length Hindi film Rukhsat and produced television commercials. In 1984, she produced, directed and hosted India's first TV magazine it’s a Woman's World. She discovered her special forte in 1986, when she began a documentary on the Showman of Indian Cinema - Raj Kapoor for Channel 4. The documentary was released in England to rave reviews and established Simi as a credible creator of intelligent, sensitive film portraits.

She travelled with Rajeev Gandhi all over the world to film the various dimensions of his personality and today, the film is an archival treasure. From her experience of communication and unfolding the personality of the subject on camera, was born the idea of the present show “Rendezvous”. She realized that putting on film the lives of achievers was a fascinating art. A successful person’s career and personal life are of perennial interest to viewers or readers, which is why so many shows and magazines are based on celebrity lives. This is why Rendezvous was an excellent ‘communications’ show. It hit the target accurately.

Simi followed up this achievement with an even bigger coup. India's Rajiv was a three-part special on Rajiv Gandhi, which was a result of painstaking research and subject study for four and a half years. Her 3-part documentary on Rajiv Gandhi titled India's Rajiv received acclaim. Her other directorial ventures include 9 campaign films for Rajiv Gandhi's election campaign in 1991, a docu-drama series Maharaja, an award winning ad film for Vimal Fabrics

Simi’s biggest victory was when she persuaded the elusive Rupert Murdoch to appear in her show. The most powerful media lord in the world, he never appears on television. Jayalalithaa was another guest who changed her life. Since she interviewed her, she started believing that every person is born complete. A woman does not need to have a man’s umbrella over her head or motherhood as a locket around her neck to become complete.

Simi Garewal, the ‘woman in white’, is supposed to have been influenced by Raj Kapoor, whom she admired greatly. Every vista in her home is either white or a shade of cream. The sofas, the walls, the floor, the terrace grill, the dining area — and even the dogs— synchronise in the rhapsody of whites and creams the artifacts are however, in contrasting colours. These have been collected from all over the world. The Thai statues, the crystal candle holders, silver ornaments, the lamps, the carpet and the cushions — all these only complement the serenity of the white ambience. She always believed that white and its associated colours create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. She designed her own home and even the sets of her show with this concept of peace in mind. The sets of the show are almost a replica of her terrace.

After living in England for years, Simi started her career in India as a film star. "I have acted in 65 films altogether," she says, "And my favourite is Mera Naam Joker. Another memorable film is Siddhartha. But around the 80s, I decided to quit films. Television was just happening in India and I created a show called Woman’s World for Doordarshan. This was sponsored by Reliance. But I found that neither Doordarshan nor Indian society were ready for such a show. So-called women activists protested it and the media killed it. Doordarshan, scared of the controversy, quickly closed it down.

But when satellite TV came to India in 1992, a whole new media revolution happened. By this time the people were ready for the general spirit of liberalization, which was sweeping the world. They were seeing Western programmes on many channels and they could appreciate different points of view. Television and viewers were ready for a show like Rendezvous. I chose this concept after much thought. I am passionately interested in people and how they handle their relationships; how they are really behind their defences and public persona. I wanted to interview celebrities who could teach everyone something new each time they spoke. I always concentrate on relationships because the viewers do not know that aspect of a celebrity’s life. I make someone else join the show, and the other person — friend or relative — adds a new dimension to the show. I believe each person in this world is close to an average of six people. If my research can reach any of them, I have a good show."

Simi an inveterate reader and net surfer, goes through all the materials and then works out her questions. She then pursues school teachers and friends, relatives, acquaintances and associates who can add some depth to the interview. Most celebrities have books, magazine articles and websites devoted to them. There is plenty of material, which divulges the lesser known aspects of their lives.

Simi’s interviews are always spontaneous. There are no rehearsals. No questions are given to the interviewee Simi says, "I know the flow of questions exactly, the areas of the interviewee’s life which I wish to explore and I am confident that I can handle the show in my own way. I shoot a great deal and then edit the show to the required length. My own home has a state of the art editing studio, which is fully computerised. I love computers and use them for work and leisure. I was the sixth Indian to register for an Internet connection. I love new technology and spend hours serving and playing games on the computer because this is the heart of modern communications."

Still nifty even in her 50s, Simi may not have always got her due but the diva seems to have finally found her groove.