Beginning her career at the age of 15, as the ill-fated bride in Satyajit Ray's 1959 Bengali film Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), she went on to become the highest paid actress between 1970 and 1976, along with Mumtaz.
Her pairing with Rajesh Khanna was much appreciated, yet she maintains, “There is so much more to life…I was an accidental actress… I kept telling myself I’d quit after every film... But it continued.” Among her top films to watch would be Kashmir Ki Kali, Anupama, Nayak, An Evening in Paris, Satyakam, Aradhana, Aranyer Din Ratri, and Mausam.
Ever the Sixties’ diva, it was Tagore herself who suggested to Shakti Samanta that she should wear a bikini in An Evening in Paris. Fearing the wrath of the Censor Board, the filmmaker insisted on a modest one-piece – even that song was clipped out during a screening on Doordarshan! Incidentally, La Tagore had her bikini moment on the cover of Filmfare, shocking the conservatives. Decades later, the stunner maintained, “That was so frowned upon during my time. Now it has become a cult thing. It’s still considered a big deal. The Indian mindset has not changed at all.”
The mutual attraction between her and Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan aka Tiger Pataudi, the dashing young captain of the Indian cricket team, started in 1965, when they were introduced by common friends in Delhi. He wooed her for four long years, and finally she capitulated. The families were initially unwilling. “When we decided to get married, we didn’t even know the words secular or communal — we were in the throes of young love; we didn’t know what the fuss around us was all about,” she later revealed. “We weren’t aware of the larger ramifications because for us, the world began and ended with each other.” At the peak of her career, they wed. The marriage lasted 41 years till Pataudi passed away in 2011.
The exquisite Tagore spawned a galaxy of copycats, who raced to ape her Cleopatra-like winged eyeliner, her pencil-thin arched eyebrows, and that voluminous bouffant. Incidentally, decades later, when asked about the one thing she would want to change in herself, she revealed, “My hair! I remember all my directors discouraging me from doing the elaborate bouffant. But I wouldn’t listen. I never did!”
Today she has a fan in her daughter-in-law, Kareena Kapoor. “She is my inspiration as she continued her career despite getting married and having children. She worked with biggest superstars and filmmakers. It is important for me to do that. She will always be my inspiration to have a career and family together,” the younger actress has stated. Tagore has served as CBFC Chairperson, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and jury member at Cannes, and today manages the Pataudi Trust, which undertakes philanthropic initiatives and contributes towards various social causes.
Awards and Rewards
Decorated with the Padma Bhushan in 2013, she has picked up National Film Awards for Mausam and Abar Aranye, besides other popular film awards. However, she rues the lack of good roles for older female actors, which explains her absence from the screen. “So many scripts are written for elderly male actors, these things are not happening for female actors. The girls have to be very young and the men can carry on forever. In my time, life stopped at 30 or 40, but it doesn’t have to be because life carries on and there are a lot of interesting phases in life which the audience might like.” Out-spoken as always!