It is a connection that goes beyond ‘strictly work’. These filmmakers have been the Professor Higgins to their Eliza Doolittles. They have picked and polished and refined and challenged their subjects, till they shone like diamonds. And in turn, they have been inspired and transformed themselves. The mentor-muse relationship flowered then and continues to blossom in some amazing alliances.
Ties that bind
As her coach-cum-dad, he pushed her to greater glory onscreen. The mission has carried forth into real life, as Aamir Khan appears to feel personally responsible for the growth of Fatima Sana Shaikh, who played his daughter Geeta Phogat in Dangal. While Fatima continued to intern with Aamir’s production house, she has been learning the ropes first-hand from one who perhaps knows them best.
In turn, Aamir was allegedly instrumental in getting Fatima her forthcoming break in Thugs of Hindostan, and she will most likely feature in his dream Mahabharata project as well, when it materializes. The actor is said to guide Shaikh in everything from diet, exercise regimen, and even her choice of films. The world might whisper; this mentor-muse duo couldn’t care less.
It was a meeting of minds and more, when Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman laid eyes on each other in 1956, and went on to embark on one of the more stormy relationships off screen in Hindi cinema. Waheeda Rehman would become the director's muse in some of his finest works, including the eternal classic Pyaasa (1957). Decades after he had passed away due to an overdose of sleeping pills, she would still refuse to discuss their alleged affair.
“I don't want to get into it... my private life is nobody's business.” She did however share an interesting insight into their work relationship… “Though my association with Guru Dutt, who was also my mentor, was remarkable but it was difficult to work with him. He would take multiple shots of a single scene. He was also not content with his own scenes. He would often say, 'Aur ho jaaye...'”
Roots & Wings
The future of Padmavati is to be decided after the Gujarat elections, but filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali is reportedly already planning his next, a contemporary love story set. And yes, it will apparently be Ranveer Singh yet again, who will be his hero. After three period dramas - Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani and Padmavati – this mentor and muse duo have achieved a tuning that is rare to find.
“Mr Bhansali has extracted from me some of my most special performances. He has opened my eyes, expanded my universe and given me wings to fly. He has managed to bring out that which I myself didn't realise I had within me,” the awe-struck actor has professed.
It was fascination…
A serendipitous meeting, and the infatuated young actor-filmmaker insisted on launching the exquisite 19-year-old in his film Aag (1948). The professional and personal partnership between Raj Kapoor and Nargis spawned 16 wonderful films, gave the RK Films banner its famous logo, and rewrote the prevailing concepts of romance onscreen.
“Nargis was my inspiration, meri sphoorti (my energy),” the Showman had said decades after their relationship had run its course. “Women have always meant a lot in my life but Nargis meant more than anybody else. I used to always tell her, ‘Krishna is my wife, she is the mother of my children. I want you to be the mother of my films’.”
Potent even in death
“I owe everything that I am today to my brief association with this magnificent woman. She was the turning point in my life,” said Mahesh Bhatt of his muse – or was she the mentor? – Parveen Babi.
Even after they called it quits after two years of a live-in relationship, he dedicated his 1982 landmark Arth to his once-muse. Post her demise in 2005, he went on to make Woh Lamhe, a poignant depiction of his relationship with Babi, the woman whose “generosity and kindness were unparalled.”
“This transcends love. I am almost in a trance...” the legendary artist M F Husain had mused about his obsession, Madhuri Dixit.
A full 55 viewings of her film Hum Aapke Hai Koun, a monumental series of paintings inspired by her, and even a film, Gaja Gamini about the limitless facets of the Indian woman embodied in his muse, this bond stayed strong till the very end. “He shared a very beautiful bond with me,” said Madhuri, after his demise, “I will always miss him.”
Ram Gopal Varma was upfront in his fascination with his muse Urmila Matondkar. “After coming into films, the first girl to have an impact on me was Urmila Matondkar. I was mesmerized by her beauty — from her face to her figure... everything about her was just divine.
She had done a few films before Rangeela, which hadn’t done well and she hadn’t made much of an impact on the audience either. Then, after Rangeela, she became the nation’s sex symbol.” RGV openly admitted that it was his own unrealistic expectations from Urmila that crushed their relationship. “She was, in person, a simple sweetheart but I, very selfishly, always wanted her to be larger-than-life even in real life.”
When it comes to mentors and muses, the line all too often blurs…