I joined films in 1971. My first film was Sawan Bhadon directed by Mohan Saigal. A number of films like Rampur Ka Lakshman, Kahani Kismat Ki and Kashmakash followed, but they didnt do anything significant for my career. I was called the Ugly Duckling of Hindi films because of my dark complexion and South Indian features. I used to feel deeply hurt when people compared me with the leading heroines of the time and said I was no match for them. I was determined to make it big on sheer merit.
I missed a lifetimes opportunity because I wasnt able to work with Dev Anand in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. I was so eager to play the character Janice — that shot Zeenat Aman to fame. I still respect Devsaab a lot and when he offered me the character of the regional officer of the Censor Board in his film Censor, I simply could not say no to him.
My teaming up with Amitabh Bachchan in Do Anjane earned me fame as an intense actress. Then it was Hrishikesh Mukherjees Khubsoorat in 1978 that established me as an actress of repute. I also developed a great rapport with Hrishida.
The real turning point in my life came when I performed my best in Muzaffar Alis Umrao Jaan. After reading the script, I felt I had Umrao in me — the character influenced me so much. I put my soul into each minute aspect of my performance. I was thrilled when I won the National Award for Best Actress for Umrao Jaan.
My teaming with Amitabh taught me many practical aspects of life and the film world. Hes one of the most versatile actors of Indian cinema.
Another turning point in my life could have been the movie Yatra by Gautam Ghose, had not there been strong differences between me and the director. I am currently going to be shooting for Sanjay Leela Bhansalis Bajirao Mastani.
(As told to Promita Mukherjee)