Location Diaries: When an elephant went crazy
Zarina Wahab talks about her experiences on the sets of Punnaram Cholli Cholli, Agar, Naayattu, Navarathinam and Toofan
The shoot of the Areyarayo Kinginiyo song in Punnaram Cholli Cholli (1985) was in front of a temple. Zarina Wahab was paired with Rahman. There were ten caparisoned elephants standing in the courtyard. The dance was being shot in front of them.
The shoot was going along fine, when suddenly, one man on the set irritated an elephant. The animal roared and began chasing the man, who fled, at high speed. The elephant then rushed to a nearby coconut grove and began ripping off the trees one by one.
“Everybody was shocked,” says Zarina. “The cameraman, the director and all the actors moved away and watched the destruction from afar.” It took a mahout a long time to bring the elephant under control. Not surprisingly, the shoot was cancelled for the day.
Zarina had another encounter with an animal. For Agar (1977), director Ismail Shroff told Zarina she had to ride a horse because she, along with the hero, played by Amal Palekar, were on their honeymoon in Kashmir. “I was very scared of horses,” says Zarina. “Ismail wanted the horse to go fast, but I was reluctant. Ismail was deeply upset.”
In the end, the scene was shot of the two horses ambling side by side. “When I saw the scene on the screen, I realised that the movement of the horses did not match the mood,” says Zarina. “I felt bad.”
But Zarina felt good on the sets of Naayattu (1980), a remake of the Hindi film, Zanjeer, where she acted opposite Prem Nazir.
“He was such a big star, but what impressed me was how warm, kind and down-to-earth he was,” says Zarina. “I would always sit behind him. Whenever the shot was ready he would go and act, without any fuss.”
Another great artist whom Zarina met was MG Ramachandran (MGR). This was for the 1977 film, Navarathinam (Nine Gems). At that time, Zarina had a friend Vijaya who belonged to her hometown of Vishakapatnam. Vijaya had shifted to Chennai and was doing small roles.
One day Zarina introduced her friend to MGR at Gemini Studios in Chennai. She said, “Sir, this is my friend Vijaya. If there are any roles, can you give her a chance?”
MGR remained silent and just stared at Zarina.
After a few moments, Zarina said, “Sorry Sir, did I say anything wrong?”
MGR shook his head and said, “In my entire career, I have worked with so many heroines. But you are the first woman who is suggesting another female for a role.”
On the sets of Toofan (1989), it was Zarina‘s turn to show appreciation. The main role was being played by Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
The shoot was in a jungle at Mysore. So, there were no make-up rooms. Instead, the crew made a small hut where everyone would do their make-up and change their clothes.
One morning, at 7 a.m., Zarina went inside the hut and did her make-up. Since nobody called her, she remained inside for the next three hours.
But when she came out she got a shock: Amitabh was sitting under a tree and getting his make-up done. “I rushed up and said, ‘I am so sorry, sir. I did not know you were here. You should have sent someone to tell me. I would have come out‘,” says Zarina.
Amitabh remained calm and said, “It’s all right. Ladies need the make-up room more than men.”
A smiling Zarina says, “Amitabh was a superstar, but he did not suffer from a superiority complex. In fact, he is a very nice person.”