Posted by Fenil Seta
As told to Natasha Coutinho (MUMBAI MIRROR; May 19, 2017)
She was one of my closest friends of almost 40 years. The Marathi acting community was small when we started out and we grew together under the tutelage of the same guru, Vijaya Mehta. Reema went on to do Hindi films and changed the face of the onscreen mother. But she never left Marathi theatre. She never realised how big she had become.
We would go on trips together; we had our own group—Bharti Achrekar, Suhas Joshi, Smita Talwalkar, Vandana Gupte, Reema and I. We lost Smita to cancer a few years ago but we continued to hang out together. Buland marked the beginning of my friendship with Reema as we were travelling together for it. Nobody knew that she was a banker before she ventured into films. She was friends with my husband (Dilip Kulkarni) who was a banker too. When he passed away 15 years ago, she was by my side.
She inspired people like Smita Jayakar and me to try Hindi films. With her around, Bollywood didn’t seem like a scary place after all. We went on to do a film together, Shaadi Karke Phas Gaya Yaar, with Salman Khan and Shilpa Shetty. I had just stepped into Hindi films and, to her horror, I was playing her mother-in-law. On the first day, she refused to talk to me. Later, she came into my makeup room and said, “Why are you starting out like this? Never take up such roles.” She taught me to choose roles well.
We did Marathi films together too, including the National Award-winning Anumati and the popular Gho Mala Asala Hawa, for which we were in Konkan for 20 days. The place didn’t have best of facilities so we had to share everything. She was very accommodating.
She was doing Mukta Barve’s play Chapa Kata and performed with a lot of aplomb. I had gone for its mahurat and first show. After 100 shows the producers came to me and asked if I’d like to step into her role as she didn’t want to do the play anymore because her daughter was getting married. When I called her up before accepting the offer, she said, “Neena, I have too much on my plate. Go ahead, do it. I don’t want a running play to shut down.” People thought we’d never talk to each other after that but we grew even closer. I did 150 shows of the play.
Today, I was going through the pictures she had sent me from her Bhutan vacation last year. We were like sisters. We were even working for the same channel— I am doing Yeh Hai Mohabbatein and she was doing Naamkarann. She was scared to get into a daily soap but I pushed her to do it. I started watching Naamkarann only for her.