‘In our times there was no rhyme or reason for the stories or locations or dresses in our films’: Actor turned entrepreneur, Rameshwari Seth talks about movies now and then
Remember the movie, Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye, directed by Lekh Tandon, which was the surprise hit of 1977? If yes, you will remember the stunning actress, Rameshwari Seth, who played the protagonist in the film and wowed the audience with her inimitable histrionics. Later, she went on to work in other Hindi films and in the Telugu, Tamil, Odiya film industries as well as television shows.
Today, Rameshwari is back in the news again, this time as an entrepreneur. She is the founder of the organic skin care brand Neemli Naturals, that is both vegan and cruelty-free.
Here’s an exclusive interview with the talented actress cum entrepreneur…
YSWeekender: Why did you take up entrepreneurship?
Rameshwari Seth: Films have stopped being interesting for me for a long time now. Somehow you are creatively never satisfied if you don't do a well-etched role for an older woman and there are hardly any roles available. To begin with, I was never there in films just to be seen. I was there to make a difference or not be there at all. I take pleasure in creativity, whether it is big or small.
I produce a lot of promotional films and TV serials with my husband Deepak Seth and I have also directed a few of them.
We have a weekend home business in Kashele near Karjat which I called Neembada. When my husband's nephew Manu Seth came to stay with us, he started making soaps, oils and candles there. Soon, Neemli Naturals was born as a skincare brand.
YSW: What is special about your skincare brand, Neemli Naturals?
Neemli Naturals is Rameshwari's skin care brand
RS: Our line of skincare is sustainably sourced, environmentally friendly, safe and most importantly, effective. Moreover, our ingredients are organic and cruelty-free, and with no compromises on quality. Our study of ancient Ayurvedic scripts as well modern botanicals have yielded formulations which we finally feel are worthy to bring to you. Our jars and bottles are made out of glass while the boxes have been manufactured with recycled paper. My favourite products in our brand are the cold processed handmade soaps and the Hyaluronic and Vitamin C Serum.
YSW: Can you tell us how you got into the field of acting and your days at FTII (Film and Television Institute of India)?
RS: I have always been very fond of films but it was only when I happened to watch a film shoot once that I fell in love with the whole process of acting. Luckily, I got a seat in an acting course at the FTII and discovered the brilliance of world cinema.
YSW: How was the industry different in the 70s? What were your initial years like?
RS: It was more friendly on the sets in those days. We respected our elders and sometimes there was no money, but somehow, that was not important. My first film was a Kannada movie called Kanakambari, where I played the role of a mentally-challenged girl. It was a very good experience but the film was not released commercially. In those days, the film units were much smaller. If people saw some potential in you, they always encouraged you. You didn’t need any kind of entourage either.
YSW: Can you tell us about your role in your hit film, Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye?
RS: At FTII we watched a German movie called O Jonathan, and all of us found it very entertaining. After watching the film, I announced to my friends that I would act in a remake of the movie, whenever it was made in India. Much later, we came to know that Rajshri Productions was going to make this film and that it was going to be directed by the famous director, Lekh Tandon. After seeing my FTII diploma films, the production house got in touch with me and told me that they wanted me to do the film with them, but first, they wanted to see how I looked with my makeup on.
So, a screen test was arranged at Mehboob Studios and can you believe my luck, I was chosen! The film was taken by Dwaraka Divecha and Sudhendu Roy, and it was going to be directed by Lekh Tandon himself. It couldn't get better than this.
YSW: What was the reaction to that film and what, in your opinion, made it such a great hit?
RS: The film was released without any publicity. The banner in front of the theatre was put up at 10.30 am for the 12 am show. The first people in the audience were Lekhji, Jahangir and my best friend Deepak Seth. I was not here as I was shooting for my first Telugu film, Seeta Mahalakshmi in Madanapalli. Suddenly, I received a telegram from Deepak saying, “So proud of you. The film was wholesome and entertaining".
In those days of heavy action films, our movie Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye was a breezy, feel good kind of a film. It went on to become a blockbuster in those days.
YSW: What were the heroes of the 70s like?
RS: All the actors that I worked with were real gentlemen. Jeetuji (Jeetendra) was a big star at the time but he treated me like a friend. Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) who was my classmate was my friend and still is. Mithun (Chakraborty) was a year senior to me at the institute, so it was very easy working with him. Raj Kiran, Raj Babbar, Vinod Mehra, and Rakesh Roshan were also well known heroes of those days. They were all so nice.
YSW: You have also worked in films in other languages. Which ones are closest to your heart and why?
RS: Telugu is my mother tongue my second feature film was in Telugu, which was a super hit they gave me a Filmfare award as best actress in Telugu that year. I also did a few other films in Malayalam, Oriya, Bengali and many more.
An Oriya film called Manini was very dear to my heart. After that film shoot, I became more choosy about the films I wanted to do. Nijam in Telugu is more recent. Women of my age don't get powerful roles that often.
YSW: How are the movies today different from the ones of the past?
A still from one of Rameshwari's movies
RS: Movies are very different now. Some of the films they make these days are excellent and it's raining biopics right now. In our times there was no rhyme or reason for the stories or locations or dresses. But now everything is well researched. In my days – when they would narrate a story in which I was supposed to be a village girl and if I asked them which village or from which state, the director would get very irritated.
But directors like Lekhji or Omji would know each and every detail of every character. Sadly, not everyone was like that. Now they have research teams. I do envy that.
YSW: Can you tell us about the movies you produced with your husband?
RS: We made Hum Farishte Nahin in 1985 and had great fun making it, with all our friends Raj Babbar, Om Puri and Smita Patil. The screenplay was by Anees Bazmi. The film opened with 88 percent collections in spite of Shehanshah (an Amitabh Bachchan starrer). But though we knew how to make a film, we did not know how to market the film. The other film was in Punjabi and was called Main Tu Assi Tussi.
YSW: Who were your favourite yesteryear actors and your current favourites?
RS: My favourites kept changing from Rajesh Khanna to Shatrughan Sinha to Amitabh Bachchan. But I must say, Shashi Kapoor was my all-time favourite.
Now there are so many excellent actors like Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Shahid Kapur and the like. And all the actresses today are just fabulous, but they have to work so hard on their looks, on their clothes and on their skills. I feel we had it much easier.
YSW: According to you, why is it important to look after your skin?
RS: I personally never bothered about any skincare regimen. I hydrated my skin on a regular basis, which was all I did. About three years ago, I fell very sick and my skin showed the first signs of problems and then the medications worsened it. This was the time I started using Neemli products and the results were instantaneous I. I was actually told by my friends I was looking radiant, (which I found embarrassing) but my skin is back to normal, and, in fact, better.
YSW: Can you tell us about your family and what you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Rameshwari enjoys spending time with her family
RS: We are a close-knit family my husband Deepak Seth. We run our home business together with our sons. Whenever we are not working, we watch films or indulge in some crazy cooking. We also like watching sports on TV or playing with our dog, Poi. One of my favourite hobbies is gardening and I pursue gardening on a daily basis, either in Karjat or in our home.
YSW: What are your plans for the future — both for yourself and your skincare brand?
RS: We would like to take Neemli internationally and expand our retail presence in India. We are coming up with six new products shortly. As for me, I would like to focus on gardening and farming in Karjat, where we are already growing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. I am also working on a Telugu script.
YSW: What does acting mean to you?
RS: I have often tried to analyse why I wanted to be an actress and wondered whether it was because I love the experience of acting or experiencing many lives in this life, and maybe it is a bit of both. Good acting, for me, is all about playing a character honestly and well.