Reviewed by: Dr. Jailaxmi R Vinayak
Leela’s life was about ‘staying in the moment’. Everyone who met her has a Leela Naidu story. This is her version
Leela Naidu: The incredibly soulful person!
When I laid my hands on this book, I was irresistibly drawn to it, as incidentally my own mother's name was Leela Naidu. This is an autobiography written in collaboration with Jerry Pinto. The book is an interesting read as Leela Naidu does represent the creed of highly accomplished, talented and brave Indian women. No wonder she was lauded as one of the five most beautiful women by Vogue magazine. An interestingly intriguing and versatile Leela, was a combination of brain plus beauty. We get a peep into the life of a remarkable woman who not only featured in movies of great directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anuradha, Merchant and Ivory's Householder with Shashi Kapoor and Shyam Benegal's Trikaal. Daughter of a well-known Indian scientist, Dr Ramaiah Naidu and a French journalist, she was bilingual and spoke perfect English and French. She lived on her own terms and declined to act in Raj Kapoor's films four times as circumstances would have. Extremely perceptive, forthright and commiserative, her love for India is evident in the book. Married to Tilak Raj Oberoi first and then to her childhood companion Dom Moraes, the distinguished writer, she had the perfect compatibility with Dom till they divorced after twenty five years of togetherness. She had twins from her first husband though there is hardly any mention of her first husband in her autobiography.
Leela had a short career in film industry as she kept a low profile but was sterling. In fact she began her acting career in an abstract film by a young man from Geneva and it won the first prize in Cannes’s festival, when she was only thirteen. A lover of music and dance, she learned playing piano, took Ballet dancing in Paris and was taught Bharatnatyam by Balasaraswati and Bengali and Orissa folk dance by Debuda, Ravishankar's brother. She not only scripted movies but also produced documentaries. Her culinary expertise is discerned along with her compassionate approach towards animals when she shot with Rani the elephant in Electric Moon. Influenced by Sufism quite early in life she faced racial injustice while at school. A dare devil, she delivered a taxi driver from racism when he was scuffled by a white man. Did not mince words when the extras were not given chairs to sit and they could not sit on the floor lest their costume would go bad. Leela then refused to sit on the chair and perforce, the director had to yield and get chairs for the dancers. She told Nayyar, she would not run around trees. She disliked wearing false eyelashes, three satin petticoats as she was looking emaciated when she was shooting for Anuradha after a bout of illness and also turned down the offer to correct her nose and wear false bras.
The book is replete with entertaining anecdotes. Leela gives a vivid account of how she met Gandhiji, offered him chocolate and he relished it and how she and her mother wept after his assassination. Her disbelief and subdued anguish when she was shown a lamp by a Jewish girl in her house that was made of human skin. It displayed the number that was tattooed on the arm of each person who entered the concentration camp like Auschwitz. When Leela went to see Taj Mahal, she was sickened by commercialism of her friends who discussed and speculated on the cost of rebuilding Taj Mahal. On the sets of Anuradha when a spot boy fell from the gangplank and fractured both his legs and when the crew was willing to continue, Leela went on a strike. She stood for Harijan settlement bravely. There are some comic anecdotes too. Hrishida endearingly called her ‘Mukhpuri’ meaning ‘rotten face’ and her own father after learning the phrase ‘Ullu ka Pattha’ from Dilip Kumar called her ‘Ullu ka Patthi’.
Though Leela did not choose to focus on her trials, tribulations and pain, the book keeps the readers interestingly engaged, enfolding the broad and colourful spectrum of her life.
Bookaholicanonymous thanks Dr. Jailaxmi R Vinayak for this review…please keep writing and contributing!
About the reviewer: Dr. Jailaxmi R Vinayak is a writer, poet and singer. An Army wife, she is an Ex member of Delhi Poetree'. Recipient of International Women's Award in 2003, she is an author of books in Hindi and English of short stories, poetry and anecdotes titled ‘Shades of Women’, ‘Songs of Eternity’, ‘A Penny for your Thoughts’, ‘Jiwan ke kai Rang’ and ‘Coffee & Cookies’ in 2019. She has taught in schools, colleges, Convents, Central Schools and Army Public Schools from nursery to Post graduate classes at various places. Her articles have been published in Fauji India, Sainik Samachar, Developing India Mirror, Femina, Dainik Bhaskar, Indian Express Pune and AWWA magazine. She has written 4000 poetry so far in addition to her books. Her poetry ‘The Beautiful Mind’ was appreciated by none other than the former President of India Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. In his words “I have gone through your book of beautiful poems and I liked particularly the poem ‘The beautiful Mind’”
A doctorate in English Literature and a Sangeet Prabhakar from Prayag, she has been a student of Late Vasundhara Komkali wife of Late Pt. Kumar Gandharv, Smt Aparna Dasgupta of Indore, Maharaj Madhav Raje of Khandwa and Sharma sisters, granddaughters of Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya and disciples of Pt. Onkarnath.