When was the first time Indian households got to see their favourite Bollywood celebrities up, close and personal on television?
It was in the 1970s when the dimpled child actress-turned-TV anchor Tabassum was launched by Doordarshan in a television series, Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan (PKHGG) to interview Bollywood stars, artistes and other celebrities.
You can call it a kind of prototype for Rendezvous with Simi Garewal or Karan Johar’s Koffee with Karan. It didn’t have the soft, hand-holding moment of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal or the salacious gossip of Koffee with Karan. But it wasn’t serious journalism either. PKHGG came in an era of black-and-white television when there was only one channel to watch.
Presented in ‘Hindustani’ language, which is a mix of Hindi and Urdu, the show was launched at a time when there were no commercially produced shows on DD.
The only menu on television was Chhaya Geet, a programme broadcasting a medley of Hindi film songs, and Samachar, the daily broadcast of Hindi news at 9 pm.
Then came the chatty, girl-next-door Tabassum’s first-ever talk show. Launched 8 October 1972, it made an instant connect with the content-hungry viewers. The show garnered huge popularly nationwide, which kept it going for a staggering 21 years.
A popular host
Carefully placed flowers in her hair, matching her saris, a bold bindi on her forehead and a cheerful chatty voice – Tabassum’s style of interviewing was a combination of spunk, coy banter, sarcasm and tough questions. She wove her humour and love for shayari in her interview style. She would often interview celebrities in a set that looked like a cosy living room.
In the 1950s, she was a popular child artiste in Hindi films. She was often compared with Shirley Temple, the child actress in Hollywood with curly hair and dimples.
Tabassum’s connections with Bollywood’s top celebrities helped her get them on her show, turning PKHGG virtually into a ‘one woman show’.
One of the most famous songs filmed on her as a child on horseback was ‘bachpan ke din bhula na dena’ from the movie Deedar (1951).
Doordarshan paid her Rs 70 per episode for the show, which was written, researched and coordinated by her. She also decided on the guests and invited them. When the show ended 21 years later, she was being paid Rs 750 per episode.
Her connections in the industry along with her ability to put the big stars at ease before throwing a tough or controversial question at them made the show an instant hit with the Indian audience.
Musician Naushad of “nanha munna raahi hoon” fame was the first celebrity on the show. Later, Tabassum interviewed celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, R.D. Burman, among many others. She interviewed Shatrughan Sinha thrice on her show while Sanjeev Kumar came twice.
Once, Manoj Kumar called off his appearance just a day before the shoot, she recalled. “I frantically started calling other actors to come on the show, but nobody was free that day. I called Dara Singh and explained the situation and asked if he could be ready to shoot in an hour’s time. He immediately agreed and helped me out,” Tabassum had told rediff.com in an interview.
Stars opened up to her
Tabassum, in her own style, provoked guests to reveal more about their personal lives – which is now the usual format of talk shows.
“I knew everyone in the industry, and they were happy to talk to me… The interviews were live back then, and I ensured that I didn’t put them on the spot or insult anyone. Once, I interviewed an unmarried celebrity, who had gotten pregnant. On the show, I brought up her pregnancy in a very delicate manner, and she answered,” she said in an interview to Hindustan Times.
Some celebrities even requested Tabassum to not ask certain questions but she tactfully managed to get answers to such questions.
For instance, filmmaker Kamal Amrohi, best known for Pakeezah, told her that she can ask him about anything except his wife, Meena Kumari. “I told him my audience would abuse me if I didn’t. He agreed, but said I could only ask him what kind of actress she was,” she recalled during the interview to rediff.com.
As decided, she asked Amrohi to comment on Meena Kumari; he replied ‘she was a very good actress’. However, she immediately sneaked in a question on ‘how was she as a wife?’
Amrohi replied, “She was a good actress but not a good wife. She thought she was an actress at home as well.”