Leena Chandavarkar: A Konkani Actress' Profile
Leena Chandavarkar is a Hindi movie actress who was quite popular in 1970s. This article may give some insight into Leena Chandavarkar's place in the history of Bollywood for Hindi movie lovers. Even otherwise, you will be glad to discover a talented Konkani woman from Dharwad who is virtually unknown to many people despite being an achiever in the field she chose to excel.
Although veteran film actress Leena Chandavarkar spent reasonable amount of time in Dharwad, she has never been a much talked about personality in Dharwad. It is almost close to twenty years now since she faded away from the glitter of the tinsel world. It is quite natural for people not know much about her now. But even when she was doing great in Bollywood, there never used to be much talk about her or about her films.
There used to be (may be still there) a compound (an independent house with a large open yard) called Chandavarkar's compound in Gopalpur locality (close to railway station) which is part of Malmaddi. Specially of most of the compounds in Gopalpur is that all of them look real royal with very spacious yards and exotic vegetation all over the yard. Film actress Leena Chandavarkar spent some of her childhood and adolescence living there. Chandavarkar's compound had the distinction of being one of the few compounds, which had sandalwood trees in its yard. Her father was a retired officer in armed forces and chose to live in Dharwad.
Leena studied at Bassel Mission Girl's high school for some years. According to her teacher, there was nothing unusual about Leena other than couple of incidents of disobedience and arrogance.
Sometime during her adolescence her family moved over to Bombay. The folks of Dharwad woke up one fine morning in 1969 to be surprised by the news of Leena's movie debut. It was not big news, as academically oriented Dharwad never gave a damn to anything other than academic excellence. It was 1969 and people were still quite a bit orthodox and getting into movies was viewed to be some sort of a taboo by general public. Those were the times when people never considered any form of art as a profession to be chosen by a decent person and trying to get into movies - a definite 'No','No'. Most probably a general hopeless shrug with pinch of sarcasm. Leena began her career like this and for next ten years or so she acted in a couple of dozens of films and made a decent mark and earned herself a respectable place in the crazy jungle called Bollywood.
Leena's first film was 'Man Ka Meet'. The hero, heroine and villain all were debutantes in this film. This film, produced by Sunil Dutt, introduced his brother Som Dutt (photocopy of Sunil Dutt) as an actor, Leena Chandavarkar as an actress and more interestingly Vinod Khanna (of Rajneesh fame) as a villain. What a debut for Vinod Khanna? Same Vinod Khanna who played villain against Leena in their first film was a hero opposite Leena in 'Qaid', which I consider, the most interesting movie of Leena Chandavarkar.
'Man Ka Meet' was an average film with some decent music. Story of a simple village boy and a city girl. In the beginning the girl just pretends to be in love and ultimately really falls in love after giving a lot of headache to everybody.
Between 1969-1979, Leena acted in many films. She was cast opposite to majority of popular heroes of that era. She gave one of her best acting performances in 'Mehboob Ki Mehandi' with Rajesh Khanna. Who has not heard of very melodious and sentimental song 'Jane Kyon Log Mohabbat Kiya Karthe Hai' sung by melody queen Lata Mangeshkar. This song was filmed on Leena. The movie actually starts with this mega-hit song. This is a good movie involving a girl who escapes from a gang of thugs who try to force her into becoming a professional 'Mujara' dancer. She somehow manages to get out of that town to become a governess for a kid in a royal family of Lucknow. She gets into usual romance with the scion of the royal family (Rajesh Khanna).
After a lot of heartburn both get together and live happily ever after. Dialogues in this film have a real heavy dose of Urdu to bring in Lucknowi effect to the film.
The hallmark of Leena's career was 'Humjoli' with Jeetendra. The famous rain song 'Hai Re Hai Neend Nahi Aaye' was a sure chart buster. This song also featured Leena, probably for the first time, dancing away to glory in the rain. Without dancing in the rain no actress's life can be complete in Bollywood. Nothing unusual about the movie itself. Romance, intermittent tragedy, ultimately happy ending. But, this movie was a big hit and brought a lot of recognition to Leena Chandavarkar.
Leena also acted in two films 'Manchali' and 'Anhonee' with classic and versatile Sanjeev Kumar. Both of them are real good films. 'Manchali' is a film about a girl who ventures out to find a husband through newspaper advertisement, meets this man (Sanjeev Kumar), conditionally marries him to escape from the pressure of guardians for an early marriage and when it comes to end the contract and get rid of the contractual husband, you know, lot of sentiments and they renew the contract and live happily ever after.
'Anhonee' is a different type of a movie. In this movie, Leena Chandavarkar is a psychiatrist. Sanjeev Kumar is her adopted patient. Sanjeev Kumar once again plays the role of a mad man as he did in 'Khilona'. However, scope for playing the full blown mad man was not there. So, he is kind of a half mad in this movie. But, in reality he is a police officer to investigate the mysterious death of Leena's father. Leena is blackmailed as murderess. She cures the mad man and gets herself mad in his love. Sanjeev Kumar keeps pestering her for marriage and she keeps avoiding that. Later hero puts a lot of senti and she discloses that she has killed her father who tried to molest her when he was drunk (you know, by now, that somebody else killed him and framed her). She gets to know that Sanjeev Kumar is not a real mad man but a brilliant police officer on the day of her engagement with him and has the worst heartbreak and sings a senti song. Later Sanjeev Kumar rescues her from her stepmother and a gang of thugs who killed her dad in the first place and are after her life now to get the property (typically 'Karodon Ka Jaidaad'). She gets set with mad man turned lover turned ditcher turned lover again and movie ends.
'Qaid' with Vinod Khanna is a real nice movie. This movie has a good story line with suspense and good direction. Mehmood provides the much-needed humor. This is also a movie in which Leena is in one of the most glamorous and bold roles wearing only western outfits all through the movie. Quite refreshing to see her totally transform from a typical Indian woman in most of her films to a trying-to-be-a-bomb sort of an actress. Her petite figure and lack of height surely seemed to be major deterrents for this transformation. Even then this role is a big refreshing change from her old image. The movie is about a confused girl who has abandoned home to explore the world and gets stuck with a budding lawyer (Vinod Khanna). They sing a song dressed as fisherman (woman) and bust some thugs. Some good songs and humor as well.
There is another good movie with Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore and Leena Chandavarkar. (Anyone remembers the name?) A typical love triangle where Sharmila is the losing (rather self-sacrificing) side of the triangle. Good music and great performances by all.
She also acted with Raj Kumar (of 'Jaani' fame) in 'Dil Ka Raja'. She also acted with Navin Nischol in 'Aafat'. 'Honeymoon', her movie with Anil Dhawan as hero, is supposed to be movie with good tinge of humor.
Looking at the number of her movies and number of hits, I do not think Leena was ever a major star even when she was doing quite well in her career. It was an era of a lot of competition in Bollywood (it is always like that). Old timers like Mumtaaz, Saira Baanu, Nanda, Sadhana etc. were trying to hold on to their top position by delivering one or two great films every year. More glamorous and ready-to-bare-it-all heroines like Sulakshana Pandit, Sarika, Yogita Bali etc. were making a beeline to crack the bastion of old timers. Amidst this stiff competition, I must say Leena's achievements are quite significant.
Also that was the era of hippie culture and every director wanted big sized heroines (then known as cowgirls). Leena, a petite beautiful woman, did not really fit the bill and could not withstand the rush of tinsel bombshells like Zeenat Amaan, Reena Roy, Parveen Babi, Neetu Singh etc. and slowly moved into oblivion somewhere around 1979.
When you think about any actor or actress, you always tend to think about the gossips of those times. Film magazines make their living by filling their magazines with such gossip. Only gossip that was in vogue about Leena was her alleged attempts to get close to cricket legend Sunny Gavaskar. In personal life, Gavaskar is gem of a man and this gossip died it own death due to the fact that both the people involved were real clean as far as their personal lives were concerned.
They may have met on different occasions and under different circumstances and for different reasons. Media was crazy then after it busted big time affairs between cricketers and actresses like Gary Sobers - Anju Mahendru, Zeenat Aman- Imran Khan, Sandeep Patil - Debashree Roy, Mohsin Khan-Reena Roy and so on. So, any actress happening to meet a cricketer always provided the raw material for filmi-journalists' trash gossip. The saga continues even today with filmi magazines churning out tones of pulp on alleged affairs between Azhar-Sangeeta Bijlani and Shoaib Akthar - Sonali Bendre (latest one).
I have conflicting information about the personal life of Leena Chandavarkar. Few old timers in Dharwad claim that she was initially married to some Dilkush Desai (??), a businessman and a politician from Goa. But, she is better known as the wife of famous playback singer Kishore Kumar. Kishore Kumar had just been divorced from Yogita Bali (his third wife) and married Leena to settle down finally in life. Their conjugal bliss, very unfortunately, did not last long as Kishore passed away after a few years. Leena has a son from Kishore Kumar.
Today, Leena Chandavarkar may be in her fifties. She lives in Bombay with her son and a couple of cats (source: a couple of months old Filmfare magazine). Recently she also brought out an audio (or video) cassette along with Sham Anuragi (??). Looks like all veteran actresses are into some sort of entertainment production business. Started with Zeenat, followed by Reena and now it is Leena.
She was in Siddapur, in Karnataka, last year to take part in a worldwide Konkani (community to which she belongs) conference along with other celebrities from Konkani community like Girish Karnad, Sham Benegal, Suman Kalyanpur etc. She also gave away Filmfare awards for Marathi films some time back in Poona.