Meet Reshma Pathan, Bollywood’s First Stunt Woman

Reshma Pathan

If you have seen the film Sholay, you must definitely be mesmerised by the stunts of Basanti, the female lead played by Hema Malini. On-screen it was Hema Malini who did the stunts on the tonga while behind the screen it was Reshma Pathan (Hema Malini’s double) who did all the difficult shots. Not many people know about Reshma Pathan, the first stunt woman of Bollywood.

While the world of stunts in Bollywood has traditionally been dominated by men, Reshma Pathan carved a niche for herself in the space. Popularly known as the Sholay Girl, she was barely 14 when she did her first stunt back in 1968. She speaks with SheThePeople.TV about her journey, the challenges and how Bollywood has changed its attitude towards those who are the fall guys for their superstars.

Popularly known as the Sholay Girl, she was barely 14 when she did her first stunt back in 1968.

Which has been the most difficult stunt in your career?

There’s nothing like difficult about a stunt but how difficult it becomes during the course of performing it. Like during the tonga scene in Sholay, the scene was that one of the wheels of the tonga would break and the other one would be blocked. But what happened was that the vehicle flipped over and that’s how it became dangerous. Then there was the role of Durga Khote in the movie Karz. My back was struck intentionally. The director told the person that she’s a stunt girl; you can strike at her back.  One more stunt that comes to mind is from the film Kasame Waade. The stunt wasn’t risky at all. I had to just run. But the path got slippery and I got confused because of the bushes. Due to this, I couldn’t gauge the depth at the other side and fell. My left hand bone was broken because of that. These three are the biggest eventualities that took place in my career.

Stunt people often got seriously injured or even got killed in the course of their jobs back when you  worked. Do you see more awareness about the safety for stunt persons today, as well as medical aid and insurance?

There’s a huge difference between the present day stunts and the stunts of our times. We had very little or no safety. Get to the top and jump on the net, that’s how it was done during our times. Today, they have cables that ensure safety to the fullest. Back in our times, they wanted work out of us but provided no safety. Today, they also pay attention towards the safety of stunt persons. I saw these changes after Sholay.

What kind of resistance did you face from your family? Was there any social censure that you faced?

Yes I did face resistance from my family. When I started out, film industry was not considered a good field to work in. This wasn’t only limited to girls. Even for boys, the industry was not considered good enough to join. So the same applied to me. But situations make you do everything. My family was not well-off financially. To earn my livelihood, and to look after my family which consisted of seven members, I entered the world of stunts. However, by the grace of God, I got proper recognition and respect from the industry.

What made you so courageous and bold to take up stunts?

When it comes to taking up stunts, I really had no idea that I could do this. It was my Guruji, whom we used to address as Azim Uncle, recognised my talent and encouraged me to enter this field.

The word ‘fear’ never had any place in my dictionary. Moreover, fear spoils everything you’re going to do.

Was there a stunt that terrified you but you went ahead and did it anyway?

As stunt persons, if we fear doing anything, we won’t be able to work. The only thing that was in my mind while going for any stunt was my family’s future. So the word ‘fear’ never had any place in my dictionary. Moreover, fear spoils everything you’re going to do.

Reshma Pathan (Left)

Reshma Pathan (Left) as body double of Hema Malini (Right) in Sholay

You became famous because of the tonga scene in Sholay. What were the challenges of filming that scene?

I played Hema ji’s body double in Sholay. Since there was no other stunt woman that time, I had no competition. But as I told you, the tonga had flipped over and that was really dangerous. So there were really no challenges that stood in front of me but the mishap that took place. Though I knew I would earn money but the fame I earned because of the scene, that was surprising for me. At the time of shooting the scene, people applauded my efforts but that happens after every scene. What became special was the surprise fame that came after the release of the movie. Also, the way I was honoured at the recently held CCFA awards, I really cannot express my gratitude in words. I am  thankful to them for considering me for this award.

What was the equation between the heroines of the movies and you? 

I have worked with mostly every heroine of my time. Each one of them behaved well with me except Rakhi ji. It was really a good experience to work with all of them. When it comes to Hema ji, she was really friendly with me. Overall, my experience in this industry has been good.

The only belief that kept me going was that since my work is good, I would be given roles and it worked.

How would you describe your experience in the industry?

Though my experience in the industry was good, but being a stuntwoman, I did face bias. I have worked not only as a stuntwoman but have done full roles in movies like Sholay, Dharamveer and Jyoti, Pratigya.  The only belief that kept me going was that since my work is good, I would be given roles and it worked. I haven’t been given any Filmfare awards. I didn’t get any of the gifts that producers usually gave after the completion of a movie. People were given gifts after the shooting of both Sholay and Betaab but I didn’t get one. But finally, the biopic and the CCFA award are the greatest gifts I could get, and I am grateful for them.

Name any three favourite movies of yours?

The movies I work in become my favourite. Since I’m getting paid for my role and I’m putting all my efforts to get the best possible result, the film automatically becomes special and eventually my favourite.

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Image Credit: News Track English

Anushika Srivastava is an Intern with SheThePeople.Tv