The year was 1986. A 5-year-old girl made an appearance in the Oriya film titled Musugulo Guddalata Raja. Nobody foresaw that in the coming years this school drop-out would go on to become the ultimate sensational queen of Southern film industries. Shakeela can rightly be called the queen of erotica, albeit only after Silk Smitha. Right from a very young age she was fascinated by the camera and there was no lack of skill either.
The actress has nearly 150 films to her credit and it’s only recently that she made a shift in her genre and began doing family-oriented characters in comedy films. While this move to family-friendly roles was accepted by the audience, she made her mark largely as a sensational icon.
She holds her mother responsible for how her life took shape. In her memoir, she recalls being raped by a man who according to her mother used to aid her family economically. She also claims her sister Noorjehan cheated her with a good sum of money. “I have no good memories of my mother. I never experienced love and care from her. It was my mother who spoiled my life," she said in an interview to Open Magazine.
Shakeela set off at an era when Silk Smitha was ruling the roast. Post her debut, which didn't bring her much prominence, Shakeela's real entry took place at the age of 16 when she was signed for RD Shekhar's softcore film Play Girls. Interestingly enough, she was sharing the screen with Smitha. There may have been a tinge of insecurity in the air with a rising younger and equally charming star in the same frame. Smitha ended up slapping Shakeela while they were shooting an emotional scene and had a lame justification to defend her actions.
“For three days I stayed away and the producer convinced me. Smitha told me that since I was new to acting, I probably would not know how to cry and slapped me. But till today, my heart is not convinced by her answer. I have been puzzled by her behavior. Could she have been jealous at the rise of a new competitor? I don’t know," Shakeela recalled. She was, however, deeply respectful towards Smitha and went on to describe her as 'ever inspiring' and charming.
Shakeela cast her spell through all four Southern industries but was most successful in the Malayalam film industry. Kinnarathumbikal was the film that shot her to fame. She moved on from her days of doing topless scenes in order to grab eyeballs and became probably the most desirable on-screen persona. Her films were dubbed in almost all Indian languages and some even in Chinese, Nepalese, Sinhala too.
What we refer to as softcore B-grade films today, was maybe perceived differently back then. It is said that her popularity reached such a peak that a film she starred in would be called Shakeela Production. Such was her craze that mainstream directors wouldn't dare to clash their films with hers.
"What we today call B-grade films, those days it was called sex-education films. Silk’s character was trying to protect my character in the film – a young girl must get the right influence – that was the point of the film... I liked the charm and glamour of the film industry. The costumes, the short skirts, I liked it all," Shakeela once told a news channel.
Desires of women were and are never explored, in any of the streams of popular culture. Rather, it is the male fantasies that take an upper hand. Not her acting prowess, but her mere body minted her fame, and that didn't quench her thirst.
"When somebody is hungry, we have to give them food. Nothing else will make them happy. My cinema was nothing but the erotic display of my body. No one might have seen the woman in me and the actress in me. There was a time when I used to get remuneration that was much higher than leading actresses. I was flying from one location to another. I worked in films day and night, and there was a time when I hardly got a few hours to sleep. On several occasions, I fell asleep during bedroom scenes. People watching the movie would never have known that my eyes were closed because I could not control my sleep. They might have thought that I was performing an orgasm on screen. For everyone, I was nothing more than an erotic body. Nobody cared about exploring the actress in me," she told Open Magazine.
That sounds strangely similar to Smitha, who was suffering from the same emptiness and untimately ended up claiming her own life!
Among over a hundred films, Manjukalapakshi , Paruvam, Kinnaram Cholli Cholli and Thotti Gang are some of Shakeela's most notable works.
What's the former seductress up to now? She stays in Chennai and has adopted a transgender child. The love and recognition she longed for didn't arrive. But on the personal front, she is a contained mother and firmly believes herself to be an artist.
Shakeela is now set to have a biopic. Bollywood actress Richa Chadha will play her in the film. The two met for a greet and meet session recently before the shoot begins. Shakeela is said to have shared anecdotes from her early days and her career, giving the Richa all the dope she needs to play the part to perfection.
In 2011, The Dirty Picture, a cinematic adaptation of Silk Smitha's life featuring Vidya Balan in lead role not only took the box office by storm but also brought Vidya a National Award.
Can Richa create a similar madness? Time will tell us.