Shakeela got a chance to play a role in the soft-porn film, Playgirls, in 1994 in which reigning sex queen Silk Smitha was the heroine. In one scene, Shakeela had to only wear a towel and do a love-making scene. Then Smitha would enter the room, catch Shakeela in the act, and give her a slap. Before the scene could be shot, an anxious Shakeela kept asking Smitha about the slap. Smitha repeatedly said, “Don’t worry, I will only pretend that I am slapping you.”
However, when the shooting took place, Smitha gave an actual slap. A shocked Shakeela burst into tears and ran away from the set at AVM studios in Chennai. For three days she stayed away. Then the producer went to her home and told the youngster that Smitha wanted to say sorry. When Shakeela reached the set, Smitha gave a box of chocolates, and hugged her.
“Smitha told me that since I was new to acting, I probably would not know how to cry,” says Shakeela. “And since I was skimpily dressed, I would feel uncomfortable in front of the crew. So, in order to finish the shoot in one take, she slapped me. But till today, my heart is not convinced by her answer. I have been puzzled by her behaviour.” Could she have been jealous at the rise of a new competitor? “I don’t know,” says Shakeela.
Incidentally, Smitha committed suicide on September 23, 1996.
It is 2013. Shakeela, who has lost more than 20 kg, is relaxing in her hotel room at Kochi, after a day’s shooting for her latest Malayalam film, Neelakurinji Poothu, in which she is acting as well as being the director. The story is about a single mother bringing up a girl. The producer is Jaffer Kanjirapally, who has done 19 films with her. “I made a lot of money, thanks to Shakeela,” he says. “Now I am trying my luck again.”
As for Shakeela, she wanted to do something different. “To try new things like direction will help me grow as an actor,” she says. But it has been an up and down career.
For a time, from the nineties to 2000, Shakeela’s soft-porn Malayalam films were a rage in Kerala. Her film, Kinnarathumbikal, became a huge hit. She shakes her head and says, “How did this film do well? It had one of the worst background music I have heard: some scratchy remixes of Michael Jackson songs. I was wearing a blouse and a lungi. There were only two hot scenes. In one I am having a bath in a stream and, in another I make love to an older man.”
Nevertheless, the public were enamoured. Later, the films were dubbed into many other Indian languages and could also be seen in places like Nepal and Bangladesh. But once the Censor Board clamped down on the films, Shakeela’s career came to a sudden halt.
“I had been working for two years without a gap,” she says. “And when I got a break, I was so happy. For a month I was eating and relaxing. Then it became very boring. I learned cooking and passed the time by playing games on Play Station. For two years, I did not get any roles.”
Her break came when she got a comic role in Telugu director Theja’s Jeyam in 2002. Thereafter, she did similar roles in Tamil and Kannada films. However, the old request to wear revealing clothes kept cropping up. “Immediately I will say, ‘Is this a Malayalam film?’, and shut them up,” says Shakeela, with a smile.