She first faced the arc lights when she was just 14 in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar (1959). No one would have thought that this shy, adolescent wife from this tragedy would one day become India’s foremost sex-symbol.
She burst on the Hindi film screen with Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), where her avatar as an innocent Kashmiri girl was much admired. Her pairing with Shammi Kapoor in the film was a hit.
The film’s director, Shakti Samanta gave her a bold new look in his magnum opus An Evening In Paris (1967), which was mostly shot in Europe. She played a double role in the film, that of a nightclub dancer and her twin, a rich heiress. Sharmila unleashed sexual revolution on to the silver screen when she appeared in a swimsuit in An Evening In Paris.
But that’s not all, she did a special photoshoot for Filmfare wearing a two-piece bikini for August 1966 issue. According to the grapevine, when Sharmila Tagore breezed into photographer Dhiraj Chawda’s studio for Filmfare’s cover photoshoot without the usual enchilada of clothes and accessories that usually accompany a star, he was taken aback, to say the least. Before the perplexed photographer could enquire about her attire, she took out two pieces of cloth from her purse and said, “I’m ready.”
Sharmila was posing in a two-piece bikini and wasn’t being coy about it all. It took her two minutes to change but the face of magazine covers changed forever. She wore the skimpiest of clothes with amazing grace and gave Indian women confidence to try out sexy loungewear. In the same year as An Evening In Paris, where she was paired opposite Shammi Kapoor, she did another film with Shammi’s younger brother Shashi Kapoor called Aamne Saamne (1967), where she again wore a swimsuit. Aamne Saamne was also a thriller and had Shashi playing an anti-hero of sorts. Their pairing got much admired in this Suraj Prakash directed film.
Though Sharmila was bold and more broadminded than most heroines of her era, there came a time when she reportedly wanted to have her swimsuit posters removed from Mumbai hoardings. Sharmila was smitten by the dashing cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who had brought in youthful vim and vigour to the Indian cricket team and more importantly, provided it with a measure of self-belief. The duo had reportedly met at an after-match party in Delhi in 1965 and had instantly hit it off. She belonged to the Tagore family and he was a royal in his own right. It was a match made in heaven. The story goes that MAK Pataudi’s mother, Sajida Sultan, a royal beauty herself, was keen on meeting the girl her son was supposedly seeing.
When Sharmila got to know about the impending visit, she eagerly looked forward to it. However, at that point of time, An Evening in Paris’ publicity photos had been splashed all over Mumbai. While Tiger Pataudi reportedly knew about the swimwear sequence and was okay with it, Sharmila had no idea how her would-be mother-in-law would take it. It’s said she requested Shakti Samanta to have the swimsuit photos removed from the hoardings till Pataudi’s mother was in Mumbai and the filmmaker magnanimously complied.
After a long courtship, Sharmila and Tiger finally got married in 1969. Theirs was one of the most ideal showbiz marriages full of warmth and care which lasted 42 years, till he passed away in 2011.