Life of a Bollywood Stuntwoman

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Remember the famous scene in Sholay (1975) where Hema Malini shouts “Chal Dhanno!” as she is chased by Gabbar Singh’s men? While the audience rooted for the actor, the real hero of that iconic action sequence was stuntwoman Reshma Pathan who rode the speeding cart. The feisty artiste, who spent more than three decades as body double to Bollywood’s leading ladies, spoke to Femina.

At the dusty, rundown Reay Road train station on Mumbai’s harbour line, I ask a fruit vendor where Daruwala chawl is. He doesn’t know and neither do the locals standing around his stall. And then I remember what Reshma had instructed me to ask if I couldn’t locate her house. “Sholay picture ki heroine kahan rehti hain?” I ask them. In unison, they point towards a decrepit building. 

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Reshma Pathan worked as a body double for stars like Meena Kumari, Saira Banu, Hema Malini, Sri Devi, Dimple Kapadia and Meenakshi Seshadri for over three decades, performing dangerous stunts in films. Now 59, she works mostly as a junior artiste, only because she misses the camera. “I hardly work these days. My kids don’t let me.” Reshma talks of her children with pride and says that she worked hard to give them the best, a far cry from how she spent her childhood in Pydhonie in south Mumbai. “I was very mischievous. There used to be many taangewaalas in our area and I would sit on the taangas and go for rides by myself.” Her family owned a shop and sold utensils for a living. But when a family feud threw them out of the business, her father went into a state of shock. Reshma couldn’t bear to see her family of seven suffer, but could do little at that age to help them. A family friend, who worked as an action choreographer in movies, suggested to her father that the tomboyish Reshma could work as a stunt body double in movies. Although initially reluctant, her father finally relented and in 1968, 14-year-old Reshma got her first job. 

by Upneet Pansare

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