Tun Tun, the comedienne, passed away on Monday, November 24, after a long battle with ill health. Her mentor, composer Naushad, remembers her:
In 1947, the country was racked by the spectre of Partition.
A fat lady came to see me. She said she was a good singer and wanted a break in the Hindi film industry. She told me she was not doing well financially and needed a job desperately.
I gave her a voice test and found that she was good enough to become a singer. Then I took her to a studio to get her work.
The owners of the studio wanted to know what she could do.
I said Uma Devi will be one of my singers. I convinced them it was worth keeping her in the company.
She was hired for Rs 300. I told her to sit in the music room quietly and see how I worked. She used to come regularly. She was a keen learner.
Then I gave her first break, Afsaana likh rahin hoon, for the film Dard. The song became a superhit.
Today, when music companies remix that song and reproduce it, I feel very sad for her and my music.
Gradually, I realised that Uma Devi's voice had a limited range. Her voice could not go beyond a certain pitch. I was getting concerned for her. There were only a few songs that she could sing.
I told her to become an actress. She had always been very jovial. She used to make people laugh all the time. I thought she could make good use of that in reel life.
So, when I produced Babul and Udan Khatola, I gave her a break as an actress. I changed her name from Uma Devi to Tun Tun. I don't know why I got that name. She was very bubbly. In Urdu, we say, Bachchon ko tuntuna de do [give kids a rattle]. I cut short the word tuntuna to Tun Tun.
The name was a fluke. But her name as well as her acting became a superhit.
She had a dream to act with Dilip Kumar. Luckily for her, it happened in my film. Dilip Kumar didn't even know who Tun Tun was, but readily agreed to work with her. Those days, things were different. Actors used to sign films without reading scripts, and on the basis of producers' names.
Tun Tun never forgot what I did for her. I remember she kept saying, 'After God, there is only one person I respect deeply, and that is Naushadsahab.'
She came to see me last week. She had lost weight and was suffering from arthritis. She had been through a heart attack and had undergone a few operations too. I simply could not recognise her.
She had come home with one of her daughters. She stayed for a long time. She was on her way to the Mahim dargah.
Her daughters did very well. But she never asked them for help. She always wanted to be independent. She stayed alone in her last days in her flat at Lokhandwala [in northwest Mumbai].
She was as usual very jovial and made my entire family laugh. Before she left, she told me that if she were alive, she would come again to make me and my family laugh.
That was the last time I saw Uma Devi alive.