Tabassum, India’s original celebrity talk show host, dies aged 78

LONG before actor Simi Garewal and filmmaker Karan Johar brought celebrities and a part of their lives into our living rooms, there was Tabassum Govil, widely known and affectionately known by her first name.

Clad in a saree with a flower in her hair, the always-smiling actress showcased her lively and endearing interactions with movie personalities in the Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan program on Doordarshan from 1972 to 1993. Aside from spreading a lot of happiness among viewers who craving celebrity chats and trifles, this show was the inspiration for Johar’s famous talk show, “Koffee With Karan,” something the filmmaker always acknowledged.

Tabassum died in a hospital on Friday night. She was 78.

On Saturday, her son Hoshang Govil told The Sunday Express: “She died of cardiac arrest around 8.40pm last night. She was perfectly healthy. We shot for our show 10 days ago and will be shooting again next week. It happened all of a sudden.”

As news of her death spread on Saturday, there were nostalgic posts shared online by many who have followed Tabassum over the decades and were a fan of her warm personality, gentle humor and non-gossipy interactions.

Although known as a show host, Tabassum, born Kiran Bala Sachdev in 1944, was a popular child actor of the 1950s. As a child artist, she starred in films such as Jogan (1950), Deedar (1951), and Baiju Bawra (1952). She later starred in films such as Talash (1969), Heer Raanjha (1970), Johny Mera Naam (1970) and Tere Mere Sapne (1971).

In 1985 she directed and wrote a film entitled Tum Par Hum Qurban. She has had a warm and friendly relationship with many of her co-stars and people in the industry. They often appeared as guests on their show.

In a recent chat with Twinkle Khanna on Tweak India, Johar said growing up always wanted to be like Tabassum. He said: “We went to Dilip-saab once [Dilip Kumar] House and Tabassum was there and… I wanted to meet her. Well, once my father [asked], ‘What do you want to be?’ I said I wanted to be Tabassum – and I’ve become Tabassum now – because I wanted to do a chat show. She’s really iconic.”

In recent years, the actor-turned-talk-show host had been running a YouTube channel called “Tabassum Talkies.”

Khanna called her a “legend” and wrote on social media: “As a kid I watched Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan with Tabassum-ji as a spectacular host. I don’t remember their guests. Just her… all those hazy memories wrapped me up like layers of cashmere on a winter morning.”

Unlike Johar’s talks, Tabassum’s shows rarely featured conjecture or talk about the celebrity’s personal life. She nudged Jeevan to talk about his mannerisms, which contributed to his popularity, and Tanuja to open up about playing Jeetendra in Jeene Ki Raah (1969) as the mother.

She sometimes strayed from gushing chats to talk about the fickle nature of fame in the industry or the tragedies celebrities suffered. For example, she once spoke about Bharat Bhusan losing his fortune and bank balance. What hurt the Baiju Bawra protagonist the most was the fact that he had to sell his precious book collection at a throwaway price. Speaking about how death can creep in suddenly, she mentioned the death of actor Divya Bharati and how it is shrouded in mystery.

Tabassum was married to Vijay Govil, brother of actor Arun Govil. A prayer meeting will be held at 5.30pm Monday at Arya Samaj, Santacruz West to celebrate her life and legacy.

Tabassum embodied grace, empathy and genuine admiration for her guests. They don’t do chat show moderators like them anymore.


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