After Selma completed her four-year course in Carnatic music from the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, at Tripunithara, her father, the famed singer, Pappukutty Bhagavathar, also known as Kerala Saigal, took Selma to Chennai, so that she could try her luck in playback singing. Selma spent a year there, and then her mother Baby came to stay with her. When she saw Selma struggling to get assignments, her mother told her about a young director by the name of KG George. He hailed from Tiruvalla, the same home town as Baby. “We should ask him for an opportunity to sing in his films,” said Baby. One day, in Ashok Nagar, they saw him accidentally.
George wore a rose-coloured shirt and tight jeans. He had Afro-style hair, like the late guru, Sathya Sai Baba, and a thick black beard. “I did not find him particularly attractive,” says Selma. “He seemed like an odd character.” When Selma told him she was a singer, George immediately said he had cut out three songs from his debut film, ‘Swapnadanam’. “In my films, there are hardly any songs,” he said. “In case I put in some, then I will call you.”
Next to Selma’s house lived the famous producer Shobhana Parameswaran Nair. A month later, Selma had gone to Shobhana’s house, for some work, and met George there. “Later he told me that on the second meeting he decided he wanted to marry me,” says Selma. “I was thin, had long hair and looked beautiful and demure.”
Soon, George came to Selma’s house and told Baby he wanted to marry her daughter. “My mother said that her elder son Mohan Jose, who lived in Mumbai, made all the decisions in the family,” says Selma.
The producer of ‘Swanpakoodam’, Mohammed Bapu, lived in Mumbai. So George went to see Bapu, and ended up meeting Mohan. “I told my mother I was not agreeable to this proposal because George was a director and they are always having affairs with girls,” says Selma “I knew this from personal experience. Whenever I would approach a director for a song, he would say, ‘I will give you a chance, but we will have to do other things also’. I felt George would be like that.”
But Mohan liked George and said yes. So, despite her apprehensions, the couple tied the knot on February 7, 1977, at the St. Mathias Church in Chennai.
Today, when asked about her husband’s plus points, Selma says, “George’s only aim in life was to make good films. He was always reading, writing scripts, and remained obsessed about films. He lived in a different world and had no interest in anything else. I had to run the household on my own. He is a great director. Unfortunately, I cannot call him a good husband because he has never been one.”
Two aspects deeply affected Selma. One was his propensity to get angry with her during the early years, when he was going through intense stress while making his films. “He would shout at me a lot,” she says. “When my daughter Tara was in LKG [Lower Kindergarten] on a greeting card she wrote, ‘Today, my father got angry with my mother. I was very upset when I read that.”
The second aspect was George’s penchant for ignoring her completely for months together. “That hurt me a lot,” says Selma. “I stayed with him because I had two children, [actor-son Arun, now 34, and daughter Tara, 29, a Dubai-based flight purser].”
Not surprisingly, Selma thought of divorce many times, but could never take the plunge because of the lack of financial independence.
The loss of a singing career has also been one of Selma’s biggest regrets. She sang in 40 films, and her most popular song was ‘Sarabindu Malardeepa’ from the 1979 film, ‘Ulkadal’. “People have asked me why I did not continue,” says Selma. “It is very difficult to have a career and look after the house and the children at the same time.”
At their home in Vennala, Kochi, George, 69, moves around slowly and unsteadily, after suffering a couple of strokes three years ago. Selma looks at him with a mix of affection and anger. When asked for tips to give youngsters who are about to get married, Selma says, “You have to learn to adjust. One person should compromise. If both people stick to their egos, there is little hope. You also need money to have a good marriage.”