Tiger and the Tagore Girl

Sharmila Tagore and Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi married in December 1969 (Image Courtesy: News18)
Modified 06 Feb 2017

As his teammates headed for the departure gates, the captain did not move. He kept checking his watch. His eyes anxiously darted towards the gates of the departure terminal of Ahmedabad airport one more time.

A couple of his mates smiled knowingly and patted him on the shoulder before they walked away.

Finally, his face lit up. There she was! The darling of the masses making her way through the boisterous midday crowd. Funny how the crowd always got wind of everything!

”I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it on time!” As she removed her shades and wiped the sweat off her brow, there was anxiety writ all over her face.

“You almost couldn’t,” he smiled.

“Well, I made it. That’s what matters, doesn’t it?” her eyes had a glint.

“But we hardly have the time to talk now... I need to rush!” he looked upset.

“There’s always a next time,” she said reassuringly. “Have a safe flight... and, when are we meeting again?’

He thought for a while. And then there was a sparkle in his eye.


“Why don’t you come along?”

“What do you mean?” She was not sure she had heard him right.

“I mean why don’t we get a ticket and you get on the plane with me?” he smiled.

“I... well, I just left the shooting to say “Bye” to you... I have to go back... I can’t just...” she sounded hesitant.

“You sure can,” he was insistent. Like a child. His eyes wandered to the teeming crowd outside dying to catch a glimpse of their favourite actress.

She looked into his eyes for a fleeting second and smiled, her lips pursed. He could not take his eyes off those dimples.

“Guess what? You just got yourself a gorgeous co-passenger!” She slid her arm into his.

Well, is that not what love is all about? Listening to the heart and living for the moment? This is the love story of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and Sharmila Tagore – a love that defied rules and survived for an eternity.


Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi became the titular Nawab of Pataudi at the age of 11. After proving his mettle in the game of cricket during his years in Winchester and later in Oxford, MAK Pataudi made his Test debut against England in the winter of 1961. Less than 6 months back, in a car accident in England, a shard of glass from the windscreen had damaged his right eye. But MAK was not a man to be daunted. His cricketing career flourished, and he earned the title ‘Tiger’ for his electrifying fielding.

Sharmila Tagore was born to parents both related to the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Sharmila herself started her career as an actress with the great Satyajit Ray and never looked back, delivering one huge Bollywood blockbuster after another with superstars of the era like Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna.

The year was 1965 and Sharmila was in Delhi for a shoot. She was introduced to MAK by common friends.

She was the heartthrob of millions. He was the dashing skipper of the Indian cricket squad. Sparks were bound to fly. Friends of the couple say that while Pataudi was bowled over by the Bengali beauty’s vivacious nature and her mature, liberated outlook, it was Pataudi’s sense of humour and suave charm that held Sharmila’s attention. Interestingly, while Sharmila was a cricket buff, Pataudi was rather clueless about Bollywood movies.

However, the lady ensured that while our man was completely at ease punishing bowlers from all over the world, he had to walk the whole nine yards and more to win her heart. Even the rather innovative first gift of a refrigerator did not make it easy for the lover boy!

It took MAK Pataudi four long years of writing letters and sending flowers to finally win over Sharmila’s heart. MAK proposed marriage to his lady love on the streets of Paris, the most romantic city in the world.


However, it turned out that Tiger had won only half the battle, as very soon, the two families intervened. Sharmila’s parents were middle-class Bengalis and were sceptical about their daughter marrying a Nawab. MAK Pataudi’s family was unsure about him marrying a Bollywood actress. The religious differences did not help, either.

However, all hurdles finally gave in before the power of love. MAK Pataudi and Sharmila Tagore married on December 27, 1969. Sharmila converted to Islam and took on the name of Ayesha Sultana.

With love on their side, it did not take the couple long to prove their families and the world wrong, as they broke rules, challenged conventions and settled down into happy matrimony. Sharmila took a short break from acting and moulded herself into the perfect begum for her real-life hero.

MAK Pataudi stood by her decision when she got back to acting. Like a truly liberal partner, the Nawab made her feel comfortable in her own glamourous, creative space. After all, Tiger had been absolutely comfortable with her donning the bikini in An Evening In Paris in 1967, when they were in a relationship.

Sharmila once said in an interview, “I haven’t given up anything. He is very liberal in his views. I’ve gained a lot of experience and gained another culture, cuisine, and way of dressing. I’ve benefited a lot.”

Of course, some things never change and Sharmila never managed to get the Tiger hooked on to Hindi movies! On the other hand, thanks to Pataudi’s indulgence and Sharmila’s interest, she is a cricket expert today.

MAK passed away in 2011, but the great love story of Sharmila and Pataudi lives on as their children Saif, Saba and Soha carry on their legacy with pride and elegance.

Published 04 Feb 2017, 22:47 IST
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