Nargis The Lady In White Has Left Colours Of Talent That Cannot Be Wiped Out By Time
History of Hindian Cinema or a Biography on the Bollywood Beauties would be less inspiring and interesting and, of course, incomplete without a retrospective hindsight of the drive and dynamism, vim and vigour and films and flings of the legendary actress Nargis whose 38th death anniversary falls today ~ 03 May! Incidentally, the same day 106 years before (03 May, 1913), marked the ‘Dawn of Indian Cinema‘ when the first indigenously made Indian film “Raja Harishchandra” was unveiled!
There was nothing remarkable in the birth and background, circumstances or conditions of Baby Rani aka Fatima Rashid aka Nargis Dutt to suggest even remotely that she would find a niche place in the world of Indian Cinema. Yet she made it to the frontal of the Indian Cinema.
Cinema or films itself came to her rescue by breaking the chain of a custom and tradition to which her singer~actress mother Jaddan Bai belonged. Had it not been Mehboob, Movies and Mumbai, the Mecca of Indian Cinema, Nargis too would have probably followed the ‘Naqsh-e-Pa‘ of her Maa and ended up as one more professional entertainer of the Kothewali class and category !! Her fate, fortunes and faculties had something better in store for her… Films !!!
Nargis was born to Mohan babu, a Mahyal Brahmin from Punjab and Jaddan, a Muslim Bai also from Punjab.
Nargis studied in Queen Mary’s, one of the best convent schools in Mumbai and grew up to a well groomed, elegant, graceful and sophisticated young lady (a real life role which she played with great relish in reel life too).
Nargis was a Muslim but she was not a conformist and conservative and, not the least, ordinary and orthodox;
Nargis was modern but she respected culture, traditions and values;
Nargis was daring but not outrageous and offensive;
Nargis was tomboyish but very much a woman with her dreams and desires of a family;
“Andaz” and “Mother India”, two memorable classics, both directed by her mentor Mehboob Khan, bear ample testimony to this!!
Mehboob Khan introduced Nargis in his film ‘Taqdeer’ (1943), the first film made under his newly floated banner Mehboob Productions. She was barely 14 and was pitted against veterans like Chandramohan and Motilal who played her romantic interest. Mehboob’s wife Sardar Akhtar applied the first coat of makeup, as an auspicious gesture, on the budding starlet.
But before “Taqdeer”, Nargis had dabbled in films as Baby Rani in films directed by her actress~singer~composer mother: “Talash-e-Haque” (1935) followed by “Hridaya Manthan” and “Madam Fashion” (1936), “Jeewan Swapna” and “Moti Ka Haar” (1937).
With the backing of a highly successful filmmaker like Mehboob and two consummate actors like Chandramohan and Motilal as her co stars, the fortunes of Nargis smiled with “Taqdeer” which was loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Pygmalion”. She became an overnight sensation. She looked fresh, naive, innocent with darting eyes and a tiny gap between her front line teeth. Baburao Patel of Film India was too quick to write off Nargis and her naive looks as ‘Horsey’ and ‘Papaya faced’!!
Nargis looked more confident in Mehboob’s historical “Humayun” where in she played Hamida, a small time girl in love with the Emperor Humayun! Nargis was pitted against big names like Nawaz (who played Babar), Ashok Kumar, Chandramohan and Veena. The film with its camouflaged message of fostering unity between Hindus and Muslims accentuated her climb to success and stardom and also exposed her to controversies and coterieism (is there such a word!!).
To give a further boost to her newly acquired star status, a family production company was floated under the banner name Nargis Arts. The concern’s maiden film “Romeo and Juliet” (1947) was produced and directed by her brother Akhtar Husain and starred Nargis opposite Sapru (again a much older actor in the bracket of Motilal and Ashok Kumar). The film had music by Husanlal Bhagatram who recorded a duet ‘Donon jahan teri mohabbat mein haar ke‘ in the voices of their then assistant cum disciple Khayyam (under the name Prem Kumar) and Zohrabai. The raag Darbari based ghazal was written by renowned Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz.
Around the same time, K Asif had announced “Mughal-e-Azam” with Nargis, Sapru and Chandramohan to play Anarkali, Salim and Akbar respectively. But the film was shelved after few reels as the financier Shiraz Ali Hakim had migrated to Pakistan and Chandramohan had a premature death.
Nargis acted in two more home productions “Anjuman” (1948) and “Darogaji” (1949) both with Jairaj in the lead, again an actor much older than her. She acted in two more films with him: “Roomal” (1949) and “Sagar” (1951).
But she made an attractive pair with two young actors who were slowly making their mark as the marquee stars: Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar.
Films like “Aag” with Raj Kapoor and “Anokha Pyar” and “Mela” with Dilip Kumar, all three released in 1948, set the ball rolling.
Nargis did in all seven films with Dilip Kumar in a span of four years 1948 to 1951: “Anokha Pyar”, “Mela”, “Andaz” (which also starred Raj Kapoor), “Jogan”, “Babul”, “Deedar”, “Hulchul”. Though the onscreen chemistry between the two was quite intimidating, the two fired the imagination of the movie buffs. It took four years for the filmmakers to realise that their teaming was a box office poison though many of the films starring the two had succeeded. “Hulchul” marked the last film of the two following some unprintable controversies surrounding it.
Nargis did just two films with Dev Anand: “Birha Ki Raat” and “Khel”. Their teaming was never a talked about one though both had winsome looks and were modern, sophisticated and successful.
The Raj Kapoor – Nargis team was truly a heart warming one and together they set the reel and real life afire with their animated, bold, natural, passionate, spontaneous and uninhibited performances and song scenes. The Golden Era of Hindi Films and Film Music would be incomplete without detailing about the fabulous twosome who became inseparably entwined till the mid fifties through a record number of sixteen films :
“Aag”, “Andaz”, “Barsaat”, “Jaan Pehchan”, “Pyar”, “Awara”, “Ambar”, “Ashiana”, “Anhonee”, “Bewafa”, “Aah”, “Paapi”, “Dhun”, “Shree 420”, “Chori Chori” and “Jagte Raho” (in which Nargis made a refreshing fleeting song appearance).
Raj Kapoor did not see beyond Nargis. All the films that he did in the four years 1952 to 1956 were with Nargis. Where as, in the same period Nargis acted with other heroes too (“Sheesha” with Sajjan, “Pehli Shaadi” with Bharat Bhushan, “Angarey” with Nasir Khan though none of the films crosses the memory lane today). But, Nargis and Raj Kapoor created pure magic together.
A little known fact is Raj Kapoor had no plans of casting Nargis in “Aag”, their first film together after which they ignited the screen together several times. At the time of “Aag”, he had not built the now iconic RK Studio. In search of a studio, he ended up at the Famous Studio in Mahalaxmi where Jaddan Bai was shooting for “Romeo and Juliet”. He wanted to meet her and enquire about the facilities available in the studio. The unit had already packed up and left. He then headed towards her place in Marine Lines and when he rang the bell, Nargis opened the door. She was eighteen then and he twenty two or so. He was smitten by her very first sight and bitten by the love bug. The scene remained entrenched in his mind and years later, he picturised that first meeting in “Bobby” via his son Rishi Kapoor and the Nargis look~alike Dimple Kapadia as an ode to their (Raj Kapoor and Nargis) much cherished memorable first meeting.
Nargis was an integral part of RK Films and his life too. The two had become inseparable as depicted by that intimate and instinctive pose from “Barsaat” which went on to become the iconic logo of RK Films ~ Raj Kapoor with a violin and bow held in one hand and Nargis upheld in the other!!
Nargis had almost become indispensable; she and her intensity, her spontaneity, her vivacity inspired him, encouraged him, motivated him, captivated him. A stage came when she wanted to marry him but that was not to be. And soon the unifying dash between the inseparable Raj Kapoor ~ Nargis began to widen. And the inevitable split occurred in 1956 with “Chori Chori” as their last film together in romantic lead, not to forget the refreshingly fleeting song appearance ‘Jaago mohan pyaare‘ in RK’s “Jagte Raho” ! That was a call and cry in wilderness for he never ‘woke up’ after that; he continued to be ruled by his heart which swayed with the same passion between two sensuous southern sirens … Padmini and Vyjayantimala. But that’s a different story!
After her split with Raj Kapoor, Nargis had almost retired from films. But not before doing some noteworthy films like “Adalat”, “Lajwanti” and the most memorable of all “Mother India”. She portrayed the dual persona of a struggling ~ suffering ~ sacrificing mother who at the same time represented an ideal strong Indian woman upholding the dignity of womanhood. The film and her performance won her not only rave reviews and recognition, awards and accolades but also Sunil Dutt, her wayward son in the film, who within a year became her caring and devoted husband in real life. He was two years younger than her and a Hindu but love sees no reason and religion, no season and supposition. The screen son was to become sire of three siblings Sanjay, Namrata and Priya !!
After a gap of almost eight to nine years, Nargis made her last screen appearance in her home production “Raat aur Din” made under the banner AAN Productions (named after her two brothers Akhtar and Anwar and herself). She received the National Films Award for Best Actress for her outstanding performance in the film and was the first recepient of the award. She then retired fully from films and devoted her time to her family, children, Sunil Dutt’s Ajanta Troupe which organised shows for the jawans at the border and other social work particularly as a patron of the Spastic Society of India. In recognition of her contribution to the society, she was nominated as a Rajya Sabha Member in 1980.
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