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“Nimmi Was Well-Read, Lively & Fun To Be With,” Lata Mangeshkar

Impish, flirtatious, pouty and  perky….somehow Nimmi was the original Mumtaz and Aruna Irani,if that makes  any sense.

 Vivacity came naturally to  Nimmi  .  It wasn’t a trait she cultivated.  It was  part of her DNA. That’s why they cast her  repeatedly as  the  chulbuli gao ki gori,or the rebellious  girl who won’t kick off her  high heels  at a kirtan sammellan.

Nimmi ’s passing away is,  frankly, of little relevance to cinematic history.Among  the  great classical  actresses  of her  time she  was  never a topnotch  player , never in the league of her  edified contemporaries  like Nargis,Meena  Kumari and Madhubala  .

The formidable  filmmaker  Mehboob Khan cast her  repeatedly in his films .  In  one of her best-known roles in  Mehboob Khan’s Amar  Nimmi  was cast  as a  rape  survivor.It  was  a role  no other major  actress  of  the time would touch.Legend has  it that Madhubala  was  offered the choice of both the female leads  in Amar by Mehboob Khan.She said  a flat no  to the  role of  the  illiterate village girl who gets raped by Dilip Kumar and  instead played  the educated  sophisticated girl who  gets  justice for  the wronged rape victim.

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“It was  never about the ‘correct’ role or the size  of  the role for  Nimmi ji.She was always  ahead  of her times.She was gutsy and rebellious  enough to take  on roles  other  more conventional  actresses wouldn’t dare and she  excelled  in them,” says filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali who wishes he could work with her. “But I did work with one of Nimmi ji’s closest friends Begum Para in Saawariya and it was a delightful experience.”

The iconic Lata Mangeshkar who has  ghost-voiced  many songs  for Nimmi recalls  her as  spirited  and  sociable.  “She was well-read lively and  fun to be with. I first met her when Raj Kapoor Saab cast her in Barsaat  in 1949. We all become one group of  driven committed fun-loving artistes—Raj Saab, Nargisji, Nimmi, (music  composers) Shankar-Jaikishan, (lyricist) Shailendra, (lyricist) Hasrat Jaipuri, Mukesh Bhaiyya(singer  Mukesh)…during Barsaat.”

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Lataji recalls Nimmi  emoting to one of her  most beloved songs of all times. “In Barsaat the song  Jiya beqaraar hai chayee bahaar aaja morey balma tera intezar hai was a super-hit.And Nimmiji did full justice to it.She was  the portrait  of  a young girl in love. The title  song Barsaat  mein humse miley tum sajan tumse miley hum  was also filmed on her.And again she  did full justice to my voice.”

Lataji also recalls Nimmi emoting to one  of her most favourite songs of all times. “In Mehboob Saab’s Amar I sang what I consider one of my best written and composed songs Na milta gham toh barbadi ke aphsane kahaan jaate…It is a very difficult song  to  project on screen .But  Nimmiji did. Unko mera salaam.”

Nimmi’s most memorable films  include Barsaat, Sazaa(in which she for a change, she played the lead, and  emoted to the immortal song Tum na jaane kis jahan mein kho gaye), AanDaag, Mere Mehboob and Basant Bahar. She was  last seen in  K Asif’s posthumous Love & God which took a gruelling 23  years to be completed. This  re-telling of  the Laila-Majnu love-legend was started with Nimmi and Guru Dutt who died midway and  was replaced by Sanjeev Kumar. Then   he too died.

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“Laila  lived but Majnu kept dying,” Nimmi once joked and then  broke into her full-throated laughter.

And   now Laila too is gone. Nimmi    loved  to sing. But  sang for herself only once in a 1951  film Bedardi. The song Nanadiya  jane na de was  composed  by Roshan.

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