Nargis Dutt was only 51 when we lost her to cancer in 1981. Her last wish was to see her darling son Sanjay Dutt on the big screen in Rocky. That was not meant to be. Sanjay Dutt once told me how copiously he and his dad the much-respected Sunil Dutt wept for the woman they most loved.
“I miss her, yaar! I miss her all the time.” Sanjay had once confessed to me. “And you know what? I don’t think my troubles would have happened if she was with me. I kind of lost my way after she was gone. She was my anchor and my fairy godmother. She made every wish of mine come true.”
It is also true that Nargisji spoilt her only son silly. “She just let him do whatever he wanted and covered up for him whenever Sanju’s disciplinarian father tried to control him. Dutt Saab would ask where Sanju was, Nargisji would say he was in his room. She would sneak him back into the house in the wee hours as if he was sleeping the whole night,” a senior actress once told me.
Nargis Dutt was a very strong woman. She had the inner strength to walk out of a 10-year relationship with Raj Kapoor when she saw no future, no marriage, in it. Within months of the breakup , she met and fell in love with Sunil Dutt on the sets of Mother India. Theirs was one of the most successful marriages in Bollywood.Till death did them apart.
After marriage, Nargis never looked back at her career. Her final film Raat Aur Din where she played a split personality and for which she won the National award, was released after marriage. Some of her other notable films featured her as the strong resilient woman who often wore the pants in a marriage . In Mehboob Khan’s Andaz(1949) she was the headstrong modern woman Neena who sees nothing wrong in keeping male company in her circle of friends.In Raj Kapoor’s Awara she was again the headstrong westernized cool-chick.
Image changes came with Lajwanti and Ghar Sansar both co-starring Balraj Sahni, where she played the central role of the indomitable homemaker. In 1957 a year after she broke away from Raj Kapoor, Nargis was the cynosure of all eyes in Mehboob Khan’s Mother India. The film defines her career. Interestingly the comic virtuoso I S Johar, known for his satirical mimicry, made and released Miss India with Nargis in the lead during the same year as Mother India.
Contrary to widespread belief Nargis’s best performance was not in Mother India. Though she was supremely powerful in the film her best performance is to be seen in a film called Adalat in 1958 where she played a reluctant prostitute with just the right amounts of passion and pathos .Adalat is memorable for the songs Nargis sang on screen composed by Madan Mohan in the timeless voice of Lata Mangeshkar, Unko yeh shikayat hai, Jaana ttha humse dur and Yun hasraton ke daag.
Lataji and Nargisji were very close friends and the actress insisted on Lataji’s ghost-voice.
Recalls Lataji, “She lived in Marine Drive, quite close to Walkeshwar where I stayed. So we met at home as well as the recording studios. She used to be present for all the song recording of Raj Kapoor’s films. I remember she would bring sandwiches to the studios and feed all of us. Jaane kahan gaye wohdin!”
Lataji remembers the Mother India actress as possessing tremendous elegance . “She was a woman with great poise. Her lifestyle clothes and speech were always proper. I never saw her improperly dressed. She always wore white saris with matching accessories. And since white was my favourite colour she would send over the door-to-door sari sellers from Lucknow to my house. I have never seen her wearing non-white.”
The lady in white made her last appearance in a Raj Kapoor film in 1955 singing Jago mohan pyare in Lataji’s voice. After that she never looked back.