Whether sombre or sparkling, Nutan was a joy to watch on screen
Some scenes remain etched in memory. For instance, in the 1959 film Anari, Raj Kapoor looks at Nutan and says, “Ek tasveer, ek tasveer jo main barson se banaana chahta hoon, aaj ankhon ke saamne aakar khadi ho gayi” (a picture that I had been wanting to make for many years today stands before my eyes). It was a simple shot, but Nutan’s expression made it unique.
Though she had already worked in hit films like the award-winning Seema, Paying Guest and Dilli Ka Thug, Anari gave her career a further fillip. Once again her grace, simplicity and natural beauty charmed filmgoers, while her acting skills and performance in Sujata, Bandini and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki wowed the critics.
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Nutan’s 85th birth anniversary was on June 4. Her death in 1991 at the age of 54 came as a huge loss to the film community and to fans, who till today fondly recall her performances and hum songs picturised on her. ‘Chand phir nikla’ from Paying Guest, ‘Tera jaana’ from Anari, ‘Kaali ghata chhaye’ from Sujata and ‘Saawan ka mahina’ from Milan are favourites on radio, stage shows and talent contests even today.
The actress arrived at a time when Nargis was at her peak, and Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Bina Rai and Geeta Bali had huge hits to their credit. Being the daughter of filmmaker Kumarsen Samarth and actress Shobhna Samarth, she had been exposed to the industry as a child and, in fact, started acting as a 14-year-old in her mother’s 1950 production Hamari Beti.
She had three siblings, including Tanuja, who became an actress too. Nutan studied in Panchgani, Maharashtra, and later in Switzerland. After a few small roles, the big break happened at age 19 with the Balraj Sahni film Seema. The role of a convicted girl, Gauri, fetched Nutan her first Filmfare award.
Nutan with Dev Anand in Tere Ghar Ke Samne
Nutan and Dev Anand tasted success with Paying Guest, which also became popular for S.D. Burman’s music. They came together again in Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, and Nutan’s expressions in the title song, where Dev Anand imagines her inside his glass of wine, were a delight to watch.
Tere Ghar Ke Saamne was preceded by two films which proved Nutan’s versatility as an actress. Both were directed by the inimitable Bimal Roy. She played an untouchable orphan in Sujata, and a woman serving a life term for murder in Bandini. As expected, Nutan won the Filmfare best actress award for both films.
Nutan’s marriage to Lt. Commander Rajnish Behl in 1959 and the birth of their son Mohnish two years later slowed down her career, but only temporarily. By 1963, she was back in full swing. She acted in Dil Hi To Hai with Raj Kapoor, and looked gorgeous as Jameela Banu in the qawwali-inspired song, ‘Nigahen milane ko jee chahta hai’. The two were earlier seen in Anari and Chhalia.
Besides Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, Nutan did some good films with Sunil Dutt. After the success of Sujata, the two teamed up in Khandaan and Milan.
What impressed audiences about Nutan was her ability to switch roles. She was as comfortable doing intense movies as she was in frothy romances. Despite their moderate success, her performances in Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya with Dharmendra, Saraswatichandra with Manish, and Saudagar with Amitabh Bachchan were appreciated. On the personal front, much was written about Nutan’s dispute with her mother over financial matters. However, they reconciled after two decades.
Nutan in Bandini
As she turned 40, her approach to acting and roles changed. She played strong supporting roles in Raj Khosla’s Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki, Naam, Meri Jung and Karma. She also played an important role in the teleserial Mujrim Haazir.
Besides acting, Nutan was also known for her singing skills. According to son Mohnish, she was trained in Hindustani music and Kathak. Lata Mangeshkar said Nutan lip-synced her songs perfectly. The actress actually sang two songs, including ‘Ae mere humsafar’ in the 1960 film Chhabili, which had music by Snehal Bhatkar, besides a few lines in Paying Guest. She also used to organise a show called Nutan Musical Night, where she would sing.
For many actresses, Nutan was an inspiration. Sadhna and Smita Patil often expressed their admiration for her, and Sadhna admitted that her performance in Parakh was inspired by Nutan.
The writer is a Mumbai-based music journalist.
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