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  • Writer's pictureRamachandran Srinivasan

Remembering Nargis

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Nargis would have been 91 today.

The millennials today would ideally know her as Sanjay Dutt’s mother or the character that Manisha Koirala played in the Rajkumar Hirani film Sanju which starred Ranbir Kapoor in the lead role.

Nargis was born Fatima Rashid on June 1, 1929. Not many will be aware that she was a child actress too and had made her debut as a child actress in the film Talash-E-Haq in circa 1935. Her mother Jaddanbai who was a well known singer and actress had introduced her as a five year old as Baby Rani.

Seven years later she became a heroine with the film Tamanna. Nargis’ career flourished as she started appearing in many films.

Andaz, Awara, Aah, Barsaat Deedar and Shree 420 are some of the films that she is known for as the songs of these films are repeated many a time on music channels.

She was a bigger star than Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. She was regularly given top billing over her male co-stars, and her name was enough to open movies.

Her role as Radha in the Oscar nominated film Mother India is one of the highlights in the career of this actress who was known for her super hit movies alongside showman Raj Kapoor.

Interestingly she married actor Sunil Dutt, who was much junior to her in films and junior to her by just five days in age, after he saved her from a fire on the sets of Mother India. Sunil Dutt’s birthday falls on Saturday, this week.

On March 1. 1957, rhe scene was about Nargis searching for a gun kept by Sunil Dutt who plays Birju in Mother India. The shooting was taking place at a village in Gujarat and the hay around Nargis caught fire when the westerly winds changed direction. Nargis was trapped in the fire and no one was ready to rescue her barring the brave Sunil a.k.a Balraj Dutt who jumped into the fire, burnt himself in the bargain but brought her out unscathed.

Sunil Dutt had caught a glimpse of Nargis on the sets of Bimal Roy’s classic Do Bigha Zameen and was in awe of her and when he got a chance to save her life, he was right up there.

The two fell in love as Nargis nursed Sunil Dutt back to good health at director Mehboob Khan’s house located at Navsari and they were soon in love. Sunil Dutt’s face and chest were burnt badly and it took a while for him to get well.

Mehboob Khan was upset that the news may leak out and told them to keep it under-wraps because Sunil was playing Nargis' son in the film.

So, the two got married quietly on March 11. 1958 and despite being a couple kept in touch, writing telegrams to each other and meeting each other silently before they decided to go public with their relationship.

After marriage Nargis did not do too many films, but worked in a few films like Raat Aur Din which got her a national film award for the best actress.

Nargis did a lot of social work as well and in the meantime was also detected with pancreatic cancer. Cancer claimed her a few days before Sanjay Dutt made his debut in films with Rocky.

Sunil Dutt gave her a fitting tribute by keeping a seat vacant at the premiere show of the movie. Sunil Dutt went into depression and was often spotted till early in the mornings at her grave.

It is not surprising that the actress is the first one in India to have been bestowed not just a Padmashree but also given a seat in the Rajya Sabha for her charitable work. Interestingly a postage stamp was issued in her honour as well.

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