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Nargis

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Dinesh Raheja

Whereas most actors have one definitive forte, Nargis won over 1950s audiences and critics with strikingly versatile characterisations. She could kindle soft-focus romance in Raj Kapoor costarrers like Barsaat and Awaara. She could also be the messy-haired matriarch in the epic Mother India, benevolent but with a will of unalloyed steel.

Famous for her effervescent personality offscreen (she could be an apostle of philantrophy but also a termagent who could give a tongue-lashing if crossed), Nargis did not confine herself to just domesticity and motherhood even after retirement. Her niece, actress Zaheeda remembered, "She was a thinking person. She spoke beautiful English and and could mix with the cream of society." Nargis channelised her non-histrionic talents for social work, especially for the Spastics Society and as a member the Rajya Sabha.

Nargis' Landmark Films With Dilip Kumar
 Year  Film
 1948  Mela
 1949  Andaaz
 1950  Jogan
 1950  Babul
 1951  Deedar

Born to film actress and singer Jaddanbai, Nargis spent her childhood in the Mumbai locality of Marine Drive and went to Queen Mary's school. She acted as Baby Rani in her mother's film Talaash e Haq (1935), before making her debut as a heroine opposite Motilal in Mehboob Khan's Taqdeer (1943).

Taqdeer was a tepid success and didn't change Nargis's own taqdeer [fate] instantly. Nargis wasn't much of a singer (in the early 1940s, singing abilities were still a major plus for heroines). Also, she was only 14, much younger than the leading male stars of the 1940s like Saigal, Ashok Kumar and Prithviraj Kapoor. The Baby Rani tag still clung to her and, in fact, 'Baby' was her nickname which endured till late in her life.

In 1948, when Nargis starred with fellow youngsters Dilip Kumar (Mela) and Raj Kapoor (Aag) for the first time, was to be the turning point in her life. And Mehboob Khan's superhit, Andaaz in 1949 was the film that shot Nargis to superstardom especially when it was quickly succeeded by the Raj Kapoor blockbuster Barsaat (1949).

Nargis' Landmark Films With Raj Kapoor
 Year  Film
 1949  Andaaz
 1949  Barsaat
 1951  Awaara
 1952  Anhonee
 1955  Shri 420
 1956  Chori Chori

Striking, rather than conventionally beautiful, Nargis scored in these films with her unmistakable vitality and the sheer naturalism of her portrayals, whether it was the forlorn village girl of Barsaat or the conflicted modern miss of Andaaz puzzling over the labyrithine intricacies of her married life (with Raj Kapoor) and her platonic friendship (with Dilip Kumar).

Nargis was obviously comfortable in front of the camera now and eager to imbibe and question. She integrated her habit of sniffing into Barsaat and employed a sniffing mannerism for her character. For Jogan (1950) she cut off her long nails to stay within the character and endured wearing false nails for other films.

With Suraiya and Kamini Kaushal and later, Madhubala and Nalini Jaywant providing worthy competition, the still-in-her-20s Nargis was the soul of professionalism who would shoot even with high fever. She worked in as many as ten films in 1950.

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Awaara (1951) may have had Raj Kapoor in the title role but Nargis had a memorable role too. Besides the warm girlfriend of the vagabond hero (their moonlit romantic scenes are to sigh for); she was also the hard-nosed lawyer who fights for the hero in a predominantly male courtroom.

After Awaara's thumping success, the Nargis-Raj Kapoor association reached its peak. For several years, Nargis starred only opposite Raj Kapoor. The duo made a further splash with Anhonee (1952), Shri 420 (1955) and Chori Chori (1956). When Awaara was released in 1954 in Russia, it was a huge success.

Nargis was always game to take on challenges. With Vyjayanthimala's twinkle-toed entry into films, Nargis brushed up on her rusty dancing and sportingly did the the Chori Chori puppet song Jahan bhi jaati hoon wohi chale aate ho. She agreed to do a one-song cameo (Jaago Mohan pyaare) and imparted a fitting serenity that wrapped up Jagte Raho (1956), which was, incidentally, her last film with Raj Kapoor.

Nargis moved out of the Kapoor ambit and took on Mother India (1957). Director Mehboob Khan made this unfailingly-moving rural epic on a grand scale. Nargis's performance as the earth mother who shoots down her beloved son, has made the appeal of the seeped in colour and emotion film eternal.

Though Meena Kumari had come up with a terrific performance the same year in Sharda,where she played a mother to Raj Kapoor, Nargis won the award for Mother India and also an ineluctable place in film history. She was awarded the Padmashree in 1958.

Famous songs of Nargis
 Song  Film  Singers
 Tod diya dil mera  Andaaz  Lata Mangeshkar
 O! mujhe kisise pyar
  ho gaya
 Barsaat  Lata Mangeshkar
 Ghunghat ke pat khol  Jogan  Geeta Dutt
 Kisike dil mein rehna tha   Babul  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Shamshad Begum
 Dum bhar jo udhar
 mooh phere
 Awaara  Lata Mangeshkar,  Mukesh
 Raja ki aayegi baraat  Aah  Lata Mangeshkar
 Pyar hua iqrar hua  Shri 420  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Manna Dey
 Aaja sanam madhur
 chaandi mein
 Chori Chori  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Manna Dey
 Jaago Mohan pyaare
 jaago
 Jagte Raho  Lata Mangeshkar
 Duniya mein hum aaye
 hai toh
 Mother India  Lata Mangeshkar
 Unko yeh shikayat hai  Adalat  Lata Mangeshkar
 Dil ki girah khol do  Raat Aur Din  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Manna Dey

Mother India also won for Nargis a husband -- Sunil Dutt. Dutt, who played her son onscreen, became her partner in real life after he intrepidly plunged in and saved her from an on-the-sets fire. When the shy Dutt would come to pay Nargis a visit, he would be constantly be looking down and Nargis's teenaged nieces would jocularly remark, "I think he is rather fond of our Persian carpets."

On March 11, 1958, Nargis and Dutt married each other.

Nargis retired from the screen and the following year, in 1959, gave birth to Sanjay Dutt. There were several tempting offers but save for her brother's long-delayed split-personality drama Raat Aur Din (1967), Nargis refused them all. She immersed herself in playing motherhood and got involved in social welfare activities.

With Sunil Dutt by her side she fought a courageous battle against cancer in New York. In May 1981, just as her son Sanjay's debut film Rocky was about to be released, she succumbed.

Nargis' Landmark Films
Except for Mother India (1957) where she was paired with Raaj Kumar, most of Nargis's successes have been with either Raj Kapoor or Dilip Kumar.

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