"Aye Guru, tu jab mar jaayega apni library mere naam likh jaana," joked a young Tanuja with Guru Dutt.
She was not to know then how poignant those innocuous words would seem in retrospect during the shooting of Baharein Phir Bhi Aayegi. Almost always bursting with good cheer, the articulate Tanuja was as animated as a wood sprite.
She scored each time she extended her off-screen effervescence to her screen image (Jeene Ki Raah, Jewel Thief, Haathi Mere Saathi).
Like Geeta Bali, the spitfire of the 1950s Tanuja possessed a sunshine smile and saucy attitude. To sadly corroborate the popular adage that history repeats itself, she too had only a handful of roles befitting her immense talent.
When 1940s star Shobhana Samarth decided to launch her daughter Nutan with Hamari Beti (1950), she also gave her younger daughter Tanuja a break as a child actor. The film did not do much for either of Shobhana's betis.
Soon, Tanuja was packed off abroad where she fine-tuned her etiquette and familiarised herself with English, French and German. She returned with only a working knowledge of Hindi but willingly shared screen space with her now famous sister Nutan for their home production Chhabili (1960). This film too failed to provide the wind below Tanuja's wings.
|Famous songs of Tanuja|
| Kabhi tanhaiyon
|Hamari Yaad Aayegi||Mubarak Begum|
|Raat akeli hain||Jewel Thief||Asha Bhosle|
|Baag mein kali khili||Chand Aur Suraj||Asha Bhosle|
| Yeh dil tujh
|Izzat||Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi|
|Ber lo ber lo||Paisa Ya Pyar||Asha Bhosle|
| Aap mujhe
achhe lagne lage
|Jeene Ki Raah||Lata Mangeshkar|
| Sun jaa aa
|Haathi Mere Saathi|| Lata Mangeshkar, |
| Mera dil jo
|Yaari ho gayee||Do Chor||Lata Mangeshkar|
|Roz shaam aati||Imtihaan||Lata Mangeshkar|
Fortunately, the film also proved to be a slap on the face of her detractors. Playing a street waif, she got her first recognition as a spontaneous actress. But the film did not register on the box-office radar and is remembered only for chanteuse Mubarak Begum's curse-in-verse, Kabhi tanhaiyon mein yun, hamari yaad aayegi ... phir na jee sakoge tum, na tujhko maut aayegi.
The early 1960s saw Tanuja's career stuck in development hell. Her roles were a curious clutch of supporting roles in major films like Aaj Aur Kal (her vivacious character provided a striking personality contrast to a morose Nanda), and Benazir (with Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar); a role with comedian Mehmood (Bhoot Bangla) and lead parts opposite medium impact newcomers like Dharmendra in Chand Aur Suraj.
When Guru Dutt died, leaving Tanuja's big hope Baharein Phir Bhi Aayegi incomplete, Dharmendra replaced him. Mala Sinha may have had the more dramatic role, but it was Tanuja whom Dharmendra loved and serenaded.
But the big solo hit eluded her. Tanuja's progress was as arduous as any pilgrim's. Her late 1960s roles ranged from good (she sizzled in Jewel Thief), to bad (a go-nowhere role in Hema Malini's debut Sapnon Ka Saudagar), to indifferent (Nai Roshni, Wahan Ke Log, Juari). Creatively, the bright spark was Do Dooni Char co-starring Kishore Kumar. In this adaptation of Shakespeare's Comedy Of Errors, Tanuja displayed formidable comic timing.
It was her unusual pairing with Jeetendra in Jeene Ki Raah (1969) that catapulted Tanuja into stardom. She played a wheelchair-bound rich girl who is spurred to walk after she is smitten by Jeetendra. But, unknown to her, he is already married. Tanuja stayed true to her zingy personality and dried off any excessive melodrama.
In the same year, Tanuja won the Best Supporting Actress Filmfare Award for Paisa Ya Pyar. Tanuja was flooded with films, and some like Pavitra Papi (1970) showcased a more sedate side of the actress.
|Tanuja's trademark films|
|1961||Hamari Yaad Aayegi||Ashok Sharma|
|1966||Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi||Dharmendra|
|1967||Jewel Thief||Dev Anand|
|1969||Paisa Ya Pyar||Sharad|
|1969||Jeene Ki Raah||Jeetendra|
|1969||Haathi Mere Saathi||Rajesh Khanna|
|1972||Ek Baar Muskara Do||Joy Mukherjee|
Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja did two more films together, Mere Jeevan Saathi and Humshakal, but they proved to be also-rans. Tanuja then refused the role eventually played by Zeenat Aman in the ground-breaking Hare Rama Hare Krishna as she did not want to play Dev Anand's sister.
Tanuja was eminently interesting when she tried something different, like Basu Bhattacharya's Anubhav (1971). She let Bhattacharya shoot the film in her apartment and was rewarded with a memorable role of a wife caught between an unfulfilling marriage (to Sanjeev Kumar) and an ex-lover (Dinesh Thakur). In a vastly underrated performance, Tanuja made evident with the subtlest of gestures the many shifts in her character's psyche.
A whirlwind romance with Mukherjee scion Shomu, her Ek Baar Muskara Do (1972) director, resulted in Tanuja getting married in 1973 and taking it easy after daughter Kajol's birth on August 5, 1974.
Tanuja was wheelchair-bound once again (a la Jeene Ki Raah) in one of her last films as a heroine, Imtihaan (1974). She was cast more to type in Humrahi, a rollicking comedy which had Tanuja exchanging barbs and jokes with Randhir Kapoor.
Thereafter, she grittily pulled herself out of a stagnant marriage but was swamped by character roles in films often starring former heroes. Her Pyar Ki Kahani hero Amitabh Bachchan had to call her bhabhi in Khuddar (1982).
But the occasional powerful character like in Raj Kapoor's Prem Rog (1982) kept her creative muse alive and reminded us of her talent and the famous sparkle in her eye.