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September 20


Bright as a star...

V Gangadhar

Baby Naaz with Master Rattan in Boot Polish. Click for bigger pic!
Fifty-three-year-old Salma Baig slipped away quietly, without much fuss on October 19, 1995. You may know her better if we told you her stage name, Baby Naaz.

So impressive and spontaneous was her performance in Raj Kapoor's Boot Polish that, even after she grew up, got married and became a mother, she was still known as Baby Naaz. Her role in Boot Polish, released in the early 1950s, won several international awards and brought fresh acclaim to the R K banner. Even recently, in 1995, she won a special jury mention at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in the film.

Naaz had a good thing in Boot Polish, a credible storyline, excellent technical effects, wonderful performances by veteran David, Master Rattan, catchy music -- John chacha, tum kitne ache, Nanhe munhe bache teri mutti mein kya hain and Lapak japak... And then, of course, her own performance.

Normally, child artistes in Hindi films are, kindly put, a pain. They are excessively coy, nauseatingly smart, or plain wooden. Naaz was none of them in Boot Polish. Her frock was torn and dirty, her face was always smudged, she looked emaciated as she followed elder brother Rattan Kumar everywhere, while John chacha exhorted them to find dignity in poverty and suffering. Their performances brought tears to one's eyes.

Boot Polish was Naaz's 10th or 12th film. No one knows how she got the role. According to her actor-husband, Subbi Raj, Nargis once spotted Naaz doing a show and was highly impressed. She recommended the child to Raj Kapoor, who was equally impressed and cast her in Boot Polish. The rest is history.

Naaz was born into a family obsessed with showbiz. Her father tried his luck in the film industry, but was not much of a success. Her mother pushed her into films and, very soon, Naaz was the family's sole earning member.

Baby Naaz with Nanda and Rehman Click for bigger pic!
At the age of six or eight, she was taken to the studios daily where her mother coaxed producers and directors to give her a chance. And however she got the role, it was with Boot Polish that she became a celebrity, even beyond Indian borders, and the first choice as child artiste.

Like Tabassum, Daisy Irani and other famous child artistes, Naaz did not make it as a heroine. It could be because there was no one to advise her how to pick roles. And her mother was excessively eager to make Naaz a heroine. She dressed her daughter in loose, grown-up garments, cake her face with heavy makeup and try and pass her off as a woman. The ploy worked with some producers, but Naaz was the ultimate sufferer.

But that she was excellent as a child artiste there is no doubt. She worked with leading directors in outstanding films. These included Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Musafir, Bimal Roy's Devdas, K A Abbas' Munna and the Nargis-Balraj Sahni starrer, Lajwanti.

She played the heroine in about 30 eminently forgettable films. But her roles, in Nadershaan with Feroz Khan, Lambe Haat with Mehmood, Rocket Girl with Sudesh Kumar and Gangu with Chandrashekhar did not challenge her undoubted talent, only her drawing power. She also starred in Mera Ghar Mere Bachchay and Dekha Pyar Tumhara opposite Raj Kapoor's cousin, up-and-coming hero Subbi Raj Kumar.

They fell in love and, after a five-year courtship, were married in 1965, despite some initial opposition from their families and the industry.

But finally, while shooting for Dekha Pyar Tumhara, Naaz and the other members of her family trailed Subbi Raj into a temple located inside the Pratapgad fort. While the twosome were alone, Subbi Raj applied the tikka signifying a married woman on her forehead and told her, "If you could follow me till here, you should marry me." Their marriage stood the test of time.

Baby Naaz aka Salma Baig Click for bigger pic!
Naaz continued to work after marriage but family came first. She was never pushy and, in an industry known for its cut-throat competition, never sought favours from producers and directors. Soon, she matured into a character actress and bagged good roles in films like Bahu Begum, Kati Patang and Sachcha Joota (where she played Rajesh Khanna's crippled sister).

Occasionally, Naaz did feel her talent had been ill-used by the industry. As a result, she became more family-oriented. Naaz had an exquisite voice and spoke beautifully. As her screen career floundered, she became a top dubbing artiste, lending her voice to all top stars, including Sridevi.

And then, one day, Naaz complained of stomach pain and slight difficulty in swallowing. Sonography revealed tumours, which had spread all over the liver. Surgery and chemotherapy were ruled out and she tried Japanese therapy to reduce the pain.

"We did everything to make her life easy and the pain bearable," recalls Subbi Raj. "I took her to visit our guruji in Delhi. She was exhausted, but exhilarated by the trip"

On October 16, 1995, Baby Naaz began slipping. Subbi Raj, who was shooting in Jammu, rushed back to Bombay. But she quietly drifted away in her sleep three days later, on October 19.

And though all of Bollywood did not appreciate the fact, the industry had lost a very talented artiste.

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