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Dinesh Raheja

Nanda was the good little girl of Hindi films --- she was the Snow White who blushed rose red at the slightest hint of any flirtation by the hero.

Blessed with a face innocent of any malice or calculation, Nanda is remembered even today, as much for being Baby Nanda or the chhoti bahen of her earlier films as for her successful career as the soft-spoken heroine of some 40 films thereafter.

Not that Nanda didn't try to shatter her image. In Aashiq, she played a manipulative wife while in Yash Chopra's Ittefaq, she was the murderess. In The Train she effectively donned the glamour doll mantle, too.

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But Nanda's appeal is predominantly that of a winsome, if rather teary-eyed, innocent.

Rather surprisingly, Nanda has lived a life marked by tragedy.

Her father, Master Vinayak, passed away when she was only eight years old. He was a successful actor-director in the 1930s and 1940s. After his death, the family fortunes took a dip. Little Nanda contributed to the family by working as a child artiste in early fifties' films like Jaggu and Angaarey.

V Shantaram, an associate of Master Vinayak, gave Baby Nanda her big break when he cast her in his successful brother-sister saga Toofan Aur Diya (1956). But success did not come Nanda's way immediately.

She bravely refused to give in to the temptation of a regular income which would come with being shackled by a long-term contract to a big studio. Instead, she played sister to stars like Raaj Kumar (Dulhan) or Dev Anand (Kaala Bazaar) and doing small roles in big films like Dhool Ka Phool.

Nanda's ability to arouse the audience's protective instincts was pronounced even then --- most noticeably in two weepies: Bhabhi (1957) and Chhoti Bahen (1959).

Famous songs picturised on Nanda
Song Film Singer
 Bhaiya mere rakhi ke
 bandhan ko
 Chhoti Bahen  Lata Mangeshkar
 Meethi meethi baaton
 Qaidi No 911  Lata Mangeshkar
 Aaha rimjhim ke  Usne Kaha Tha  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Talat Mahmood
 Allah tero naam  Hum Dono  Lata Mangeshkar
 Pardesiyon se na  Jab Jab Phool
 Lata Mangeshkar
 Jaane chaman  Gumnaam  Sharda, Mohammed
 Ke hum tum dori se  Dharti Kahe
 Pukar Ke
 Lata Mangeshkar,
 Naino mein kajra hai  Joru Ka
 Lata Mangeshkar,
 Kishore Kumar
 Ek pyar ka naghma hai  Shor  Lata Mangeshkar

The title role of L V Prasad's Chhoti Bahen and its superhit rakhsha bandhan song Bhaiya mere rakhee ke bandhan ko nibhana made Nanda a true blue star. The audiences wept copiously along with Nanda, as they followed the tear-soaked arc of her many travails (rejection from a beloved brother, a tart-tongued sister-in-law, blindness et al), in the film.

Nanda made the quantum leap from playing Dev Anand's sister in Kaala Bazaar (1960) to playing his heroine in Hum Dono (1961). From playing the second lead in B R Chopra's production Dhool Ka Phool (1959), she was the heroine of his next release, Kanoon (1960).

Hum Dono was a triumph for Nanda. She eloquently brought to life the dilemma of a wife confused by her husband's (Dev Anand) remoteness, unaware that she is living with his double.

Even while she was playing opposite A-listers like Dev Anand in Hum Dono and Raj Kapoor in Aashiq, Nanda sportingly agreed to star in films opposite newcomers like Dharmendra (Mera Kasoor Kya Hai) and Manoj Kumar (Bedaag).

Nanda adopted this strategy throughout her career. Her willingness to sign on a string of films with one unproven newcomer --- Shashi Kapoor --- proved especially fortuitous. Their first film together Chaar Deewari (1961) didn't do well, but the star pair continued signing films till they hit the jackpot with Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965).

The candy-coloured Jab Jab Phool Khile added a glamorous dimension to Nanda's image, which had hitherto been that of a lachrymose girl in the junior Meena Kumari mould. Think of Nanda's role as the morose, wheelchair-bound heroine of Aaj Aur Kal (1963). Or even the Dev Anand starrer Teen Deviyan, where Nanda seemed the obvious choice as the most diffident and home-loving of the three heroines (the other two being Kalpana and Simi).

Nanda's Landmark Films
Year Film Actors
1956  Toofan Aur Diya  Rajendra Kumar
1957  Bhabhi  Jagdeep
1959  Chhoti Bahen  Sudesh Kumar
1960  Kanoon  Rajendra Kumar
1961  Hum Dono  Dev Anand
1963  Aaj Aur Kal  Sunil Dutt
1965  Jab Jab Phool Khile  Shashi Kapoor
1965  Gumnaam  Manoj Kumar
1969  Ittefaq  Rajesh Khanna
1970  The Train  Rajesh Khanna

In Jab Jab Phool Khile, Nanda was equally convincing, whether as the Westernised memsaab who sways in a gown to Yeh sama sama hai yeh pyar ka or the distraught girlfriend who finds it difficult to sympathise with her shikarawala lover's culture shock.

The film, which inspired Raja Hindustani 30 years later, was an unqualified success.

The dichotomy between Nanda's earlier homely image and the demands of a more glamorous era in the late sixties saw her career being caught in the middle. Roles in hit films like Gumnaam (1965) didn't really make much demand on Nanda's indubitable histrionic prowess.

She had often been compared to her senior, the legendary Meena Kumari. The two finally came together in Abhilasha (1968) but the film didn't prove memorable.

In 1969, Nanda gave an enigmatic, finely-nuanced performance in Yash Chopra's songless whodunit, Ittefaq. Her oh-so-sweet image played its part in making the film a success --- Nanda was probably the last person the audience thought would turn out the murderer.

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Films with new superstar Rajesh Khanna (The Train, Joru Ka Ghulam) followed but the actress couldn't adjust to the new working atmosphere of the seventies. After a touching cameo in Manoj Kumar's Shor (1972), Nanda gradually retreated from the film industry.

She surprised many people, including herself, when she returned in the early eighties to do precisely three films --- coincidentally all three Padmini Kolhapure starrers. Her histrionic maturity was clearly evident as the aging Devdasi in Ahista Ahista, as Dilip Kumar's wife in Mazdoor and as the hapless mother in Raj Kapoor's Prem Rog.

Sadly, she chose to retreat into the shadows thereafter. Waheeda Rehman, who had been friends with her ever since they co-starred in Kaala Bazaar, pestered her to get married. In 1992, Nanda finally said yes to noted director Manmohan Desai. The director's subsequent death made Nanda retreat further into her shell.
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