Mala Sinha

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Mala Sinha

Dinesh Raheja

A Hindi film heroine is all too often seen as arm candy who does her songs and dances and is finally presented to the hero in the end.

What is remarkable about Mala Sinha is that most of her 1960s hits were fuelled by her own star power as much as the heros'. When she acted opposite big stars, she made sure her role was as good as theirs.

Famous songs picturised on Mala Sinha
Song Film Singer
 Hum aap ki
 aankhon mein
 Pyaasa  Mohammed Rafi,  Geeta Dutt
 Woh subah kabhi  toh aayegi  Phir Subah  Hogi  Mohammed Rafi,  Asha Bhosle, Mukesh
 Dhadakne lage dil  ke taaro  Dhool Ka  Phool  Asha Bhosle,  Mahendra Kapoor
 Rang dil ki
 dhadkan bhi
 Patang  Lata Mangeshkar
 Aapki nazron
 ne samjha
 Anpadh  Lata Mangeshkar
 Dil tera deewana
 hai sanam
 Dil Tera  Deewana  Lata Mangeshkar,  Mohammed Rafi
 Aaja aaja re tujhko  mera pyaar pukare  Gumraah  Asha Bhosle,  Mahendra Kapoor
 Kankariya maar
 ke jagaya
 Himalaya Ki  God Mein  Lata Mangeshkar
 Gairon pe karam
 apnon pe sitam
 Aankhen  Lata Mangeshkar
 Mere mitwah,
 mere geet re
 Geet  Lata Mangeshkar,  Mohammed Rafi

If that was not always possible, she didn't mind doing smaller films with lesser names (Aasra, Dillagi). But her character always had to be the crux of the story.

Today, her unforgettable performances (Pyaasa, Phir Subah Hogi, Gumraah), have been relegated to the shade, while her weakness for over-the-top, mawkish melodrama is remembered.

Born a Nepali Christian, the young Mala was a chinky-eyed girl with curly hair and average height. "I was not as good-looking as Madhubala, all I had going for me was talent," she remembers.

With time, she fine-tuned her looks, inspiring Mahesh Bhatt to comment, "She exuded sensuality in Pyaasa." When colour seeped into films, she made the audience sit up, revealing a surprisingly slim new look in films like Aankhen, where she swayed memorably in a figure-hugging, strappy gown to Gairon pe karam apnon pe sitam.

While most of her contemporaries looked old-maidish once they entered the dreaded mid 30s, Mala looked chic in chiffon saris and butterfly blouses in Maryada, where she matched Rajesh Khanna's mannerisms with captivating coquetry in the impish Chupke se dil de de.

Was her role as good as the superstar's? Well, she had a double role and romanced both Rajesh and Raaj Kumar in the film.

Mala began rather humbly in the early 1950s in Bengali films like Roshanara. Soon, she shifted to Mumbai. She made a not-so-princely entry with Badshah (1954).

A lead in Kishore Sahu's Hamlet followed. During Kidar Sharma's Rangeen Raatein (1956), hero Shammi Kapoor's girlfriend, the vivacious Geeta Bali took an unsure Mala Sinha and groomed her.

The spotlight first shone on her in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957). Mala's character had negative shades as she played an ambitious woman who betrays her impoverished poet lover (Guru Dutt) for a millionaire publisher (Rehman). Yet Mala won the audience. Her trump card was her ability to emote with her pain-heavy eyes despite being mute about her remorse.

Mala soon made the grade from promising newcomer to star when she signed three films with a biggie like Raj Kapoor: Parvarish (1958), Phir Subah Hogi (1958) and Main Nashe Mein Hoon (1959).

Based on Fyodor Dostoyevski's Crime And Punishment, the stark Phir Subah Hogi showcases Mala in a performance that's eye-openingly subtle. In latter years, however, Mala Sinha sacrificed subtlety for melodrama but she had no regrets --- it paid her rich dividends.

In 1959, Mala had, on one hand the merry Dev Anand musical Love Marriage; while at the other end of the spectrum was her role in B R Chopra's Dhool Ka Phool. In Yash Chopra's debut directorial venture, Dhool Ka Phool, Mala Sinha again had a dark-shaded role of a woman who abandons her illegitimate child.

A trio of hits in 1962 --- Anpadh, Hariyali Aur Raasta and Dil Tera Deewana --- preceded her career best, B R Chopra's Gumraah (1963). She essayed the a woman forced by circumstances to marry her sister's widower (Ashok Kumar), but is tormented by the presence of her ex-lover (Sunil Dutt). Mala made her character's dilemma over whether to succumb to an extramarital affair seem identifiable and human.

Mala next had a huge hit as a village belle in Himalaya Ki God Mein (1965), though her performance seems contrived today.

Strong, women-oriented roles were known as her forte. Guru Dutt cast Mala in an author-backed role (as a working woman pinning her hopes on a hopeless romance), in his production, Baharen Phir Bhi Aayegi. When he passed away, the film was reshot with Dharmendra in the lead.

Interestingly, Mala Sinha did three films each with three of the biggest banners of her times: B R Chopra's Dhool Ka Phool, Dharamputra and Gumraah; Vijay Bhatt's Hariyali Aur Raasta, Himalaya Ki God Mein and Holi Aayee Re and Ramanand Sagar's Aankhen, Geet and Lalkaar.

But since playing the central role was a major motivating factor for Mala Sinha, she also worked in several films with upcoming stars like Dharmendra (Anpadh), Manoj Kumar (Hariyali), Sanjay Khan (Dillagi) and Amitabh Bachchan (Sanjog), besides doing 10 films with Biswajeet.

She is said to have refused a fill-the-bill role in Ram Aur Shyam opposite a stalwart like Dilip Kumar.

To Mala's credit, she could shoulder hits like Anpadh, Aasra and Do Kaliyan, on her own slender shoulders.

Even after she married Nepali actor C P Lohani (with whom she had done the Nepalese film, Maiti Ghar) in 1968, she had a huge success playing a Japanese girl in Aankhen.

But after Mala gave birth to daughter Pratibha, her career began to wane. Subsequently, she paired with Rajesh Khanna in Maryada and won accolades for her moving performance as Sanjeev Kumar's grey-haired wife in Zindagi. She did do some character roles. But after Khel in 1992, has stayed away from the arc lights.

Mala Sinha's marriage was a long-distance affair --- she lived in Mumbai, her husband in Kathmandu --- but it has lasted 34 years. Though Mala evinced as much interest in her daughter Pratibha's career as her father did in her career, she was unable to achieve the same success for her daughter.

Today, Mala, who is heavily into religion, lives in a multi-storeyed bungalow at Bandra. The sprawling bungalow a testimony to the huge stardom that was once hers.

Mala Sinha's Landmark Films
Year Film Actor
1957 Pyaasa Guru Dutt
1958 Phir Subah Hogi Raj Kapoor
1959 Dhool Ka Phool Rajendra Kumar
1962 Hariyali Aur Raasta Manoj Kumar
1963 Gumraah Sunil Dutt
1963 Bahurani Guru Dutt
1965 Himalaya Ki God Mein Manoj Kumar
1966 Aasra Biswajeet
1968 Do Kaliyan Biswajeet
1968 Aankhen Dharmendra

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