Last Sunday, I returned from the hills to the news that Nalini Jaywant was gone forever. Her doll-like face with its dimpled smile crystallised in my thoughts, I told myself that she’d lived on to 84. She’d had a long life, even if a lonely one.
Reportedly, the Greta Garbo-like star of the ’60s had hurt her leg in a fall recently, but had refused a neighbour’s offer to send the doctor over. Last Monday, an ambulance sped away from her Chembur bungalow with her lifeless body, spirited away by a supposed relative even before her family or friends heard about her death. Her beloved dogs, locked out of their home, are on the streets, bereft and forlorn. Skimming through the news story, I let the tears flow out and memories flood in…
My parents had loved the saucy schoolgirl. I, too, had grown up watching Milan (1967), Munimji (1955) and Kala Pani (1958) on Doordarshan. I read up on Jaywant and learnt she — also Nutan’s cousin — had been spotted in a school play, cast in Radhika (1941) and become a star at the age of 13. At 17, she married the film’s director, Virendra Desai. The scandalous marriage put the brakes on her promising career.
She returned, divorced from him, with the Gujarati superhit Varasdar, which bagged her the second lead in the Dilip Kumar-Nargis starrer Anokha Pyaar (1948). Soon to follow were Samadhi (1950), Sangram (1950), Kafila (1952), Jalpari (1952), Nau bahar (1952), Lakeerein (1954) and Naaz (1954). Suddenly, Nalini Jaywant and Ashok Kumar were a “pair” on screen and off it.
Rumour mills buzzed even after almost half a century. Supposedly, Ashok Kumar had installed a telescope on his
terrace and Nalini had bought a pair of binoculars so they could communicate. It is said that they’d planned to elope to Nepal and from there charter a plane to London to start a life together. But Sashadhar Mukherjee stepped in and drummed sense into his impetuous brother-in-law. And after Mr X in 1957, they never did a film together.
Years later, I drummed up the courage to ask Dadamoni about Nalini. He laughed off my audacious queries as “plain gossip”. But he sure did admit that on most evenings, she still stopped by to enquire about his failing health as she drove past his house.
Once when I had turned up with a card to invite her to an awards nite, Dadamoni directed me to Alankar. It was in this out-of-bounds bungalow that she had settled down with her producer-husband Prabhu Dayal, content to watch her plants blossom and her dogs romp.
Dadamoni had given me permission to use his name to breach the fortress-like gates. I entered her living room and waited a good half-hour for her to finish with her evening ‘aarti’. She finally stepped out, gestured to me to put the invite on a table and waved me off.
I’d seen her fleetingly in Amitabh Bachchan’s Nastik (1983). In person, she looked frailer, painfully thin, and wary of visitors.
After Dadamoni’s death, and that of her husband, a couple of years ago, she retreated even further into her sylvan world. Few caught a glimpse of the face that had won her the title of the Most Beautiful Girl on the Indian Screen in 1952 and had mesmerised thousands of people even in black-and-white.
I couldn’t coax a smile out of her; I’d, in fact, only managed to catch a frown. But still the image just refuses to dissolve.