Over the years, I have managed to tame my red-hot temper but not my wayward curls. I’ve knotted up my hair, plaited it tight and bunched it into a ponytail only to have tendrils pulling free. My hairdresser has spent hours shaping a slick bob but one shower, and it’s back to a crow’s nest. I’ve experimented the boy cut, bangs and blunt and even a fringe.
The last happened in a moment of reckless bravado. I walked into an untried salon and walked out an hour later, looking like I had gone back to the swinging ’60s. The impression was reinforced when I returned to office to be greeted with cries of “Oye, what’s with the Sadhana look!” I consoled myself with the thought that Sadhana had been the Mere Mehboob of her times, but to be honest, the comments were far from complimentary.
Okay, so I’m no Sadhana but the original was picture-perfect. I had met her director-husband Ram Krishna Nayyar just six months before his untimely death, at their 13th floor apartment that offered a panoramic view of the Arabian sea. My eyes were drawn to a photograph of Sadhana’s from her jubilee days. Following my gaze, Nayyar twinkled at me from the couch, “Wasn’t she beautiful?” I agreed and enquired about the story behind the whispy fringe.
The years rolled back to their first film together, Love In Shimla. Nayyar had just landed his directorial break with S Mukherji’s studio, Filmalaya, on the recommendation of IS Johar, whom he’d assisted through Miss India. In 1938, a Cinderella-like story had been adapted for the screen by British director Paul L Stein. It revolved around a Plain Jane (Diana Churchill) who is always overshadowed by her glamourous sister Beatrice (Jean Muir) till her grandmother (Thene Seyler) takes matters into her own hands and transforms her into a teen princess who snags her Prince Charming (Peter Murray-Hill). The timeless romantic comedy had made for a popular English play that Nayyar had seen. He wanted to make a movie of it.
Mukherji was game. The only question was: Who would play Jane? Nayyar surprised everyone by suggesting a little-known teenager, Sadhana Shivdasani. He’d spotted her in the foyer of Minerva theatre, clinging to her parents, then later, prancing on screen as Sheila Ramani’s younger sister in the Sindhi film Abana.
The memory of that lovely face had stayed with him and to everyone’s surprise, S Mukherji gave him a thumbs up, having seen a photograph of Sadhana’s in the trade weekly Screen. With her wide eyes, soft smile and willowy figure, she made a perfect Jane. The only irritant was her broad forehead.
“I wondered how to hide it,” reminisced Nayyar. “We experimented with different hairstyles and wigs, nothing looked right. Finally, I then decided to try an Audrey Hepburn-like fringe.”
Hepburn’s first starring role as a ‘bored’ European princess who escapes from the palace for a night and falls in love with an American news reporter in the ’53 classic, Roman Holiday, had bagged her an Oscar for Best Actress. And her ‘look’ had remained evergreen after an illustration appeared on the September 1953 cover of Time magazine. Maybe his Audrey could help Sadhana, Nayyar thought as he marched her to a Chinese hairdresser at Kemp’s Corner.”
“How can an Indian girl carry off a fringe?” Sadhana protested. An hour later, she stepped out of the parlour looking gorgeously different. The ‘Sadhana Cut’ went on to become the fashion fad of the ’60s. In fact, when she showed up on the sets of Mere Mehboob on the first day with a simple ‘chhoti’ (plait) and a centre parting, director HH Rawail was aghast. “What happened to the Sadhana fringe?” he thundered. His heroine pointed out that it wouldn’t be apt for a Muslim college girl from Aligarh. Rawail retorted, “People are spending money to see Sadhana with her fringe not some Aligarh ki ladki.” So, back came the fringe! Even today, you only have to ask for the ‘Sadhana Cut’ and any hairstylist across the country will know what you want. I did once and swore never again. But on September 2, when Sadhana turns 70, it is the fringe I will remember her by.