On Nutan’s 84th birth anniversary, why she remains a luminous star like none other
Actor Nutan was that rare gem in the Hindi silver screen who could seamlessly blend an actor’s excellence with star power. On her 84th birthday, a look at her life.Updated: Jun 04, 2020 14:02 IST
In the annals of Hindi films, few actors could blend stardom with acting prowess. Actor Nutan, aunt of Kajol and mother of actor Mohnish Bahl, was one such a star. In her personality, she could present a paradox - playing a deeply orthodox Indian woman in films like Saraswatichandra and yet be disarmingly modern (she sported a swimsuit in Dilli Ka Thug in the 50s). On her birthday today, here’s unraveling this enigma.
Nutan was born to actor and filmmaker couple, Shobhana and Kumarsen Samarth on June 4, 1936. She was the eldest of four siblings including actor Tanuja. Nutan was introduced on the silver screen at the tender age of 14 as an adult in Hamari Beti, produced by her mother. Nutan was a classical Indian beauty - her perfect oval face and slender and tall frame were immediately arresting.
Through her career, she appeared in many unconventional roles. The first in this list was Seema (1955), where she was paired with actor Balraj Sahni. The role was a central one; as the story was told from the perspective of her character, Gauri. She played a young orphaned girl, who runs away from her uncle’s home to avoid an ill-treating aunt. Accused of theft, landing in an orphanage and falling in love with a compassionate caretaker, played by Balraj, Nutan was in stellar form. The song Tu Pyar Ka Sagar Hai is still fondly remembered to this day. The role also fetched Nutan her first Filmfare award in Best Actress category.
Her career-defining role would come with Bimal Ray’s Bandini (1963), where she was cast opposite Ashok Kumar and young actor Dharmendra. Playing yet another conflicted character, she essayed the role of complex Kalyani, a woman serving a jail sentence for murder. Kalyani must choose between her compassionate prison doctor Devendra (Dharmendra) and Bikash (Ashok Kumar), a revolutionary from her past. Watch her in the iconic song, Mere Saajan Hai Uss Paar, sung evocatively by Sachin Dev Burman, to understand the myriad emotions that flash across her face.
Bandini is loosely based on a Bengali novel, Tamasi by Jarasandha (Charu Chandra Chakrabarti), a former jail superintendent who fictionalised many of his own experiences in his works.
Nutan gave another stellar performance in Bimal Ray’s Sujata (1959), as a lower caste woman who is adopted by a higher caste family. Caught between discrimination and gratitude, she lives with a family that is accepting and loving but makes her acutely aware of their fundamental difference. When love comes, that too throws Sujata into a conundrum. The film was heavily influenced by Dr BR Ambedkar’s fight against untouchability and Rabindranath Tagore’s retelling of the story of Chandalika.
But Nutan was more than intense roles. Through the ’50s and ’60s, she formed a hit pair with Dev Anand, giving us hits like Paying Guest (1957) and Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963) and films like Manzil (1960) and Baarish (1957). Tune in to retro section on any FM channel and songs like Mana Janab Ne Pukara Nahin and Chhod Do Aanchal Zamana Kya Kahega (both Paying Guest) and Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Dekho Rootha Na Karo, Dil Ka Bhanwar Kare Pukar (Tere Ghar Ke Samne) will still charm you.
Nutan would form a winning combination with actor Sunil Dutt as well - Gauri (1968), Mehrbaan (1967), Milan (1967), Sujata (1959) and Khandan (1965) – will serve as examples. Think of songs like Sawan Ka Mahina (Milan) and Jalte Hain Jiske Liye Teri Aakhon Ke Diye (Sujata) and you will get an idea.
The oft-heard statement of how female actors cannot continue their careers post marriage was turned on its head by actors like Nutan, who gave some of her most powerful performances after marriage. At the height of her career in 1959, she married naval officer Rajneesh Bahl, aged only 23.
Films like Bandini, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Milan, Saraswatichandra and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki - all happened after she had married and was a mother of a child. Nothing about Nutan was conventional anyways - when still in her teens, her mother Shobana had sent her off to a finishing school in Switzerland, La Chatelaine, in 1953. Nutan hailed from an affluent Marathi-speaking family with a passion for cinema.
Nutan won the Filmfare award for best actress no less that five times in her career. Nutan died in February 1991, after battling breast cancer for years.
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