The Nargis and Sunil Dutt love story: When he saved her from fire and she found the love of her life

Published on Jun 01, 2021 07:32 AM IST

On late actor Nargis' 92nd birthday, here's a fresh look at her romance and eventual marriage with Sunil Dutt.

Sunil Dutt and Nargis fell in love on sets of their iconic film, Mother India.
Sunil Dutt and Nargis fell in love on sets of their iconic film, Mother India.

Actor Nargis is one of the most remarkable actors to grace the Indian screen. Her talent, beauty and grace made her stand tall among her contemporaries. She could play an ageing mother (Mother India) and a spoilt city brat (Andaz, 1949) with equal ease. She went on to work in a number of films and many of her films with Raj Kapoor are counted among Hindi cinema classics. Yet her personal life was always in turmoil. She was in a long relationship with Raj which did not end well.

For years to come, Raj and Nargis' love story would be part of annals of Hindi cinema just as their films. However, her true love in life was the man she would eventually marry - Sunil Dutt. On her 92nd birth anniversary, here's a fresh look at their romance and marriage.

As per Darlingji- the True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, a book by Kishwer Desai, when Sunil entered Nargis' live in 1957, she was so broken that suicide was on her mind. Caught between a fruitless relationship and a family that hardly understood her, Nargis had reached a breaking point. It is well known now how Sunil entered the sets of Mother India, which had caught fire, to save Nargis. Love really blossomed when the duo was recovering from injury. Sunil had been more grievously injured. It was while caring for him that Nargis had shared every detail of her life with him and fallen in love with Sunil.

Sunil Dutt played his wife Nargis’ son in the film Mother India, which was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Sunil Dutt played his wife Nargis’ son in the film Mother India, which was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Kishwer's book, which was pieced together from the personal diaries of Nargis, reveals how she had believed that had Sunil not entered her life, she would have been dead by March 8. "If it were not for him, perhaps I would have ended my life before the 8th of March. For I alone know the turmoil that was going through me. 'I want you to live,' he said and I felt I had to live. Begin all over again," Kishwer quoted Nargis from her personal diary as saying, written after the accident.

What drew Nargis to Sunil was the fact that he was perhaps the first man in a long time who did something for her. She had been the person who would do things either for her family or for Raj. Kishwer writes: "As she sat by his bedside, she realized that his courage in pulling her out of the fire had impressed her. It was a long time since someone had sacrificed anything for her. She was the one who always did things for others, whether it was for her family or Raj...."

In the course of her nine years of relationship with Raj, Nargis realised that Raj was not willing to leave his family for her. Her own family thought of her as a mere 'money-making machine". Sunil was the first person who treated her like a 'normal human being', enough for her to lay her past thread-bare in front of him.

"She said she was 'shameless' in discussing every detail of her life, and was not worried because she knew 'that his shoulders were always there for me to cry on - and I also knew that his garments will absorb my tears and not scatter them out for people to make fun of me'," the book quotes her diary.

According to Kishwer, "Raj had come into her life when she was 19 and ready for a relationship. If it hadn't been Raj, it would have been someone else; he just happened to be her first boyfriend."

Eventually, she realized that she was clinging on to a one-sided relationship and that despite showing his inclination towards her, Raj was not meant for her as a married man. "She confessed to Sunil that her relations with Raj had been on a 'razor's edge' and that she had been desperately trying to cling to him without any response. She told him that Raj 'had started making me feel disgusting even to myself' and that before she met Sunil, she had 'no reason to be living'," Kishwer writes in her book.

For Sunil, Nargis was not an easy woman to love - first, she was a huge star while he was struggling to find his feet in the Hindi film industry. Second, her relationship with Raj was a rather complex matter to resolve. To make matter worse, the gossip columns of the day would not help him deal with his insecurities.

When Mother India was being made, Nargis was a screen goddess and huge star. While her pay check was 50,000, Sunil got merely 10,000 to 12,000. "Sunil was a victim of a callous film-industry....He was both an object of envy - for being involved with the glamorous screen siren Nargis- and scorn because people thought he was trying to use her to push his own career forward", says the author, who has drawn heavily from the diaries and letters of the Dutt family.

"And then of course, there was the niggling issue of Raj: Nargis was not an easy woman to love, she came with too much baggage, and at times he could not cope with it," she adds.

There was no doubt that Raj had been her love, before Sunil's entry. But it was Sunil who gave her the dignity and respect she was worthy of. So involved was she with Raj that at one time she had stopped working outside RK Films banner, much to her family's anxiety.

"Sunil's shy and gentle style, quite unlike Raj's flirtatiousness was like a balm to her. Unusually, she was spending time with a man who treated her like a normal human being", writes Kishwer.

Nargis died of pancreatic cancer in 1981, aged only 51. She and Sunil were parents to Sanjay Dutt, Priya Dutt and Namrata Dutt.

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