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'Nadira's was a fragrant solitude'

Gulzar pays homage to the feisty actress who died in Mumbai on Feb 9.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2006 16:25 IST

About five years ago a producerwent to meet Nadira in her south Mumbai apartment. He had a contract ready. Nadira took one imperious look at the contract and threw it at the shocked producer's face. "I've worked with the likes of Mehboob Khan and Raj Kapoor. They never made me sign a contract."

This was the lady who rewrote many rules of starry conduct in Bollywood. Gulzar pays a nostalgic but unsentimental homage to the feisty actress who diedin Mumbaion Thursday morning at the age of 74.

"She was one of the most large-hearted women I had ever met. She was all heart...I worked with her only once, for my serialisation of short stories on national television called Kirdaar. She did a story about a faded actress called Sunset Boulevard. I started the narration with the actress sitting at home watching herself on a 16 mm screen singing Mud mud ke na dekh (Shri420).

"I remember Nadiraji got nostalgic after the shot. She spoke about Mehboob Khan and Raj Kapoor. People seemed to think she was lonely. Was she? I don't know. Some people are lonely by nature, others are destined to be lonely. She would've been lonely even when surrounded by people.

"It wasn't as though Nadiraji was short of friends. Whoever she met in the journey of life remained attached to her to the end. At her funeral, Nimmi and her husband Ali Reza were there, so were Shammi, Amin Sayani and Mahesh Bhatt saab...and the man who remained with her till the end was Rungta saab (owner of the Famous studios). She didn't make a family. She married Nakqshab saab who migrated to Pakistan and remarried. Women are so large-hearted. Nadiraji forgave him.

Nadira rewrote many rules of starry conduct inBollywood.

"She was a voracious reader, and not out of loneliness. Even when she worked with Mehboob Khan Saab in

Aan

she read ferociously. She lived her life in books, and that's the way she liked it...I met her on a flight some years ago. She came up to my seat and said she wanted to sit next to me. When the airhostess told her to wait, she took me along and forced me to sit with her. Then she looked at me and said, 'You're a senior citizen. You can get a discount on your air tickets.'

"She was a really sweet friend. I remember one of our first meetings at my relative's home. When I was introduced as an aspiring poet, she quipped, 'So you want to be another Ghalib?' That day she spoke to me as though I was a schoolboy...She lived her life the way she wanted to. And that's the way it should be. No one can live life the way other people want...Shaadi kar leti, bachche hote...Suchitra Sen has all of that. Still she's all alone, isn't she? It's a creative solitude, and therefore desirable."

"People presumed my short story Sunset Boulevard is based on Suchitra Sen's life. It isn't. It can be any lonely actress, Meena Kumari, Suchitra Sen or Nadira...It's a fragrant solitude. Let it be. Don't try to romanticise it in a cheap manner."

He gets more nostalgic about Nadira, "Her phone calls used to come suddenly. Gulzar saab main Farhad bol rahi hoon. She insisted I call her by her real name. The most beautiful moment with her came when she wasn't getting her shot right during Kirdaar and I got impatient. She turned to me and said one of the loveliest lines I've ever heard. Aapko pataa kaise chalaa ki maine aapko mujhe daant dene ki ijaazat de di? (how did you know I had given you the permission to scold me?). It's a line I'll never forget. No small person can say something so big. I get tears in my eyes when I remember that line."

As for the film industry's tendency to abandon the old and retired denizens, Gulzar is dismissive. "Let's not play the blame game. If Nadira chose to be alone, it was her choice. You're talking about Hrishi-da (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) being neglected. Have you asked him if he wants the industry's company? He lives with his family - bahus, children...whatever he needs.

"Everyone tries to be wise from the outside. Why do we try to make a film out of everyone's life? When I met Hrishi-da last, he had grown a beard and was cracking jokes. Where was the unhappiness? Let's not bring down the legends by pitying them."