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NARGIS DUTT (1929–1981)

Nargis was a film actor. She was the daughter of Jaddan Bai , a well known actress of the early days of cinema, who had been a tawaif and had married Uttamchand Mohanchand. Nargis was born Fatima Abdul Rashid. Her first appearance was in her mother’s film Talash-e-Haq in 1935 aged six, under the name ‘Baby Rani’. At 14 she wanted to go to college and be a doctor, but Mehboob Khan, the great director, pulled out all the stops to persuade her to act in his Taqdeer (1943). Mehboob also gave her a new screen name, Nargis, meaning the narcissus flower.

While Jaddan Bai and Akhtar Hussein were shooting at Famous Studio, they had a young visitor. It was Raj Kapoor, twenty two and ready to launch himself as a director. The Famous Studio had been recommended to him, and he wanted to ask Jaddan Bai what she thought of it, but he arrived minutes after sheleft. Impulsively he got her address and raced to her house on Marine Drive. Eighteen-year-old Nargis was in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. Raj, introducing himself as Prithviraj Kapoor’s son, was instantly enchanted. He told his scriptwriter that he had to write Nargis into the script for his first film, Aag (1948) followed by Andaz and Barsaat in 1949. She was always his preferred co-star. However, 1957 marked the end of her association with R.K. Studios. This resulted in a downward slide for Raj Kapoor, for Nargis had given life to his creative endeavour; she was part of the two-figure silhouette that was his trademark, where she drapes herself over Raj’s arm as he plays the violin. Nargis went on to make her greatest film ever, Mother India, in 1957 for which she won an award at the Karlovy Vary film festival. On the sets of Mother India she met Sunil Dutt, and, certain that Raj Kapoor would never be hers, she married Dutt in 1958 with an Arya Samaj ceremony. In the same year she was awarded the Padma Shri. She made her last film appearance in the 1967 film Raat Aur Din for which she won a National Film Award for Best Actress, the first actress to win in this category. She also received a Filmfare Best Actress Award Nomination for this film.

She and her husband set up a school for poor children in Bandra, and the Centre for Special Education for Spastics. Nargis helped set up the Spastics Society of India and was involved with the Scouts and Guides, the War Widows Association and the Meena Kumari Memorial for the Blind. She and her husband were drawn into politics through their friendship with the Nehru-Gandhis, and her daughter Priya Dutt is an M.P. also followed suit. In 1979 she was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. She died on 3 May, four days short of the premiere of her son Sanjay Dutt’s debut film Rocky. After her death, a cancer foundation was set up in her name.
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