Do look back on Nadira!

Nadira, who was famous for her vampish roles, is also remembered for her dance numbers. Nadira and Raj Kapoor together gave a stunning effect to the movie ‘Shri 420’. Mesmerizing dance number ‘Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh’ has engraved in the memory of the audience.

You had to turn around and see Nadira in ‘Mud mud ka na dekh’ as she stood there in her most seducing gown smoking a cigar with a cigarette-holder, in Raj Kapoor’s movie Shri 420. The year was 1955 and the song became the most hit number fetching awards for Nadira and singer Asha Bhosle   a much needed hit with her saucy delivery as she was struggling to create a niche for herself. Mud Mud ka na dekh became history in Indian cinema and Nadira etched in every one’s memory for ever although she is now no more. She died at the age of 75 in Mumbai’s Bhatia hospital in February.

Nadira’s success in Shri 420 was her undoing. Producers offered her huge amounts to wear sarees below the navel, smoke, drink and play the vamp. “I did not want that,” declared Nadira. “But now, I feel that if I had been selective, or if I had received some good advice, I would not have rejected so many of those roles.”

Though she remained typecast in negative roles, the arch-eyed, chiseled face, vamp-for-ever   acted in more than 230 films which included Pakeezah, Hanste Zhakhm, Dil Apna Aur Preet Praee, Julie and others, Nadira was the most generous, lively lady in real life who knew how to live life elegantly. In her hey days once at a party in 1956, she said to J R D Tata who was also there that she would like to own the Mercedes Benz that belonged to him and was parked at the gate outside. JRD had the car delivered to her the next morning!

Nadira was first spotted by Mehboob Khan’s wife as a young girl fresh out of school when once she had taken shelter under a building on a stormy night. Mehboob Khan was on the look out for a new face for his movie Aan with the male lead as Dilip Kumar. Nadira had hardly seen any movies let alone to act in one but she insisted with her mum who instead wanted her to settle down and get married. Due to financial situation of the family her mother reluctantly agreed to sign the contract as Nadira was still a minor and the offer of Rs. 1200 a month was too big to refuse. As Nadira said, “While I was trained and groomed by Mehboob Khan’s wife he actually forgot to pay me for three months and when he saw me wear the same clothes for days, he suddenly realised his mistake paid up Rs. 3600 and we went and splurged buying clothes, jewellery, furniture… and mutton, chicken and fish.”

Those were the days! Wrote Nadira in one of her columns in the Movie magazine, “On December 5, 1955,   I was invited to Singhania’s party at Powai. I and my friend Merle drove down from Marine Drive and when we reached there, never before I had seen a more beautiful house. It was a paradise fitted into the middle of the most serene and lovely lake. It even smelt lovely. You were in some part of another world that could not be found on any map. Pink marble, rare antiques, rarer flowers and plants and elegant men and beautiful women decked in diamonds that dazzled in concealed lighting.

We were ushered in some sort of diwankhana. We tiptoed in and there was this beautiful girl singing in front with her musicians behind her. She welcomed everyone with such a soft graceful salaam, it was overwhelming. When she started to recite Urdu poetry nobody moved, nobody talked. From Ghalib to Faiz to Jigar to Mir”¦ she knew them all by heart”¦till she recognized me and started reciting Nakshaab Saab’s (my ex husband) poetry. With every single line I wept, and after every stanza I unconsciously removed my bangles and quietly started keeping them at her feet. First she emphatically refused to accept them and then she faded away and recited till the wee hours of the morning. We reached home at 4 a.m. and I crashed into bed, rinsed, emotionless and almost dead. That day around noon, against my orders, my cook came and said that someone was waiting outside for two long hours. With my eyes half shut, I reluctantly came out. There was this lady sans make up dressed in plain white saree with a man. I did not recognize them. She immediately got up and salaamed in chaste Urdu. Oh! The same salaam, same voice. She handed me something wrapped in a big handkerchief. “Please, please take these back. Yeh aapki amanat hai. Last night I accepted them, I did not want to break your heart and I have especially come to thank you for your generosity, the honour, the inspiration you gave me in front of so many people. I will remember you all my life. You must promise to call me whenever there is a good big occasion in your life. I will sing for you all night and I will take what I like. My name is Husn Banu and I stay at Congress House, Khuda Hafiz.” She said and disappeared. I opened the kerchief and there they were, my bangles, I ran after her but she was gone like a soft breeze.

After almost two years when I got the news of my brother Charlie’s marriage in Israel, I went to Congress House in search of Husn Banu. I asked all and sundry about her – no one seemed to know of her or in all likelihood they just didn’t want to know. Finally an old paan-chewing woman stopped me dead in my tracks with, “Woh to kab ki challi gayi. Usko TB ho gayi thi. Woh mar gayee.”

I never wore those bangles again.”

Actor Tom Alter reminisced, “Nadira has been a woman so much ahead of her time — in fact, she was a woman for all time — beautiful, bold, truthful. What today’s woman strives to be, Nadira was 50 years ago.”

Nadira lived life to the fullest, at one time there were fourteen relatives living off her although she didn’t know any of them.

Nadira died a lonely death but for her neighbours and children who visited her every now and then. Her spare time was devoted to her few friends and to her outstanding library which included works by Plato, Winston Churchill, Vivekananda and Will Durant. She used to lend books to kids who called her Nadira Aunty.

Said Gulzar in one of his nostalgic journeys about stars, “Nadira 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 (Shri 420).

“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.”

Nadira is gone. We cannot look back at her even if want to but surely we can see the movie Shri 420 and see her in her eternal, chiseled look trying to seduce Raj Kapoor as he walks away from the club, with Nadira holding the cigar and the song going in the background, ‘Mud mud ka na dekh, mud mud ke’.

The beautiful Nadira is still alive!

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