Bollywood Legends - Nutan
The elder daughter of actress Shobhana Samarth, Nutan was far ahead of her times. An individualistic person and a thinking actress, Nutan was dismissed as gawky and ugly in her childhood. But the ugly duckling, who was all arms and legs grew into a beauty. Her sensitive face, with its angles and planes, was said to be a photographer's delight.
Contrary to the serene image that she projected, Nutan was quite a firebrand. She went to a Swiss finishing school; wore a swimsuit for her film Dilli Ka Thug; dragged her mother to court for misappropriation of funds and reportedly slapped Sanjeev Kumar for allegedly making a pass at her.! She even had a Miss India (1951) title to her credit.
As an actress Nutan could convey more through a single glance or a fleeting look than most could with lengthy dialogues. And her forte was not just melodramatic tearjerkers in which she came out tops with her restrained and dignified performance, but also lighthearted, urbane romantic comedies.
Nutan had essayed a small role as a child aritiste in the mid-40s Nal Damayanti. But Shobhana was surprised when Chandulal Shah offered to cast her adolescent daughter opposite stars like Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar in his next film. Shobhana finally detected that special, lit-up quality in her fourteen year old daughter's eyes. Chandulal Shah's offer fell through. But Shobhana Samarth launched Nutan as an artiste in the aptly-named film, Hamari Beti, 1950. The film didn't make Nutan a star but the very next year, the success of Nagina and Hum Log ensured middle-level stardom for Nutan. Nagina was an adults-only film. She was not allowed to watch her own film as she was still underage!!
Despite her early success, for the next few years, she didn't make much headway. Her mother Shobhana sent Nutan to La Chatelaine, a finishing school in Switzerland. After returning from Switzerland, Nutan got her major breakthrough and respectability as an actress par excellence with Amiya Chakraborty's Seema, 1955 where she played a delinquent in a reform home. It was a powerhouse performance and won her the Filmfare Award for Best Actress.
Whether it was the frothy, the lighthearted Paying Guest, 1957, or Dilli ka Thug1958, where she performed with a frothy uninhibitedness comparable only to Madhubala, or Bimal Roy's classic Sujata, 1959, which brought out the best in her as an artiste, Nutan was always matchless.
In 1959, the year in which she rode high with hits like Sujata and Anadi, Nutan married Naval Lieutenant Commander Rajneesh Behl and took a small break when her son Mohnish was born. In 1963 she made a stinging comeback with two diametrically different films--Navketan's Tere Ghar ke Saamne, a refreshing romantic comedy and Bimal Roy's sombre Bandini, boasting of possibly her greatest ever performance and certainly one of the greatest performances of Indian Cinema.Paired opposite Ashok Kumar, the film revolves around a woman prisoner charged with murdering her lover's wife. Nutan managed to capture the tumultuous emotions of the woman prisoner without giving way to high-voltage theatrics and rhetoric. With grace, dignity, and an eerie calmness, she seared the silver screen with an entire gamut of emotions in the scene where she commits the murder. Bandini rightfully fetched her another Filmfare award.
Nutan worked with almost all the top heroes of her era, beginning from Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Balraj Sahni, Sunil Dutt, Ashok Kumar, Dharmendra, Dilip Kumar, Rajinder Kumar and Kishore Kumar. She proved to be a perfect foil for the eccentric genius Kishore Kumar and the suave Dev Anand.
Right through the sixties and seventies, Nutan continued to wow audiences with films like Milan in 1967, Saraswatichandra in 1968, Saudagar in 1973, Saajan Bina Suhagan in 1978, Kasturi in 1978 and award winning performance in Raj Khosla's Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki in 1978. Gradually, she began being saddled with mundane mother roles, where she excelled in films like Meri Jung in 1985, Naamand Karma in 1986.
Unfortunately, she was hardly offered any challenging role in the later years of her career. However, Nutan continued to keep herself busy with her bhajan singing (she was blessed with a fine voice and did her own playback in Chabili, 1960), her dairy farming. She died in 1991, succumbing to cancer. With her death, Indian cinema lost one of its most sensitive performer ever.