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Nanda Was the Snow White of Hindi Cinema

Coastweek -- Nanda Karnataki known mononymously as Nanda was the good little girl of Hindi films - she was the Snow White who blushed rose red at the slightest hint of any flirtation by the hero, writes Dinesh Raheja.

Blessed with a face innocent of any malice or calculation, Nanda is remembered even today, as much for being Baby Nanda or the chhoti bahen (younger sister) of her earlier films as for her successful career as the soft-spoken heroine of some 40 films thereafter.

Not that Nanda didn’t try to shatter her image. In Aashiq, she played a manipulative wife while in Yash Chopra’s Ittefaq, she was the murderess.

In The Train she effectively donned the glamour doll mantle, too.

But Nanda’s appeal is predominantly that of a winsome, if rather teary-eyed, innocent.

Rather surprisingly, Nanda has lived a life marked by tragedy.

Her father, Master Vinayak, passed away when she was only eight years old.

He was a successful actor-director in the 1930s and 1940s. After his death, the family fortunes took a dip.

Little Nanda contributed to the family by working as a child artiste in early fifties’ films like Jaggu and Angaarey.

Her popularity as a child actress made her transition to major roles easier, and she literally grew up on film sets.


Coastweek -- Late veteran actress Nanda Karnataki known mononymously as Nanda at a party in Kenya, 1970.

But it was paternal uncle-filmmaker V Shantaram who gave Baby Nanda a big break by casting her in his successful brother-sister saga, the 1956 hit, Toofan Aur Diya.

But success did not come Nanda’s way immediately.

She bravely refused to give in to the temptation of a regular income which would come with being shackled by a long-term contract to a big studio.

Instead, she played sister to stars like Raaj Kumar (Dulhan) or Dev Anand (Kaala Bazaar) and doing small roles in big films like Dhool Ka Phool.

Nanda’s ability to arouse the audience’s protective instincts was pronounced even then - most noticeably in two weepies: Bhabhi (1957) and Chhoti Bahen (1959).

The title role of L V Prasad’s Chhoti Bahen and its super hit rakhsha bandhan song Bhaiya mere rakhee ke bandhan ko nibhana made Nanda a true blue star.


  Coastweek -- Seen [from left] Nanda with Waheeda Rehman, Helen, and Sadhana in 2010.

The audiences wept copiously along with Nanda, as they followed the tear-soaked arc of her many travails (rejection from a beloved brother, a tart-tongued sister-in-law, blindness et al), in the film.

Nanda made the quantum leap from playing Dev Anand’s sister in Kaala Bazaar (1960) to playing his heroine in Hum Dono (1961).

From playing the second lead in B R Chopra’s production Dhool Ka Phool (1959), she was the heroine of his next release, Kanoon (1960).

Hum Dono was a triumph for Nanda. She eloquently brought to life the dilemma of a wife confused by her husband’s (Dev Anand) remoteness, unaware that she is living with his double.

Even while she was playing opposite A-listers like Dev Anand in Hum Dono and Raj Kapoor in Aashiq, Nanda sportingly agreed to star in films opposite newcomers like Dharmendra (Mera Kasoor Kya Hai) and Manoj Kumar (Bedaag).

Nanda adopted this strategy throughout her career.



Coastweek -- Nanda with Shashi Kapoor in the 1965 hit, Jab Jab Phool Khile.

Her willingness to sign on a string of films with one unproven newcomer - Shashi Kapoor - proved especially fortuitous.

Their first film together Chaar Deewari (1961) didn’t do well, but the star pair continued signing films till they hit the jackpot with Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965).

The candy-coloured Jab Jab Phool Khile added a glamorous dimension to Nanda’s image, which had hitherto been that of a lachrymose girl in the junior Meena Kumari mould.

Think of Nanda’s role as the morose, wheelchair-bound heroine of Aaj Aur Kal (1963).

Or even the Dev Anand starrer Teen Deviyan, where Nanda seemed the obvious choice as the most diffident and home-loving of the three heroines (the other two being Kalpana and Simi).

In Jab Jab Phool Khile, Nanda was equally convincing, whether as the Westernised memsaab who sways in a gown to Yeh sama sama hai yeh pyar ka or the distraught girlfriend who finds it difficult to sympathise with her shikarawala lover’s culture shock.



Coastweek -- Nanda and Balraj Sahni in Chhoti Bahen.

The film, which inspired Raja Hindustani 30 years later, was an unqualified success.

The dichotomy between Nanda’s earlier homely image and the demands of a more glamorous era in the late sixties saw her career being caught in the middle.

Roles in hit films like Gumnaam (1965) didn’t really make much demand on Nanda’s indubitable histrionic prowess.

She had often been compared to her senior, the legendary Meena Kumari.

The two finally came together in Abhilasha (1968) but the film didn’t prove memorable.

In 1969, Nanda gave an enigmatic, finely-nuanced performance in Yash Chopra’s songless whodunit, Ittefaq.

Her oh-so-sweet image played its part in making the film a success - Nanda was probably the last person the audience thought would turn out the murderer.

Films with new superstar Rajesh Khanna (The Train, Joru Ka Ghulam) followed but the actress couldn’t adjust to the new working atmosphere of the seventies.

After a touching cameo in Manoj Kumar’s Shor (1972), Nanda gradually retreated from the film industry.

She surprised many people, including herself, when she returned in the early eighties to do precisely three films - coincidentally all three Padmini Kolhapure starrers.

Her histrionic maturity was clearly evident as the aging Devdasi in Ahista Ahista, as Dilip Kumar’s wife in Mazdoor and as the hapless mother in Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog.

Sadly, she chose to retreat into the shadows thereafter.

Nanda was nominated for Filmfare Award five times for her performance in Bhabhi (1957), Aanchal (1960), Ittefaq (1969), Ahista Ahista (1981) and Prem Rog (1982).

She won Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for Aanchal.

Waheeda Rehman, who had been friends with her ever since they co-starred in Kaala Bazaar, pestered her to get married.

In 1992, Nanda finally said yes to noted director Manmohan Desai.

The director’s subsequent death made Nanda retreat further into her shell.

She passed away on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 following a massive heart attack. She was 75.

Veteran actress Waheeda Rehman remembers Nanda, her friend of 55 years...

We had been friends for 55 years, ever since we worked together in Vijay Anand’s Kala Bazaar.

Girl friends tend to drift away after marriage due to certain responsibilities but Nanda and I remained close friends even after I got married.

We were part of a close-knit group that included Asha Parekh, Helen, Sadhna and Jabeen and Shakila who settled abroad after they got married.

Nanda and I were very different individuals, quite the study in contrasts.

But we were very close friends.

Or maybe we were close friends because we were so different. I’ve remained somewhat active in the public sphere with various things, including the occasional film.

She gave it all up a long time ago. She never looked back at that life again. It hurts to talk about her in the past tense.

She was an extremely sensitive person, very thoughtful and caring. And she was a very loyal friend.

She rarely stepped out of the house but she’d regularly visit me and my husband in Bangalore.

Although very shy in male company except her brothers, she was very comfortable with my husband. We went on picnics together in and around Bangalore. Both Nanda and I were fond of cooking.

Whenever she visited me she’d be in the kitchen cooking up a fun meal and asking me to cook up something. She was like my soul-sister.

People wonder how two heroines could be so friendly. But there was not an iota of professional insecurity between us.

Both of us believed in destiny and that whatever work was meant to come our way would come.

We were both very secure about our careers. And we were both firm believers in God and destiny.

There were many instances in the past when producers who first came to me with roles went to Nanda eventually because we couldn’t agree on certain issues.

Nanda and I never discussed work. Our work never came in the way of our friendship. We were both down-to-earth and very Indian.

Both of us attempted glamorous roles but soon realised that it’s better to play characters that were close to our personalities.

Nanda was as sweet and innocent in person as she was on the screen. She was very introverted and a loner.

She was nervous of crowds. I am a little more outgoing. But, like I said, we were like-minded people. We shared the same values. She went away so suddenly.


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