A Hindi film heroine is all too often seen as arm
candy who does her songs and dances and is finally presented to
the hero in the end,
writes DINESH RAHEJA.
What is remarkable
about Mala Sinha is that most of her 1960s hits were fuelled by
her own star power as much as the heros’.
When she acted
opposite big stars, she made sure her role was as good as
If that was not
always possible, she didn’t mind doing smaller films with lesser
names (Aasra, Dillagi).
But her character
always had to be the crux of the story.
unforgettable performances (Pyaasa, Phir Subah Hogi, Gumraah),
have been relegated to the shade, while her weakness for
over-the-top, mawkish melodrama is remembered.
Born a Nepali
Christian, the young Mala was a chinky-eyed girl with curly hair
and average height.
Mala’s initial name
was Alda and her friends at school in Calcutta (now Kolkata)
used to tease her by calling her Dalda (a brand of vegetable
oil), so she changed her name to Baby Nazma on getting her first
assignment as a child artiste.
Later on, as an
adult actor, she changed her name to Mala Sinha.
As a child, she
learnt dancing and singing.
Mala Sinha (born 1936) is a former Bollywood actress who has
worked in Hindi, Bengali and Nepali films.
Although she was an
approved singer of All India Radio, she has never done playback
singing in films.
As a singer, she has
done stage shows in many languages from 1947 to 1975.
Mala began rather
humbly in the early 1950s in Bengali films like Roshanara.
A journalist in
Kolkata came across her photograph profiled in a photo studio
and got it printed in the Filmfare magazine.
When noted film
director, Amiya Chakravarty, came across a photograph of young
Mala in Filmfare, charmed by her picture, he called her to
Mumbai and signed her for a three-film contract.
“I had a bumpy ride.
Ami Dada’s Badshah (1954) flopped!
“He cancelled my
contract. He went ahead and made Seema with Nutan and Kathputli
with Vyjayantimala instead,” she says.
Her other two films,
Kishore Sahu’s Hamlet (1954) and Ekadashi (1955), also failed.
“We’d keep looking
from the veranda of our house, hoping for a producer’s car to
“But not a fly came
by. We were about to pack up and go back to Kolkata,” she says.
Janki Das came to their rescue.
Bhakri was making Naya Zamana (1957).
Janki Das urged him
to watch Mala’s Hamlet, which though a flop, had won Mala
Mala Sinha & Rehman in a deleted scene from Pyaasa
“I’d played Oephilia
in it. I was a thin teenager. Kishore Sahu’s wife got me padded
costumes and wigs,” she smiles.
watched the film and signed her for Naya Zamana.
“I was not as
good-looking as Madhubala, all I had going for me was talent,”
With time, she
fine-tuned her looks, inspiring Mahesh Bhatt to comment, “She
exuded sensuality in Pyaasa.”
When colour seeped
into films, she made the audience sit up, revealing a
surprisingly slim new look in films like Aankhen, where she
swayed memorably in a figure-hugging, strappy gown to Gairon pe
karam apnon pe sitam.
While most of her
contemporaries looked old-maidish once they entered the dreaded
mid 30s, Mala looked chic in chiffon saris and butterfly blouses
in Maryada, where she matched Rajesh Khanna’s mannerisms with
captivating coquetry in the impish Chupke se dil de de.
Was her role as good
as the superstar’s?
Well, she had a
double role and romanced both Rajesh and Raaj Kumar in the film.
Sharma’s Rangeen Raatein (1956), hero Shammi Kapoor’s
girlfriend, the vivacious Geeta Bali took an unsure Mala Sinha
and groomed her.
The spotlight first
shone on her in Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957).
Mala’s character had
negative shades as she played an ambitious woman who betrays her
impoverished poet lover (Guru Dutt) for a millionaire publisher
Mala Sinha and Raaj Kumar in the muslim social romance drama
Mere Hazoor (1968).
Yet Mala won the
audience. Her trump card was her ability to emote with her
pain-heavy eyes despite being mute about her remorse.
Mala soon made the
grade from promising newcomer to star when she signed three
films with a biggie like Raj Kapoor: Parvarish (1958), Phir
Subah Hogi (1958) and Main Nashe Mein Hoon (1959).
Based on Fyodor
Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment, the stark Phir Subah Hogi
showcases Mala in a performance that’s eye-openingly subtle.
In latter years,
however, Mala Sinha sacrificed subtlety for melodrama but she
had no regrets - it paid her rich dividends.
In 1959, Mala had,
on one hand the merry Dev Anand musical Love Marriage; while at
the other end of the spectrum was her role in B R Chopra’s Dhool
In Yash Chopra’s
debut directorial venture, Dhool Ka Phool, Mala Sinha again had
a dark-shaded role of a woman who abandons her illegitimate
A trio of hits in
1962 - Anpadh, Hariyali Aur Raasta and Dil Tera Deewana -
preceded her career best, B R Chopra’s Gumraah (1963).
She essayed a woman
forced by circumstances to marry her sister’s widower (Ashok
Kumar), but is tormented by the presence of her ex-lover (Sunil
Mala made her
character’s dilemma over whether to succumb to an extramarital
affair seem identifiable and human.
Mala next had a huge
hit as a village belle in Himalaya Ki God Mein (1965), though
her performance seems contrived today.
women-oriented roles were known as her forte.
Sharmila Tagore and Mala Sinha in Joy Mukherjee’s
directorial debut, romantic spy thriller, Humsaya (1968).
Guru Dutt cast Mala
in an author-backed role (as a working woman pinning her hopes
on a hopeless romance), in his production, Baharen Phir Bhi
When he passed away,
the film was reshot with Dharmendra in the lead.
Sinha did three films each with three of the biggest banners of
her times: B R Chopra’s Dhool Ka Phool, Dharamputra and Gumraah;
Vijay Bhatt’s Hariyali Aur Raasta, Himalaya Ki God Mein and Holi
Aayee Re and Ramanand Sagar’s Aankhen, Geet and Lalkaar.
In 2007, Biswajeet
and Mala won the Star Screen Lifetime Achievement Award, calling
them on stage together giving due respect to their popularity as
a pair who have tasted box office success.
She is said to have
refused a fill-the-bill role in Ram Aur Shyam opposite a
stalwart like Dilip Kumar.
To Mala’s credit,
she could shoulder hits like Anpadh, Aasra and Do Kaliyan, on
her own slender shoulders.
In most of her films
from the 1960s, she got first billing in the credits, even
before the heroes, with the exceptions being those with Guru
Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Pradeep Kumar and Kishore Kumar.
She was the
highest-paid actress from 1958-65 with Vyjanthimala, and second
with Vyjanthimala from 1966–67, and then shared the second spot
with Sharmila Tagore from 1968-1971, and third position with
Sadhana and Nanda in 1972-73.
In 1968 Sharmila
Tagore and Mala Sinha were teamed up with Joy Mukherjee for the
classic suspense thriller Humsaya, which was also produced and
directed by Joy.
Though known to be
thorough professionals, Sharmila and her co-star Mala were part
of a much-publicised cat fight on the sets during the shooting
of the film.
There were screaming
headlines those days that the two had a physical fight on the
sets and rumours also has it that Mala Sinha had actually
But since playing
the central role was a major motivating factor for Mala Sinha,
she also worked in several films with upcoming stars like
Dharmendra (Anpadh), Manoj Kumar (Hariyali), Sanjay Khan (Dillagi)
and Amitabh Bachchan (Sanjog), besides doing 10 films with
After this project,
the two never shared screen space in another films.
Even after she
married Nepali actor C P Lohani (with whom she had done the
Nepalese film, Maiti Ghar) in 1968, she had a huge success
playing a Japanese girl in Aankhen.
Mala Sinha playes the royal character of Jahan Ara and
Bharat Bhushan as Mirza Yusuf Changezi, in a
historical movie Jahan Ara (1964).
But after Mala gave
birth to daughter Pratibha, her career began to wane.
paired with Rajesh Khanna in Maryada and won accolades for her
moving performance as Sanjeev Kumar’s grey-haired wife in
She did do some
character roles. But after Khel in 1992 and Zid in 1994, she has
stayed away from the arc lights.
marriage was a long-distance affair - she lived in Mumbai, her
husband in Kathmandu - but it has lasted 34 years.
Though Mala evinced
as much interest in her daughter Pratibha’s career as her father
did in her career, she was unable to achieve the same success
for her daughter.
Of her repertoire,
she said in 2001, she was rather partial to Jahan Ara (1964), a
historical movie that Meena Kumari passed on to her:
down the role saying that she would not look the part whereas I
would. Given my ignorance of Urdu, I was rather sceptical, but
Meena-ji was convinced that I could do justice to the role.
Mahal’s eldest daughter entailed gruelling Urdu classes and
learning royal tehzeeb.
“It was hot on the
grand sets erected at Ranjit Studio and the film had Madan
Mohan’s haunting music. It was a film replete with lyrical
The actor was
recently awarded the Lifetime Achieve-ment honour at the
Filmfare Awards 2018, but is not overjoyed at the belated
“Do you know, I’ve
never won a Filmfare Award before this?
“During my heydays,
I was nominated several times. In fact, I’d be nominated almost
every year during the 1960s.
“But for reasons
unknown to me, the award always went to some other actress,”
She recounted that
in 1965, she was nominated for two very contrasting roles in
Jahan Ara and Himalay Ki God Mein.
“The then-editor of
Filmfare BK Karanjia told me to come for the function as I was
the most likely winner for either of my performances.
“I excitedly got up
in the morning to put together my clothes and accessories.
“But when it came to
getting the award in the evening, it went to Vyjayanthimalaji
Today, Mala, who is
heavily into religion, lives in a multi-storeyed bungalow at
bungalow a testimony to the huge stardom that was once hers.