In the no-man’s land between boyhood and manhood, we had only boys for company. Having studied in a same-sex school and given the social norms of the 1960s, my friends and I had hardly any feminine companionship outside family. So we often fell in love with film actresses. In The picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde said that everyone falls in love with a film star at some time or other. I guess we did so once too often … with the beautiful sexy heroines of Hindi films, where there was an abundance of beauties.
Meri prem kahani khatam huyi
Mera jeevanka sangeet gaya
Mera sundar swapna beet gaya
My love story has come to an end,
So has the music of my life.
The beautiful dream is over.
When we began watching Hindi films – of course on the sly – Madhubala and Nargis, the two most beautiful women to have ever walked this earth were no longer on the scene and Meena Kumari, who would die in 1972 because of alcoholism, was past her prime. But those who were there were no less ravishing. The reigning divas were Waheeda Rehman, Nutan, and Sadhana Sivadasani. We didn’t ignore the lesser stars either – like Nanda, Saira Banu, and Asha Parekh. Each one of them was beautiful in their own way and radiated charm and spirit. And one cannot forget the vivacious Anglo-Burmese actress Helen, who was the permanent cabaret dancer in all Hindi films of the sixties!
Describing feminine beauty has been a challenging task for writers over the ages. Only the best in the business have made a decent job of it occasionally. The lesser ones have made a hash of it regularly. Therefore, instead of trying your patience, Dear Reader, I’ve pasted some photographs above. In the unlikely event that you don’t recognise them, they are, from the left: Nanda, Waheeda, Helen, and Sadhana.
I fell in love with them and a few others regularly, one at a time, depending on who was the heroine of the last film I’d seen: Sadhana in Mera Saya, Nanda in Ek phool do maali, Waheeda in Guide, and so on …. They exuded charm and sexuality and filled my personal sky with a pleasant amorous glow. (Incidentally, while reviewing Mera Saya, a a film critic of The Statesman chose to disambiguate that the film had nothing to do with women's underclothing!)
A few days ago, a friend forwarded a recent picture of these beautiful women. This is how they look now. Believe it or not, these are the same persons, Nanda, Waheeda, Helen, and Sadhana.
It hurt that my former lovers look so pitiably unglamorous now. What the picture shows are not just ineluctable signs of aging, but something much more complex. In it, Helen looks spritely, although a touch overweight. Waheeda is barely passable, but not a shadow of her past. The other two beauties of yore have turned into worse than overworked working-class women, ravaged by time, devoid of beauty or spirit. Life would have taken a heavy toll on them. I couldn’t help reflecting that many of my female acquaintances of their age, who are ordinary middleclass class women, are a lot more beautiful today.
The present appearance of the past stars possibly reflects the stormy lives some of them have lived. Underneath a world of glamour and wealth, there would be stories of broken relationships, exploitation by male colleagues, loneliness, incompleteness, and alcoholism. Far from the madding, cheering crowds, they would have had to deal with the haunting silence of personal tragedies.
Of the four women, Helen, who is Salman Khan’s step mother, seems a happy woman. What about the rest?
There were many suitors for Nanda, but she turned them down. In 1992, a middle-aged Nanda got engaged to film director Manmohan Desai, who committed suicide in 1994 by jumping off his own building. Nanda has remained unmarried. Today, she lives in Mumbai and is accessible only to family and close friends.
Sadhana married film director R.K. Nayyar in 1965. The couple had no children. Since her husband’s death in 1995, she has been living alone in Mumbai as a tenant in an apartment building. Recently, she has complained that a builder is threatening her to vacate her ground-floor flat.
Guru Dutt, who made brilliant films within the parameters of popular Indian cinema in the 1950s, was born Vasant Kumar Shivashankar Padukone. His tumultuous relationships with a Bengali singer, the numero uno of the time, Geeta Roy, and the Urdu speaking Waheeda Rehman from Hyderabad, destroyed the former.
Since her marriage with Guru Dutt in 1953, Geeta Roy has been known as Geeta Dutt. Although the hugely talented husband-wife team produced some of the finest Hindi songs, their paradise was to be lost soon. In 1956 a little-known Telugu actress Waheeda made her Hindi debut in Guru Dutt's C.I.D. Dutt, who was extremely disciplined in his professional life, was thoroughly undisciplined in his personal life. He smoked and drank heavily and kept odd hours. Dutt’s affair with Waheeda drove Gita Dutt to alcohol. Guru Dutt didn’t discover bliss in infidelity either. He committed suicide in 1964, reportedly in his third attempt, after Waheeda had drifted out of his life.
It’s poignant that Geeta lent her voice to Waheeda who sang some of the achingly romantic songs to Guru Dutt on screen. (The song used as the epigraph of this article is not one of them.)
Geeta Dutt was shattered after the death of her estranged husband. By then, she had destroyed her career and had been virtually out of work. Her attempt to resurrect her singing was only partially successful. She, like Meena Kumari, drank herself to death. She too died of cirrhosis of liver in 1972, four months later.
Life could not have been easy for Waheeda Rehman either. Her second film with Guru Dutt, Kaagaz ke phool was about a successful film director's decline after he fell in love with his lead actress. Over time Waheeda drifted apart from Dutt, although they continued to work together into the 1960s. She played the second female lead in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam "under some strain". They broke up after the film failed to get critical acclaim at the Berlin Film Festival in 1963. Guru Dutt was to die soon.
A decade later, Waheeda married a relatively unknown actor, Kamaljit and the couple had two sons. Kamaljit too died in 2000.
Whatever I have written above has been sourced from the Internet. Part of it may be inaccurate, but there is no denying the fact that Waheeda, Nanda, and Sadhana lost their lovers/husbands early. And their faces are the best testimony of the struggles they have gone through. It is sad that the women who kindled warmth and desire in a million hearts had to live with heartbreaks and lack of warmth.
They remind me of a line of the Bengali poet Sukanta Bhattacharya: You are like those who turn on the street lights every evening, but have to live through long dark nights in their own homes.
Friday, 09 September 2011