Sadhana remains an icon for all time

Sadhana and Rajendra Kumar in Mere Mehboob. Photo: Publicity Photo 

The Will’-o’-the-’Wisp persona of Sadhana remains an iconic reminder of the golden phase of Indian cinema. Sadhana Nayyar, to give her full name, was as much known for her stardom and super-success as her famous hairstyle that set a long-term trend. On her 82nd birth anniversary on September 2, here’s looking back at the journey of a true Diva who set benchmarks not just with her films but also with some terrific chartbusters.

I had the privilege of meeting her 12 years ago at her bungalow. I entered the world of the ‘60s, when tea and biscuits just come in unasked, and the actress’ warm, welcoming smile showed ae charisma well-burnished with age. Her sense of humor was distinct as she recounted the fascinating ups and (a few) downs of her life, the great mimic within her also surfaced when she occasionally went into ‘Quote-Unqoute’ mode about an associate.

Sadhana’s family was very well-to-do until Partition wreaked havoc on them and they had to come down to Mumbai. “I had always wanted to be an actor and my parents had no objection, though I was the only child. In Mumbai, I was noticed in a college play by a director who was planning to make the first-ever Sindhi film. I got to play heroine Sheila Ramani’s younger sister in that film, Abana. Arjun Hingorani, who discovered Dharam (Dharmendra), was the assistant director of that film.”

Sadhana made her lead debut in Love in Simla. Photo: Publicity Photo

Screen, the erstwhile iconic film newspaper, also played a role in Sadhana’s career. “That’s where I saw an advertisement that Filmalaya, a banner being launched by the doyen, S. Mukerji, wanted new faces. “For a year, I trained at his school. Then I was signed as heroine for his son Joy Mukerji’s debut, Love In Simla. It was a major hit in 1960.”

Sadhana was never apprehensive about being sidelined because the film’s producer was launching his own son. “Why should I be? Besides, I had no choice, but I had an author-backed role too,” she stressed.

Since then, Sadhana acted in 28 more Hindi films, and but for five delayed relics that saw limited release between 1974 and 1995 (Chhote Sarkar, Vandana, Amaanat, Mahfil and Ulfat…) saw a record 18 prove hits or successes: Hum Dono,  Asli Naqli, Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Mere Mehboob, Woh Kaun Thi?, Rajkumar, Arzoo, Waqt, Mera Saaya, Intaqam, Ek Phool Do Mali and Aap Aye Bahaar Ayee among them. The last film, recalled the actress, did decent business when released in 1971 but became a blockbuster in a theatrical re-runs in the ‘80s.

Stars then would space out their films: “Fans used to await our next releases,” explained Sadhana. And did she have friends within the industry? “I would call Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor good friends from among my heroes. There was no one among heroines,” she stated.

With composer Laxmikant, Lata Mangeshkar, composer Pyarelal and producer-director Raj Khosla at a song recording for Anita. Photo: Raj Khosla

Having worked with the cream of directors from Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee to Yash Chopra, Vijay Anand, H.S. Rawail, Ramanand Sagar, Devendra Goel, K. Shankar and others, Sadhana considered Raj Khosla her favorite. “Others saw me as a glamorous woman or a simple girl, but after Ek Musafir… Raj-ji visualized me in roles like Woh Kaun Thi?, Mera Saaya and Anita. The first two were my only dual roles. We had started a fifth film produced by cinematographer Fali Mistry with Dev Anand, but it was shelved.”

She had also enjoyed working with Manmohan Desai in Budtameez: “All my directors were older to me, so it was great fun working with an enthusiastic young director, who had also been one of the writers of my Rajkumar. But the film faced a lot of delays, and as with all such films, it bombed.”

Sadhana also remembered her husband, R.K. Nayyar, as a stylized director who was ahead of his times. “Like Intaqam, our film, which became a major hit, though it had the heroine daring to do something no one could have conceived in that era—take revenge!”

The actress admitted that Nayyar, who made his directorial debut in Love In Simla, fell in love with her even then. Her parents objected, because Sadhana was barely 16 and he was 22, and they went their separate professional ways. About five years later, when Mere Mehboob had proved a blockbuster, Nayyar had gone to meet Raj Kapoor, whom he had assisted, who asked him whether he could arrange a special screening for him of that film.  “That’s how Nayyar-saab called me again, and we were back to where we had left off. My father supported me and we convinced my mother. In 1966, we got married.”

Sadhana became a fashion icon with some unexpected luck. “My forehead was very broad and that stood out when a new camera had arrived at S. Mukerji’s office and we had to take a lot of photographs,” she recalled. “In such cases, the conventional way out was to stick a patch of hair on the forehead, but Nayyar-saab had a better idea. He told me that Audrey Hepburn had faced the same problem and that’s why she had cut her hair in a fringe. To date, this fringe is known everywhere as the ‘Sadhana cut’!”

Sadhana was also tall compared to most heroines, and thus could not wear heels, for that would have made her look taller than her heroes! Khosla was shocked when he once told Sadhana to remove her heeled shoes in a sequence and was told that she was not wearing any! “I was five-feet-seven. Add four inches of heels and three inches of hair – a bouffant was in vogue then – and I would have stood at 6 feet 2 inches!” the actress had laughed.

Another trend Sadhana set was of making the churidar-kurta a rage. “In Waqt, it came across as a modern style that was not necessarily a Muslim outfit as thought.”

In the mid-1960s, Sadhana developed hyperthyroidism that had little treatment in those days and none in India. She flew off to Boston for it, the treatment was successful, and contrary to popular thought, Sadhana did not quit films because of this. After she returned, she had major hits and successes like—besides Intaqam, also Ek Phool Do Mali, Aap Aaye Bahaar Ayee, Sacchai and Geetaa Mera Naam. “But I realized that what goes up must come down, and I wanted to stop at the top. Also I wanted to start a family, but that was not to happen,” said the actress.

Later, Sadhana refused to be photographed, simply because she wanted to be remembered the way she was. “I know I looked lovely. I could have kept going, doing bhabhi and motherly roles, but I am the only actress of my generation who never made a comeback.”

A Selection of 12 Sadhana Chartbusters

O sajana barkha bahar aayi—Parakh

Abhi na jaao chhodkar—Hum Dono

Bahut shukriya badi meherbaani—Ek Musafir Ek Hasina

Yaad mein teri jaag jaag ke hum—Mere Mehboob

Aaja aayi bahaar—Rajkumar

Lag jaa gale—Woh Kaun Thi?

Bedardi balmaa tukhjo—Arzoo

Jhumka gira re—Mera Saaya

Main dekhoon jis ore sakhri ri—Anita

Kaise rahoon chup—Intaqam

Yeh dil diwana hai—Ishq Par Zor Nahin

Mujhe teri mohabbat ka—Aap Aaye Bahaar Ayee







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