Nutan: The Sanguine-Hearted Angel

The greatest and most expressive actresses that Indian cinema has ever seen, Nutan is known for her looks and the way she’d convey the worth of a thousand words through a fleeting glance or a gesture and never required loud histrionics to express emotions. Her journey was filled with a lot of adventures and emotions. Let’s know more about her here:

Nutan was born to actress Shobhana Samarth and filmmaker Kumarsen Samarth. She was the eldest of their 4 children and made her debut as a child artist in her father’s Nala Damayanti (1945). Her parents separated while she was still a child.

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An adolescent Nutan then got an offer from the filmmaker Chandulal Shah for a film opposite Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. When the offer didn’t materialize, Shobhana Samarth launched her daughter in Hamari Beti (1950) which also featured Nutan’s younger sister Tanuja as a child artist.

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Famous for her beauty later, Nutan was often dismissed by her close ones as skinny and an ugly duckling. She met with limited success in her next films like Hum Log (1951) and Nagina (1951). In fact, a theatre watchman did not allow her to watch her own film Nagina as it was for adults only.

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Nutan was crowned the first ever Miss India in 1952 along with Indrani Rehman. But she did not meet with much success despite films like Laila Majnu and Shabab. Shobhana Samarth hence decided to send her to La Chatelaine, a finishing school in Switzerland. On her return, Nutan had metamorphosed into a beautiful swan. Other artists and cameraman used to admire her a lot and comment that she has no bad angle.

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The film Seema (1955) became the perfect comeback vehicle for Nutan as she mesmerized the audience as well as the critics with her award-winning role of a criminal in a reform home. Her performance in the “Manmohana bade jhoothe” song was rated by Lata Mangeshkar as the best ever lip syncing given to any of her songs.

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She was in top form even in light-hearted romantic comedies and did raise a few eyebrows when she sang “Chhod do aanchal” with Dev Anand in Paying Guest (1957) or appeared in a swimsuit in Kishore Kumar starrer Dilli Ka Thug (1958). Sone Ki Chidiya (1958) was again an out and out Nutan show.

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Nutan was a thinking actress who would delve deep into the skin of the character and brought forth all its subtleties and nuances. Being one of the first actresses to follow a natural style of acting, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role of an untouchable girl in Bimal Roy’s Sujata (1959). 

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She balanced her award-winning Sujata (1959) with a multi-dimensional Anari (1959) opposite Raj Kapoor and then got married to Commander Rajneesh Bahl, the boy of her mother’s choice. She took a break after the birth of her only son, Mohnish Bahl in 1961.

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During her absence, Bimal Roy casts Sadhana in the Nutan mould in Parakh & Prem Patra. He managed to sign Nutan for Bandini (1963) when she did the critically acclaimed Soorat Aur Seerat (1962) for her husband.

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With Bandini (1963), Nutan created magic in the role of Kalyani, a prisoner charged with murder. It was Hindi cinema’s most complex and fully realized female characters, the role of a lifetime and Nutan gave it all. Her performance has been regarded as one of the finest ever seen on the Indian silver screen.

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She managed her complex Bandini with the frothy and stylish Tere Ghar Ke Saamne(1963). She ruled the roost with central roles in Khandan(1965), Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya(1966), the superhit Milan(1967), and the period drama Saraswatichandra(1968) before moving towards strong character roles in 1970s.

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Nutan was the only actress to have roles specially written for her even when she was past 40. She was the oldest actress at 42 to win the Filmfare Best Actress Award for Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1978).

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Fiercely independent and upright in her behaviour, she reportedly slapped Sanjeev Kumar for allegedly misbehaving with her during Devi (1970). She even dragged her mother to court for misappropriation of funds and was not on talking terms with her until she herself was diagnosed of cancer. 

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While she pursued singing and steered her Actor-Son Mohnish Bahl’s career, she was afflicted with cancer. She succumbed to it at the young age of 54 and died on 21st February, 1991, creating a big void in the film industry, which lost one of its greatest icons too early.

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