The Spontaneity of Nutan That Rose Above ‘Acting’
Nutan amazed us with every role she did – she lived the character, spontaneous, natural, unaffected. So you watch Kalyani and Sujata and Aarti Sohanlal (Anari) not Nutan. We pay a tribute to the legendary actress Nutan with a brief journey through some of her immortal songs – in which she essayed an amazing variety of roles. Her spontaneity and versatility made her rise above the accepted norms of ‘acting’ in mainstream cinema.
A picture of grace and dignity.
A persona of pleasing compassion with the warmest smile straight from the heart.
An impish beauty who could readily play pranks.
An indignant, deprived girl who fights it out with society on her own.
A quiet, loving, affectionate woman who has the courage to brave the worst for others and craves for only love and respect.
A lonely heart – with all her pain kept well-covered and never shared.
Which song of Nutan do I pick? An amazing repertoire with the widest variety of roles – she institutionalized the deglamorised role in a way no other contemporary actress could.
Shorn of the regular layers of pancake, she still looked the most pleasing and comforting picture of compassion. The distributors did not like the idea of the heroine in plain khadi clothes in Bandini but can you imagine the quiet, courageous Kalyani in chiffon running to be with her ailing love? Nutan never gave these regular razzmatazz of Hindi films more importance than her role deserved. And that made her rise above the ordinary.
Well, Nutan amazed me with every role she did – she lived the character, spontaneous, natural, unaffected. So you watch Kalyani and Sujata and Aarti Sohanlal (Anari) not Nutan. So here’s a short list of some of her songs and a couple of scenes – some of the songs she lip synched, some were used in the background. Either way she emoted them as no other.
Kaali ghata chhaye (Sujata, 1959) Asha Bhosle / Majrooh Sultanpuri / SD Burman
Portraying Powerful Literary Characters
One of the biggest challenges thus for any filmmaker trying to turn a literary piece into cinema, particularly so if it is a well-known tome, lies in characterization. While all that the writer needs to do to delve into the minds of the characters, pour out their innermost thoughts and create moods, environment and situations, is to describe the same in words, the filmmaker’s challenge is manifold.
When it came to portraying powerful characters etched in literature by renowned writers, Nutan had the ability to climb right under the skin of the character. Can we think of Nutan’s films and not think of the golden hearted prisoner Bandini or the self-respecting “achhut” Sujata of Sujata based on a story by Subodh Ghosh? Both films by ace filmmaker Bimal Roy made a powerful social comment and were based on critically acclaimed literature.
Sun mere bandhu re (Sujata, 1959) SD Burman / Majrooh Sultanpuri / SD Burman
The Compassionate Heart Pushed To the Edge
To portray the emotional upheavals undergoing in the innermost selves of the characters, the filmmaker has to create visual imagery and symbolic gestures, add dialogues, create moods through appropriate use of light and sound effects and camera angles or build situations which would allow the actor to portray those emotions. Bimal Roy undoubtedly was a master craftsman at transplanting literature into cinema complete with the imagery and symbols that writers have the liberty to use but filmmakers often do not.
Can we ever forget that heart-rending scene in Bandini (based on a story by Jarasandha) where Kalyani (Nutan) is lighting a stove to make tea and in the house behind her, a blacksmith is beating a hammer into the fire with a relentless “clang”?
As the stove lights up almost in rhythm with the fire in the background, we can see Kalyani’s smouldering eyes depicting her inner turbulence on finding out her lover (Ashok Kumar) had married the eccentric rich woman, whom she had been nursing with patience and care despite all her ill manners.
Almost in a trance, she puts poison in the tea she made for that woman and her agony is so apparent that not even for a moment do we look upon her as a murderer. Just as it takes a master storyteller like Jarasandha to create a courageous character like Kalyani, it needs a superb craftsman like Bimal Roy to portray her convincingly on celluloid.
The climax of the film is aptly captured in one of the most evocative and romantic songs ever. The strength of Bimal Roy’s expertise as a master of symbolism coupled with Nutan’s deep understanding of Kalyani’s character along with SD Burman‘s masterpiece of a melody and rendition woven on lyrics by Shailendra, all merge together in perfect measure to make this song and scene unforgettable. (Read an interesting anecdote about how this song happened in Nabendu Ghosh: The Master of Screen Writing – Interview with Ratnottama Sengupta)
“Two of my best roles were penned by Nabendu Ghosh for Sujata and Bandini. These films, by my favourite director Bimal Roy, brought out two unknown aspects of womanhood and fired an intensity not seen in any other film of mine. Nabendu Da and Bimal Da formed one of the greatest scriptwriter-director duos of Indian Cinema.”
~ Nutan, Bombay Times, February, 1995
Emoting with Perfection Complex Classical Songs
Lip synching even the most complex melodies came naturally to Nutan. Watch the way she strums the tanpura, closes her eyes just at the right moments and moves her neck in perfect harmony with the notes in this classical gem from Shankar Jaikishan in Seema, 1955, which I am told is based on Raag Jayjaywanti.
The cinematographer can well afford extreme closeups here – the lip sync and movements are as true to the song as can be and mind you, it’s one complex melody with tons of murkis peppered in. With Nutan there is no danger of fingers playing something the music doesn’t portray.
What an aalap and what a performance at the end – I have to remind myself its Lata Mangeshkar and not who I see on screen! A large credit for this goes to her own knowledge and passion for music – I had read somewhere she had a music room and collected instruments.
Enjoy this evergreen beauty – a Shankar Jaikishan-Shailendra-Lata Mangeshkar team work of excellence!
Manmohana bade jhoothe (Seema, 1955) Shankar Jaikishan / Shailendra / Lata Mangeshkar
Expression and confession of love in “Raag Pyar’’.
A walk down the Qutub steps has never been the same again ever. In this song, Vijay Anand turns it into the most romantic set of stairs in the world. And he himself appears in a blink and you will miss cameo in his huge trench coat, cap and spectacles, quizzically inspecting the two love birds with a look that speaks a thousand words.
Aaj dil ki bekali, aa gai zubaan par,
baat yeh hai tumse pyaar hai, dil tumhi ko diya re……
Not expecting the outburst, but thoroughly enjoying Nutan and epitome of romance Dev Anand are highly watchable. Unparalleled rendition that only Rafi was capable of, pure romantic lyrics by Hasrat Jaipuri, known as the prince of romance and genius creation by S D Burman.
Dil ka bhanwar kare pukaar (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, 1963) S D Burman / Hasrat Jaipuri / Mohd Rafi
Falling in love with the ‘Anari’
This strapping Calcutta lad had wanted to be a biochemist, but became a salaried film editor in New Theaters studios, and eventually came to Bombay in 1951 with veteran director Bimal Roy as editor of path-breaking films like Do Bigha Zameen. No prizes for guessing, it was Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The amiable Hrishida was literally forced by his friends in Bombay to wield the megaphone. His debut directorial venture Musafir picked up the first-ever national award and high critical acclaim but a lukewarm box-office. Hrishida packed his bags for Calcutta.
Enter another bosom pal Raj Kapoor. Direct Anari for me, he appealed. Anari, the story of the honest simpleton, made silver jubilee. It turned the wheel around for Hrishida.
For Raj Kapoor, his image of the golden-hearted, rather naïve and trusting bohemian added more shine and polish (up from the vagabond image of his earlier films) while for Nutan it was yet another feather in the cap of versatility. For the team of Shankar Jaikishen-Shailendra-Mukesh-Lata Mangeshkar, Anari’s music raced to glorious peaks. The songs spoke the common man’s heart and touched the pulse of the audience nationwide. Nutan, playing the rich girl who pretends to be the commoner, lived every bit of her role – portraying the arrogance of the wealthy as also the voice of conscience.
Here she is just as amused at the naiveté of Raj Kapoor as she happily in love. Nutan’s expressions perfectly portray the mix of affection and indulgence in a song that became proverbial. Don’t we quip “jo na samjhe woh anari hain” if a friend is unable to get your joke? :)
Woh chaand khila (Anari, 1959) Shankar Jaikishan / Hasrat Jaipuri / Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh
Exquisite Melodies of Heer
Now for a film Heer that cannot boast of being a great film but certainly one that has some of the most exquisite songs. Nutan looks her ravishing best. Pradeep Kumar is his usual princely self. The film was a Sashdhar Mukherji production but unfortunately, the film flopped owing to poor direction. However, the music always stood out. It is amazing to listen to the songs of Heer even today and marvel at the sheer treatment and compositions of Anil Biswas.
Heer was a rare Anil Biswas and Majrooh Sultanpuri combo. Five songs always stand out:
* O sajana, chhuta hai jo daaman tera (Hemant/Geeta)
* O mere ranjhana, rukhsat ka hai sama (Lata)
* Bulbul mere chaman ke, taqdeer meri ban ke (Geeta)
* Dhadakane laga dil, nazar jhuk gayi (Geeta)
* Ik chaand ka tukda, (Hemant)
My pick is the exquisite duet O sajana – pure honey in both the voices – Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar. Just notice the way she sings and the way Nutan emotes:
Zara dekh tadapna mera
manzil manzil hai andhera-a-a-a (delightful lilt!!!)
Hemant Kumar also does a tera-a-a-a but Geeta’s sweetness is instant shoot up in sugar levels :)
O Saajana (Heer, 1956) Anil Biswas / Majrooh Sultanpuri / Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar
This is not just a song. It’s a conversation, a relay, a give-and-take. Its poetry, recited simply so, and then weaved into a tune. Dev Anand, the musician-singer is being put to test by his lady love Nutan with a “let-me-see-if-you-can-make-a-song-of-this” kind of challenge.
On the face of it, it’s a duet. But it has parts where each singer sings his/her own tune separately and yet together, two counter melodies that never submerge the other, never overshadow. Simply put, it’s a game in music in perfect harmony and sublime love.
chupke se mile pyaase pyaase
kuch hum kuch tum
kya ho jo ghata khul ke barse
rumm jhumm rumm jhumm
Geeta Dutt begins with just the Doo-Wop, whimsical and thoughtful (Doo-Wop refers to words in a song, spoken in rhythmic harmony). It isn’t a song yet but the Doo-Wop of the mukhda itself is musical with Nutan complementing Geeta with perfect expressions. The suave and smart Dev Anand ponders for a moment and then picks up the cue with Rafi as the matching voice, playfully stringing the lines in tune.
Who else but Geeta can be as emotive, making the words sound as soft as feather, as lyrical as the rain and as delicate as the finest glass. Burman Dada must have asked her to make her voice swoon to the words because that’s exactly what Nutan does on screen…well, almost! (Read an extensive exploration of this beautiful song by Anand Desai and yours truly here)
Chupke se mile pyaase pyaase (Manzil, 1960) SD Burman / Majrooh Sultanpuri / Geeta Dutt and Mohd Rafi
The Musical Evening Walk
Dulhan Ek Raat Ki was based on Thomas Hardy’s classic, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Produced by Bhawani Singh, it was directed by renowned and talented, D D Kashyap. Nutan is graceful and simple in a sari and loosely draped shawl and Dharmendra is the typical dashing hero in a designer sweater.
The scene as well as the film had a dreamy soft lens photography by Rajendra Malone, and this song is perhaps one of the most musical and serene evening walks that can happen. In fact, each and every song of this film was a genius creation by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan and Madan Mohan.
Ik haseen shaam ko (Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, 1966) Madan Mohan / Raja Mehdi Ali Khan / Mohd Rafi
The Classic ‘Terrace Song’
This Paying Guest song is a Kishore Kumar classic and all Asha Bhosle does in it is hum. And how! Not only is the humming exquisitely melodious, the performance by Nutan to emote that humming is so real that many people thought she had done it herself!
Dev Anand is the archetypal lover boy and Nutan is dreamy and floating in blissful love as can be. The SD Burman-Majrooh Sultanpuri team came up with gold again in this frothy, romantic song on the terrace (an amazing number of love songs in Hindi films have been “terrace songs” and this certainly is among the tops).
O nigaahein mastana (Paying Guest, 1957) SD Burman / Majrooh Sultanpuri / Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar
Director PL Santoshi perfected the art of qawalli picturisation, Roshan mastered the art of qawalli composition (can you ever forget Taj Mahal or Bahu Begum) and when you have Sahir Ludhianvi writing the lyrics, you can sit back and enjoy the greatest qawallis of Hindi cinema. And no, I am not referring to the film which is woven around qawallis Barsat Ki Raat (1960) where this trio created some of the greatest qawallis. Three years later they repeated the success in Dil Hi To Hai (1963).
What was remarkable in Nigaahein milaane ko jee chahta hai – one of the most lovable qawallis of all time, was Nutan – firmly establishing her versatility with a fabulous performance matching the complex qawalli note for note, beat for beat with the right expressions and hand movements.
Watch her emote the sargam by Asha Bhosle from ‘Ni-re-ga…’ (5:31) – lip synching to a rapid sargam always needs practice. Not surprisingly, the camera stays with Nutan and her accompanying girls all through the song, with shots of Raj Kapoor and Pran coming in only as punctuation.
Nigaahein milaane ko jee chahta hai (Dil Hi To Hai, 1963) Roshan / Sahir Ludhianvi / Asha Bhosle
Life is About More Than Just Love
Shifting gear from playful and impish to sombre and pensive within the space of a few reels was something Nutan could do with elan. Saraswatichandra has some of the most beautiful songs soaked in the soil of Gujarat but one that stays with you as an inner voice is the acutely practical and brutal Chhod de saari duniya kisi ke liye.
Looking a picture of purity and pain in resplendent white with her tresses blowing in the wind, Nutan makes your heart turn with this song shot in the barren, rocky terrain – symbolic of the rocky roads of life that one must traverse at some point.
Chhod de saari duniya kisi ke liye (Saraswatichandra, 1968) Kalyanji Anandji / Indeevar / Lata Mangeshkar
Learn English Kishore Da Ishtyle…!
Rapidex English will do a few somersaults here!
To end this little journey with Nutan, here’s some rip-roaring fun with the graceful lady in her most mischievous avatar.
C-A-T CAT cat maane billi
R-A-T RAT rat maane chuha
Dil hai tere panje mein to toh kya hua!
Cat is caught in the paws of the rat!
Impossible? Not if Kishore Da can have his way. An amused Nutan gives it right back – she is the perfect impish girl who is enjoying being wooed in this hilarious manner but has a point or two of her own to clear.
ari baavri tu ban jaa meri,
zara sun main kya kahta hoon
zara dekh idhar tujhe hai khabar,
tu hai kaun aur main kya hoon
Love is… being tamed by the most tame of them all.
G-O-A-T GOAT goat maane bakri
L-I-O-N LION lion maane sher
arre dil hai tere panje mein to toh kya hua!
So the king of the forest is caught in the tame goat’s hooves! Nature turned upside down.
Everything is possible in love and war!
lage taakne kabhi aapne, sheesha leke moonh dekha bhi
tumhi ik nahin jahaan mein hasin, na hoga koi ham sa bhi
Nutan decides to show the mirror to her suitor. And if you thought you are unique… hello, you won’t find one like me too!
I am sure Majrooh Sahab must be laughing to himself when he was writing these words. Can’t find better literal translations of NOSE and CROW, and MAD… Ravi scores a peppy, chirpy tune to match the musical English speaking course. And I can almost visualise Kishore Da doing a jig at the microphone with Asha Bhosle trying her best to control her laughter. :)
C-A-T CAT cat maane billi (Dilli Ka Thug, 1958) Ravi / Majrooh Sultanpuri / Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle
A part of this article was first published in ManekPremchand.com – the website of renowned musicologist and author Manek Premchand.
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