indian cinema heritage foundation

'Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh'- Nadira

27 Mar, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Image Courtesy: Filmfare, January 16, 1959

Just like every vintage film enthusiast I also wished to meet the performers of the era gone by, know about their current life, click pictures with them, etc.; maybe that is why I have always been attracted towards this city of dreams. And one fine day I left behind a secure and comfortable life to become a part of this constant struggle for survival in this metropolis. Today when I look back at the 18 years I have spent in this city, every word of Rhonda Byrnes well-known book The Secret seems to come true. It basically says that sooner or later the Universe grants you the stuff you really wish for. I was fortunate that as soon as I came to Mumbai, I met a well-known writer and journalist Mr. Dhirendra Asthana. He not only inspired me to write but as soon as he headed the weekly Sahara Samay as Mumbai Bureau Chief, he entrusted to me the responsibility of its columns like Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon and Log. Having found a drive, I went all out to realize my dream job.  I explored every street, every bylane of Mumbai to find the yesteryear actor-actresses, music directors, writers, producers-directors, now lost in the shadows of oblivion. 

In due course, I found the actress who started her career with New Theatres, Kolkata, also co-singer of the song Aahein na bharee shikwe na kiye, Kalyani Bai in the bylanes of Mahim Dargah. Music composer Datta Davjekar, who gave a break to Lata Mangeshkar in playback was traced in Shastrinagar-Lokhandwala, Andheri. I met Nayna Sahu, the leading lady of Hare Kanch Ki Chooriyan (1967) as Mrs. Rao in Chembur while the singer who is immortalized by Kabhi tanhaiyon mein yun Mubarak Begum was found in a small, dark 6x8 room in one of the filthy bustling bylanes of the red light area near Grant Road-Congress House. During this expedition I also met Vanmala, Pramila, Manju, Nalini Jaywant, Begum Para, Munavvar Sultana, Tun Tun, Nirupa Roy, Kamini Kaushal, Poornima, Dulari, Shyama, Shashikala, Nimmi, Peace Kanwal, Anita Guha, Ameeta, Bela Bose, Kumkum, Sharda, Sudha Malhotra, Suman Kalyanpur, Babubhai Mistry, Subodh Mukherjee, Mahipal, Rajendranath, Pt. Feroze Dastur, B.M. Vyas, Naushad, Snehal Bhatkar, O.P. Nayyar, Sardar Malik, Ravi and above all Shamshad Begum who was incorrectly declared dead on 10th August 1998 was traced in a posh location at Powai where she lived with her daughters family.

But many a times disappointments came my way too, like when even after repeated tries Chhoti Behen would answer the phone herself saying – “Didi has gone to the market” or when both Abdul Rahmania and Gud Ki Dali kept avoiding me, saying – “madam is not at home”. People who answered the phone never let me reach senior Yamla Jatt(1940). Once I happened to contact the son of an actress popular in the 1950s for her work in Hindi and Bengali films. In my first attempt, he called me for a meeting scheduled for the next day but within twenty minutes he called back screaming and shouting – “why are you calling us again and again? I told you mummy does not meet anyone”. I could never understand this sudden change in merely twenty minutes with the allegation of calling again and again. Then there was Bahu Rani who would always complain about headaches or back pain whenever I asked for an interview. And when I happened to reach a singer who sang just 4 songs in the 1960s, her lies, tantrums, backbiting, and Nanha Munna Rahi like behavior at the age of 70-75 years made me vow not to go that way again. Actress Nadira was also a moody artist whose evasive responses made me cancel her name from my list. But after two years on Dhirendra ji’s request, I had to contact her again in November 2005 as Sahara Samay required an article based on Nadira’s memories of Dilip Kumar. Nadira answered the phone and enthusiasm in her voice was evident at the mention of Dilip Kumar’s name. Here is the article was written based on that phone call.
 


Dilip Kumar as I see – Nadira 

(11 December, Dilip Kumar’s birthday, as a special feature, Published in Sahara Samay, December 17, 2005)

It is not easy to find words to appreciate Dilip Kumar, an actor of that stature. There don’t seem enough adjectives in the dictionary. I was fortunate to begin my career with the film Aan (1952) which had Dilip Saheb as the leading man. I was about 18 then and till then I had seen only one film, that too Dilip Kumar’s Andaz (1949). But I was so young then that neither did I understand the film nor could I recognize Dilip Saheb. When I came on board for the film Aan, I got to know from people around that a certain Dilip Kumar was going to play the main lead, he was a big name in the industry and the country loved him for his acting. Constantly hearing so much about him I was so petrified that when I actually saw him for the first time on the films set, I was awestruck. Scared and hypnotized I kept staring at him and found him beyond what people had told me. I learned a lot through his performance.
 
An image of Nadira from the Cinemaazi archives. Image Courtesy: Filmfare, October 14, 1955
 

He would perform the toughest of scenes with such amazing ease that every person present on set would instinctively say “Waah”. I not only learned the nitty-gritty of acting but also techniques of camera and lights to enhance performance. In the eyes of Dilip ji, I was a little English Girl from a Jew Family who had no connection with Hindi and Urdu. With great interest and respect, he taught me the right pronunciation of words and the requirement of good dialogue delivery. It won’t be wrong to say that it was Dilip Saheb who replaced the loudness of Parsi theatre in movies with subtle acting and underplay. He is a complete training institute for acting in himself. Personally I found his voice a little weak in front of his grand personality. But he converted his weakness into his strength with his beautiful and alluring dialogue delivery. I am yet to see another actor like him who has such great command over the language not only onscreen but in real life as well. The beauty with which he speaks every word would hypnotize people listening to him. Dilip Saheb is a balanced personality; he knows exactly how to behave in any given situation. 
 
"With great interest and respect, he (Dilip Kumar) taught me the right pronunciation of words and the requirement of good dialogue delivery."
 
He is not only a great actor but also a wonderful human being. I have seen him getting emotional in the troubled times of others. He would find peace in secretly and silently helping the needy. There are various instances where Dilip Saheb helped the needy without coming in front of them. One of his greatest qualities that I have observed was that he would strive hard so that no one would feel small in front of his great stature. Be it, elders or youngsters, he would treat everyone with great respect. He knew how to earn respect by giving the same. Being younger to him in terms of age and experience, I am a witness to this. Dilip Sahab’s affectionate behavior not only took away all the fear but also filled me a great deal of zeal and zest. I walked the path he showed me to be known as a good actress in the Industry. I am thankful to Dilip Saheb for this and will always be.

........As told to Shishir Krishna Sharma
 


This experience of interacting with Nadiraji was different from my previous encounters. This time I sensed a lot of warmth in her behavior. During our conversation when she enquired about me, I tried to remind her of her behavior two years ago. I told her how after avoiding me for about 3-4 months, one day she just hung up without letting me complete. On listening to this she said, “Oh God, how can I behave so badly” and invited me to her residence. And two days later, there I was.
 

Here is her interview as published in the daily Rashtriya Sahara’s Sunday Umang, January 15, 2006

Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh - Nadira
..............Shishir Krishna Sharma

The actress who made her debut with Mehboob’s film Aan, Farhat Khatoon Ezekiel from a Jew Family was rechristened as Nadira by Mehboob himself. Nadira’s firebrand personality, sharp voice, and amazing performance made this 18-year-old girl a star in her very first film. As a leading lady, vamp, and character actress she won the hearts of her viewers for about four decades. During this span, she acted in about 80 films and then due to her increasing age and health problems she silently moved away from the film industry. Due to sciatica and an incurable backbone disorder she was bedridden for the past three years. She had severed ties with the outer world and as it has always been, the film industry forgot about her as well. 
 
Nadira’s firebrand personality, sharp voice, and amazing performance made this 18-year-old girl a star in her very first film.
The same Nadira was in the news again when all the major newspapers and news channels covered the news of her being hospitalized after a heart attack. As I write this passage, Nadira is fighting for her life in South Mumbai’s Bhatia Hospital. For the past few years, media was unable to reach her but at last, our persistent efforts paid off and she had to let go of her resistance.
 
A photograph of a young Nadira from the Cinemaazi archives. Image Courtesy: Filmfare, March 27, 1959
 

1 December 2005, Vasundhara Building, Flat no. 29 at Pedder Road and Warder Road junction in South Mumbai’s affluent locality, where the likes of Lata, Asha, and Anandji live. As decided I was at Nadira’s doorstep at 6.00 p.m. sharp. The lady who opened the door had been taking care of Nadira for the past six years. An aesthetically decorated flat; very old but beautiful furniture; the drawing-room had hundreds of books in various languages; and Nadira lying in the bedroom. As we started chatting, I realized that old age and excruciating diseases had not affected Nadiraji’s sharp voice and spontaneous sense of humor. In about an hour-long recorded interview she talked about various aspects of her life in a lively and humorous way.

She spoke so fluently that I failed to get the chance to ask a few very important questions. But suddenly it became all gloomy when I asked how she spends her time. Her voice choked as she said “it’s better if you don’t ask about it… time does not pass… loneliness bothers me… nights are uncomfortable… I keep turning on and turning off the lights”. She tried controlling her tears; the room was filled with a strange silence.
 
Loneliness was probably written in Nadiraji’s destiny.
Loneliness was probably written in Nadiraji’s destiny. All her relatives including her (two) brothers settled in Israel years ago. Nadira married twice but both the marriages did not even last for two years. Her first husband was lyricist Nakhshab who wrote the famous song Aayega aane wala from the film Mahal (1949). Nadira said, “Not just me, any self-respecting woman would never approve of his colorful lifestyle. When he started bringing other women home in my presence, I left his home in a single set of clothes I was wearing.” Her second husband of Arabian origin had no connection to the film industry, who according to Nadira was a slacker. She said, “Like every ordinary woman, I too had some expectations from my husband. It was not possible for me to raise a slacker so I had to leave him too.” Nakhshab later moved to Pakistan and her second husband went back to his homeland. Yesteryear actresses Shyama, Nimmi, and Nirupa Roy were close to Nadira. Shyama who herself isn’t keeping too well these days says, “I liked Nadira’s frankness the most. Earlier we used to meet and chat every day but after Nirupa’s death and our health issues, now our relationship is restricted to rare phone conversations.”
 
Nadira being styled by the designer Nargis Irani, an image from the Cinemaazi archives. Image Courtesy: Filmfare, October 23, 1959
 

Nimmi still comes to meet Nadira. She says, “Our friendship which started on the sets of Aan has passed the test of time. Initially, we used to meet every day but ever since I have shifted from Worli to Juhu, distance has increased, and thus it is not the same anymore. However, we talk over the phone at least once every day. I just pray to God that Nadira gets well soon and comes back home.”
 
Nimmi still comes to meet Nadira. She says, “Our friendship which started on the sets of Aan has passed the test of time. "
 
Nadira’s pain of loneliness, that yearning can bring tears to anybody’s eyes. Her state of mind can be understood from what she used to tell senior actor Chandrashekhar as a joke, “People will know I am dead after four days of my passing when my flat starts smelling.”

When Nadira was brought out of ICU I went to meet her at Bhatia hospital. She was lying on the bed staring at empty spaces. The lady who had been taking care of her since the past few was present at the hospital. She tried her level best to remind Nadira about me but Nadiraji kept staring silently like a stranger. I spent around 20 minutes with her and returned with a heavy heart. On the morning of 9 February 2006, I got the news about Nadira’s passing and soon I was asked by Dainik Jagran to do a write-up about her as soon as possible.
 


Alas free from loneliness, Nadira
(Published in Dainik Jagran, February 12, 2006)

At last, Nadira lost the battle with death. Just like her reel life image, this firebrand and strong-willed lady fought the battle with death for about one and a half months. Nadira had not stepped out of her plush South Mumbai flat for the past three years. Due to her spinal disorder, she was bedridden. As time passed she was completely alienated from the outside world. But old age and excruciating diseases had not affected Nadiraji’s facial radiance, sharp voice, and spontaneous sense of humor. It was only her loneliness that would affect her deeply. Her voice choked as she said “I get very depressed… loneliness troubles me a lot… sometimes I feel time should stop and everything should come to a halt… but I am helpless… I can’t even sleep… I am uncomfortable all night long… I keep turning on and turning off the lights”. 
 
She was known as Farhat Khatoon Ezekiel at home, Florence Ezekiel in school, and Nadira in films.
Nadira who was born in a Jew Family and made her film debut with Mehboob’s Aan was known as Farhat Khatoon Ezekiel at home, Florence Ezekiel in school and Nadira in films. Loneliness was probably written in Nadira’s destiny. All her relatives including her (two) brothers settled in Israel years ago. Nadira married twice with hope to move away from her loneliness but both her marriages were unsuccessful. Her first husband was the lyricist Nakhshab who has written the famous song Aayega aane wala from the film Mahal. As producer Nakhshab had made a movie called Nagma (1953) and during the same period he married Nadira. However, within two years they went separate ways.

 
Nadira styled by Nargis Irani, from the Cinemaazi archives. Image Courtesy: Filmfare, October 23, 1959
 

According to Nadira, “No woman can approve of her husband’s colorful lifestyle. Only God knows how I spent those hard times. When he started bringing other women home in my presence, I left his home in a single set of clothes I was wearing.”

Her second husband of Arabian origin had no connection to the film industry, but unable to put up with his slacker lifestyle she had to walk out of this marriage as well and embrace loneliness again. After some time Nakhshab moved to Pakistan while her second husband went back to his homeland. In about an hour-long recorded interview taken at her residence on the evening of 1st December 2005, she talked about various aspects of her life in a lively and humorous way. Her pain and helplessness can be understood from, “I have stopped calling people home… feeding them… they are sweet in front of you but do not even care to call after they leave… if anyone wishes to come on their own, they are welcome… but now no one comes.”.
 
Yesteryear actresses Shyama, Nimmi, and (late) Nirupa Roy were always close to Nadira. Till some time back, these four ladies met every day, chit-chatting and playing cards.
 
Only yesteryear actresses Shyama, Nimmi, and (late) Nirupa Roy were always close to Nadira. Till some time back, these four ladies met every day, chit-chatting and playing cards. But due to Nirupa Roy's passing, Shyamas often failing health and Nimmis relocation from Worli to Juhu, Nadira was again left alone.

She just had the company of a maid who was with her 24x7 and her friend and fan, Mr. Roongta who was with her till her last breath. Nadira’s health started deteriorating since 12 December and on 27 December she was admitted to Bhatia hospital in South Mumbai. As she was showing no signs of improvement she had to be shifted to the ICU on 31 December, from where she was moved out on 17 January. Alas due to meningitis she took her last breath in hospital on 9 February and freed herself forever not only from her illnesses but also from her lifelong loneliness. 


On the afternoon of 9 February 2006, Nadira’s (Jew by birth) last rights were performed according to Hindu rituals as per her last wish under the supervision of Mr. Roongta in a South Mumbai crematorium. And with it, this one of Hindi cinema’s glittering chapters came to an end.

Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din blog series.)

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