indian cinema heritage foundation

Asha Sachdev

  • Real Name: Nafisa Sultan
  • Born: 27 May 1956
  • Primary Cinema: Hindi
  • Parents: Ranjana Sachdev , Ahmed Ali Khan (Ashiq Hussain)

At one point in her career, actress Asha Sachdev (née Nafisa Sultan) stated, “I’ve been systematically chased by ill luck,” describing her inability to hit the big time, despite her beauty and talent. Nevertheless, she carved a career that sustained over several decades in Hindi cinema, exhibiting versatility as a performer, essaying heroine, vamp, dancer and character artiste. Featuring as a lead actress in her earlier films such as the hits Hifazat (1973) and Ek Hi Raasta (1977), Sachdev would make her mark in a slew of supporting roles in the course of her long career, comprising approximately 90 films, including the hit spy film Agent Vinod (1977), Priyatama (1978) for which she won the Filmfare award for best supporting actress, and Kanoon Kya Karega (1984). An alumna of the Film and Television Institute of India, her notable films include Mama Bhanja (1977), Lafange (1975), Mehbooba (1976), Satte Pe Satta (1982), Duniya Meri Jeb Mein (1979), The Burning Train (1980), Prem Rog (1982) and Eeshwar (1989). Some of the popular songs she featured in are Jis kaam ko dono aye hai, picturised on her and Jeetendra from the film Ek Hi Raasta (1977), and the popular qawwali song Pal do pal ka from The Burning Train. Moving to television in the late 1980s and making waves in the early soap opera Buniyaad (1986), she featured in tele-serials throughout the 1990s. Returning to the big screen in the new millennium, she essayed character roles in films like Fiza (2000), Aaghaaz (2000), Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) and Aaja Nachle (2007). 

Born Nafisa Sultan on 27 May 1956, her parents were both in films; her mother Ranjana aka Razia was an actress while her father Ahmed Ali Khan aka Ashiq Hussain Warsi was a poet and musician. After her parents divorced in the 1960s, her mother married I P Sachdev, a well-known lawyer from Bombay. Nafisa and her sister lived with their mother, while their brother Anwar stayed with his father, and later became a well-known singer. Through her father’s second marriage, she is the half-sister of actor Arshad Warsi.

An alumna of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, she adopted the screen name Asha Sachdev and made her debut in the action drama Bindiya Aur Bandook (1972). She played the female lead named Durga in this Shibu Mitra directorial produced by Joginder, that also starred Kiran Kumar and Raza Murad. A few years later, in an interview, she would call the film one of her “best performances to date,” adding that a couple of newspapers at the time had even suggested that she was another Jaya Bhaduri in the making. However, the film didn’t succeed at the box office. While her acting in this film was praised, due to working in a B-grade film at the beginning of her career, a negative perception was apparently created in the eyes of A-list directors, leading to her losing out on big-budget films.

Her next release was the low-budget film directed by Gogi Anand - Double Cross (1972). She played a bold and dynamic role of the bar dancer Lily amidst a cast that included Vijay Anand, Rekha and Madan Puri; however, the film too was a flop. 

The following year, she won attention with her leading role in the romantic drama mystery Hifazat (1973) directed by K S R Das, starring opposite Vinod Mehra. They played a couple in love; however, the boy’s father stands against the two lovers. Sachdev was appreciated for her performance and the songs, especially Yeh mastaani dagar and Hamrahi mera pyar, which became popular. 

In 1974, in the mystery thriller Woh Main Nahin, directed by Mohan Segal, she played a character named Pamela Darling in the film which revolved around how the institution of marriage is misused. As she later pointed out, she had a good meaty role, was presented well and did her best. Making a ‘bare-dare appearance in red hot pants’ in this Navin Nishchol-Rekha starrer, she became an onscreen sensation. However, the image stuck and she was thereafter swamped with item dance offers and vamp roles. She would reveal in an interview, “I must have got dozens of offers to do similar roles. I refused them all. I didn’t want to be typecast, branded, labelled as a mere sex symbol. Producers seemed to have overlooked my feyness, my potential talent as a comedian, and underlined only my physical-ness of the role.” 

Fed up of “being bandied around as a sex symbol and nothing more,” she declined offers that were “the usual ornamental or sexy stuff,” choosing to stay home with no work for six months. “Eventually, I won,” she said at the time, having signed on several films with good banners and top stars.

The action spy film directed by Deepak Bahry - Agent Vinod (1977) saw her essay the female lead opposite Mahendra Sandhu as a dashing Indian secret agent. The film turned out to be a surprise hit. The story revolved around the kidnapping of a prominent scientist, Ajay Saxena (Nazir Hussain) which prompts the chief of secret services (K N Singh) to assign the flamboyant Agent Vinod (Mahendra Sandhu) to this case. While on this assignment, Vinod meets with Ajay's daughter, Anju (Sachdev), who insists on assisting him. The duo is then further assisted by Chandu "James Bond" (Jagdeep) and his gypsy girlfriend (Jayshree T). Faced with numerous challenges, the two couples realise that their task is not only very difficult, but also life-threatening.

The same year, she also featured in the drama film Ek Hi Raasta (1977), directed by Mohan Segal, starring Jeetendra and Shabana Azmi, which became a hit.

The following year, she made an impact with her supporting role in Basu Chatterjee’s Priyatama (1978), in which she played the friend of the female lead. Against type, she donned a simple sari and bespectacled look in the film, which revolved around a couple on the brink of separation who try to put up appearances when the girl’s father pays them a visit. Sachdev’s performance earned her the Filmfare best supporting actress award. 

Featuring in supporting roles in a slew of successful films, she later opted for roles in television, acting through the 1990s in serials such as the long-running Buniyaad in which she played the character Shanno, Mullah Nasruddin (1990), Jeevan Mrityu (1994), and Eena Meena Deeka (2000).

Later in the 2000s, she made a comeback in films playing a range of character roles such as Neelu L Singh in Stumped (2003), Shabnam in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007), Bindu in Aaja Nachle (2007), and Mrs Phadnis in Pankh (2010).

In her personal life, Sachdev reportedly lost her fiancé, businessman Kishen Lal, aged 30, in a car accident shortly before their wedding; thereafter, she chose to never marry.