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09 February 2014

The Divas: Sadhana

I began this series, The Divas, with Sharmila Tagore, who I thought best epitomised the category - of actresses with talent who also knew how to package themselves to be a very important part of the sort of films that were being made during the period. The age of 'artistic' commercial cinema had begun to recede, and films were either completely 'commercial' or 'middle-of-the-road'. (Who makes these distinctions is not very clear, because well-made films are always a joy to watch, regardless of which genre they belonged.) But the diktats of commercial cinema needed heroines who were not only beautiful but could also be the stuff of which dreams are made - gossamer, ethereal, feminine - the perfect complement to the  'masculine' heroes who populated the fairy tales on screen. 

It is an unfortunate observation that this breed of actresses could have been interchanged without anyone being any the wiser. The roles were pretty much the same. Yet, in my opinion, the advantage of some of these actresses who I would categorise as 'Divas', lay in the fact that within the parameters of the roles they took on, one couldn't see any other. The fact that they could, and did, very often make those run-of-the-mill roles their own, plus move quite smoothly into the so-called 'artistic' cinema is perhaps what pushes these heroines to the 'Diva' category. 

My second heroine in this category is Sadhana Shivadasani. While I already had her in my list because she is one of my favourite 60s heroines, the impetus to write about her at this point came from Coolone, who is the second runner-up on my RK Quiz. The request was to write  'a blogpost on one of my most favourite actresses, Sadhana'. It is a request that I was more than glad to fulfil. So, Coolone, this one's for you. :)

Sadhana, named after Sadhana Bose, a heroine from the 40s, burst into cinegoers' consciousness with the frothy Love in Simla (1960). That was not her first movie appearance, however. Drawn to the movies by cousin Hari Shivadasani who was also an actor, Sadhana first appeared as a chorus girl in Raj Kapoor's Shree 420 (1955); she was barely 14 years old. The first film she signed was Abana (1958), a Sindhi film starring Sheila Ramani in the lead, where she played the actress' sister. The actress was the first to recognise the newcomer's destiny - when Sadhana asked her for an autograph, Sheila Ramani scribbled, "One day, I will ask you for your autograph."  

Abana's poster caught the eye of movie mogul Shashadhar Mukherjee, and he enrolled Sadhana in his acting institute in which Asha Parekh was already a student. When director Nasir Hussain was looking to cast a new heroine, Mukherjee offered him a choice between Asha and Sadhana. Nasir Hussain chose Asha Parekh (for Dil Deke Dekho). 

All was not lost however. Mukherjee was launching his son, Joy, in a light-as-air confection reminiscent of the Shammi Kapoor films. The director was RK Nayyar, erstwhile assistant to Raj Kapoor. He signed Sadhana for the role of the ugly-duckling-turned-beautiful-swan Cinderella story, and a new star was born.

Sadhana never thought of herself as 'beautiful'. She claimed she was 'attractive' and 'charming'. The camera begged to differ. Audiences fell in love with her gamin charm, and lyricists wrote odes to her beauty. An underrated actress, Sadhana was a complete natural in front of the camera. It is that simplicity that caught Bimal Roy's eye, and he signed her for the role of a simple village girl in Parakh. He claimed he saw traces of Nutan in her, a compliment that Sadhana treasured. 

Incidentally, she had signed Parakh earlier than she did Love in Simla. It was RK Nayyar who told her that it made sense to release Love in Simla first, because then people would realise that the westernised glamour girl could also be a simple village girl. 

There was a time when films ran because of her star power. But when the writing appeared on the wall in the late 60s/early 70s, being of a practical bent of mind, Sadhana voluntarily eased out of films. The very reclusive actress lives alone quite happily, meeting up regularly with old friends, Waheeda, Asha Parekh, Nanda, Shammi and Helen. 

One of my favourite actresses of the period, as much for beauty and screen presence as for her acting skills, here are my pick of what I think are her best roles. 

1. Love in Simla (1960)
Directed by: RK Nayyar
Husn dhoka aankh ka hai aise dhoke hazaar
Love in Simla may have been a frothy romantic comedy, but it definitely turned several stereotypes inside out. Taking off on the hoary trope of 'Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses', the film began with the girl chasing the boy - to prove a point. And it went on as it began: there was a grandmother who is strongly feminist, even while she is conducting a 'traditional' makeover for the heroine; there is a heroine who is not above the maxim that all is fair in love and war, and in fact, sets out to challenge her cousin that she can win over a man, any man; there is a hero who is not beyond fibbing to meet his own ends, there is a sense of humour in the script that makes all these people, and others, multi-dimensional instead of cardboard cutouts, and there was no melodrama at all. Refreshing. As was the makeover that turned a bespectacled, tomboyish Sonia into the stunning beauty who lit up the screen. (Sadhana was a tomboy in real life as well - she confessed once that she had been known as the dada in her mohalla.
Director RK Nayyar modelled her on Audrey Hepburn and cut her hair in a fringe to hide Sadhana's broad forehead, and gave fashion followers a new hairstyle to emulate - the 'Sadhana Cut'. Sadhana was definitely not the normal run-of-the-mill debutante - there to provide the hero's arm-candy and lip-sync four songs. Her Sonia was sassy, spunky and determined. She was also fabulously natural. A star was certainly born. The sets of Love in Simla also saw the young heroine fall in love with her equally young director. However, jaise filmon mein hota hai, her parents threatened him with legal action, and he backed away. True love triumphing apparently doesn't just happen in films, though, and Sadhana married him in 1966.

2. Parakh (1960)
Directed by: Bimal Roy
Bimal Roy's gentle satire on Indian democracy, based on a story by Salil Choudhary (who also composed some wonderful songs for this film) saw Sadhana switch gears from the poor albeit westernised Sonia of Love in Simla to the simple, principled Seema, the village postman's daughter. That she did so, successfully, was a testimony to her acting talent. Because it was not just a matter of getting out of trousers and chiffon saris into cotton saris, or of brushing back the fringe so she could wear her hair into a simple bun. It was getting into character, look, mannerisms, behaviour, all changed with the change in character. It was a role that was marked by its very simplicity and Sadhana aced it. She impressed the auteur so much that he promptly signed her for his next venture.

3. Mere Mehboob (1963)
Directed by: HS Rawail
Zindagi mein jab bhi kisi pighalti hui shama ko dekhiyega 
toh mujhe yaad kar leejiyega
It's not a conceit that would fly today - of a man falling in love with a woman's eyes as seen through her burqa. So in love that he would compose and sing Mere mehboob tujhe. But Sadhana's beauty, and her innocence, made it seem all too believable. As Sadhana laughingly said, the burqa  became a fashion statement after the film released. Director HS Rawail waited 8 months for Sadhana's dates, shooting the scenes of Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and Nimmi, while he waited for her. 

Strangely enough, Sadhana had initially been reluctant to sign the film because Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja, Rawail's previous film, had crashed at the turnstiles. It was Hrishikesh Mukherjee who convinced her to sign on the dotted line. His rationale? Rajendra Kumar had an unwitting knack of choosing box-office winners - and he had agreed to be part of this Muslim social. Hrishikesh Mukherjee's crystal ball was right on its money. Sadhana became a huge star after the phenomenal success of Mere Mehboob. She played the role of a young Muslim girl who is both very much in love and cognisant of the fact that she could not, in honour, continue with the relationship. Tradition and honour were important, if not to her, to the other people she loved and revered. It was refreshing that neither she nor the script wallowed in melodrama. Sadhana looked ethereally beautiful, G Singh's camera work and diffused lighting making her look the personification of her name - Husna.

4. Hum Dono (1961)
Directed by: Amarjeet
Jo mujhse bhi chhupaaoge toh phir kise bataaoge,  
Main koyi gair toh nahin dilaaoon kis tarah yakeen
She's the eternal romantic, submissive on the face of it, but not beyond standing up for herself when the occasion calls for it. Her Mita is a strong presence, offering Anand an emotional crutch. She is mature and understanding, and plays her part with a quiet assurance that is very, very appealing. She may have been one of the two heroines (Nanda played the other love interest), but her expressive eyes made an eloquent statement of the state of her emotions. It was one class performance, and would serve to emphasise her undervalued histrionic ability. 

5. Asli Naqli (1962)
Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Bimal Roy's assistant, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, also signed Sadhana as Renu in his deftly told tale of love triumphing over economic differences. She reunited with her Hum Dono co-star, Dev Anand, playing the part of a self-respecting middle-class girl who falls in love with the grandson of a wealthy and arrogant industrialist. While she carried off the glamour-puss roles with elan, I must confess that I found Sadhana far prettier in roles such as these. She played the balancing act very well, straddling both kinds of roles with ease. It was an act that very few of her contemporaries managed; I would say that Sharmila, her junior, was the one who came closest to doing so successfully. 

Speaking of her contemporaries, she once said in an interview that when directors wanted someone pretty and decorative, they signed Saira Banu; when they wanted someone who could dance, they signed Asha Parekh, and when they needed histrionics, they came to her. In any other actress, this would have been deemed catty; with Sadhana, it was a very matter-of-fact statement. Considering that Asha Parekh is one of her closest friends, it would seem that Asha also knew what Sadhana meant. 

6. Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (1962) 
Directed by: Raj Khosla
The same year, Sadhana reunited with the costar of her debut film in one of the earliest road movies in Hindi cinema. Unfortunately, the film meandered much like the travelling the lead pair did within the film. But Sadhana's Asha was a heroine I rather liked. Where else would you find a heroine who takes an amnesiac stranger in her stride? Yes, I know she does go into the pativrata  mode a couple of times, but on the whole, she had a lot of gumption.

Or rather the script did. How many mainstream films would you find a married heroine repudiating her marriage? With her family's blessings? And then traipsing off merrily to find the man she loves? I also liked the conflict she goes through - she is attracted to Joy Mukherjee, but she is married (the phere are only half-over, though). There is the need to keep Joy from getting too traumatised, so Asha plays along with the flirtation, but one can see there is truth under the façade as well. Sadhana played her well. Now if only Raj Khosla had decided just what he was making, the movie would have been a darn sight better than it is. But it is worth watching - for Sadhana, for Joy, for the songs...

7. Waqt (1965)
Directed by: Yash Chopra
No, she had nothing much to do in this multi-starrer about separated families and lost loves. Other than be the beautiful and glamorous arm candy. But she did that with such panache. One of the few actresses of that time who could be glamorous. Not only that, she rocked the fashion world and scandalised quite a few people, including director Yash Chopra. Sadhana, who had tired of the saris and salwar kameezes that heroines wore on screen, decided to ask her personal stylist to make her some churidar kameezes. 

Bhanu Athaiya was a bit taken aback - churidars were considered 'muslim' dresses. So Sadhana changed her design a bit - a churidar with a modern kurta, a tighter one, both sleeveless and with sleeves. When he saw the designs, Yash Chopra absolutely refused to let her wear them in the film, but she asked him to suspend judgement until he saw her in them. And when he came to meet her, she was wearing a sleeveless white churidar kurta with gold embroidery around the bust, and mojris. Coupled with a chic hairstyle, she impressed the director so much that the 'new' fashion became a part of the costumes for both heroines. 

8. Woh Kaun Thi (1964)
Directed by: Raj Khosla
Mujhe khoon pasand hai
Raj Khosla was a director she trusted. She had worked with him earlier in Ek Musafir Ek Hasina.  She would work with him again, in the second and third parts of his spooky-suspense trilogy - Mera Saaya and Anita. He was a director who understood her, and he presented her well. Like her, he admired Nutan and wanted to pit her against her idol. That film - Basera - would eventually come to fruition with Raakhee and Rekha. (Incidentally, both actresses professed themselves captivated by Sadhana's voice.) In Woh Kaun Thi, she essayed two roles; that of Sandhya, the wife, and that of a mysterious woman in white. She delineated each character well, investing Sandhya with an aura of intrigue, while the 'mystery' woman was both detached and overtly sensual at the same time. It was a role(s) of a lifetime and Sadhana underplayed both characters. 

9. Rajkumar (1964)
Directed by: K Shankar
It was a rather tacky film - the look of it, I mean. All garish colour, and costumes and ornaments that looked like they had been borrowed from an amateur drama troupe. But it starred two leads who didn't need accoutrements to make them look good. Both Shammi and Sadhana were gorgeous. It is a rather run-of-the mill film, so why do I have it here? Because Sadhana played a rather fiery princess in the film, and carried it off with a high hand. She was fiesty and tender by turns, and I thought she fit really well into the trappings of commercial cinema, but with her own sensibilities. Here too, there is an ode to her beauty, and a confession that he trusts no one around her - not him, not his honour, not the world, not even God. 

Secondly, when once asked who her favourite actors were, she named Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar. They were the nicest, she said. Her mother had wanted her to marry Rajendra Kumar (in a bid to make her forget RK Nayyar). She had to tell her mother that Rajendra Kumar was married. Well, someone like him then, is what her mother is said to have replied. Shammi, on the other hand, apparently informed her on the first day of shooting that she was 'not his type'. She promptly told him that he was not hers either. But after that rather snippy beginning, they got along very well indeed, and according to Sadhana, Shammi was a perfect gentleman.

10. Prem Patra (1962)
Directed by: Bimal Roy
Barely 21 when she acted in this film (hero Shashi was around 24), Sadhana imbued her Kavita with a maturity that belied her age. A character that was human (like all of Bimal Roy's characters usually were), her Kavita was at first a college student who is irritated by the unwelcome attention showered on her and the shy girl who discovers she is rather attracted to a senior and a girl who, egged on by her classmates, is forced to follow a rather hasty decision with unexpected consequences. She is also a woman who is torn by guilt, a sister who is able to put aside her own feelings - with acceptance, if not exactly cheerfully, an initially-unwilling correspondent who falls deeper and deeper in love with a man she had unwittingly wronged... and myriad other things, sometimes complementary but often conflicting - and she was fabulous. It is a very nuanced film that dealt sensitively with human conflict, and a romantic one, and one wishes that it had seen better success than it did.

Unfortunately for her, and for us, a defective thyroid problem affected her beautiful eyes. She recounts bitterly how she had called up HS Rawail and offered to back out of Sangharsh, but he refused, stating that if he had waited for 8 months so she could act in Mere Mehboob, he could wait for her to come back to begin filming Sangharsh. Sadhana was touched, until two days later, she came across an advertisement in the newspaper announcing the start of filming of the new movie - starring Vyjayanthimala. She never spoke to HS Rawail again. Producer PS Pacchi also dropped her unceremoniously from Around the World. 

Sadhana decided to play her last card - she went in for extensive thyroid treatments abroad and returned in triumph. Intequam and Ek Phool Do Mali followed, running solely on her star power. But stardom being rather transient, the offers dried up. And Sadhana retired. Gracefully. On her own terms. Today, she is happy being alone, gardening or playing cards at Otters Club, meeting up with her coterie of girlfriends at least once a month. She refuses to be photographed, does not give interviews and makes very rare public appearances. Honest to the core, she admits that she is vain enough to want to be remembered as the Sadhana of Mere Mehboob, Waqt, and Aarzoo. 
Well, why not? When she looked like this? 


  1. Ah, so good to read this post. :-) I adore Sadhana. Partly, I suppose, because she looked so much like my mother, but also because she was such a superb actress. So versatile, and just so very gorgeous.

    As for the films you've listed, my favourites are Prem Patra, Parakh, Waqt, Ek Musafir Ek Haseena, Woh Kaun Thi? (how absolutely drop-dead beee-yooo-teee-fullll Sadhana is in Lag jaa gale!) and Mere Mehboob. I do like her characters in Rajkumar and Hum Dono too, but I find Asli Naqli a little irritating as a film, even if Sadhana herself does a very good job.

    I also liked Intaquam, even though Sadhana's physical problems had started showing on her face by then. A different - and yet not, in the final analysis - sort of film.

  2. Subodh, yes, you should definitely fill the gaps in your filmi education. And soon. :) Jokes apart, While Love in Simla is a candy fluff concoction, it is definitely a Sunday evening watch. Nothing very important happens on screen, but you do get involved enough.

    I don't think it is just age that caused the deterioration of her looks; it is also her thyroid condition.

  3. Your mother looked like Sadhana? Wow! :) :)

    I didn't have a problem with Asli Naqli actually, though it is definitely not the best of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. I haven't seen Intaquam, so now I should see if I can find that one? It's good?

  4. How beautiful Sadhana was! She justified that phrase "Haath lagane se maili ho jayegi".

    She had the cutest smile ever!

    Love in Shimla was the such a lovely debut. I love Sadhana in glasses and baggy jeans, she looks so cute. And I just adore Durga Khote giving her a makeover!

    Sadly she lost her looks after some years. Still, I loved her in Ek Phool Do Maali and even Ishq Par Zor Nahin..

  5. I am quite sure tow other of 'suspense' triad sequel - Mera Saaya and Anita - all directed by Raj Khosla- can make the grade here. Sadhana looked her usual 'charming' persona in Waqt, but no actor would have any footage worth showing the histrionic talent in that type of multi-starrer.
    Other films that would do justice her histrionics and charm were Man Mauji, Dulha Dulhan, Arzoo , Gaban and Ishq Par Jor Nahin.

  6. I totally agree, Ava. She was my favourite actress from that period. (Meena Kumari, Nutan and Waheeda Rehman predated her, and Sharmila was her junior.)

    It is sad when someone as beautiful as she was loses her looks, no? Especially through an illness. :(

  7. Yes, Mera Saaya I thought was quite good. I wasn't very enamoured of Anita for some reason. In Waqt she was arm candy. :) No one was looking for histrionics from the women in that film.

    I liked her in both Man Mauji and Arzoo. I haven't seen Gaban or Ishq Par Zor Nahin. In an interview, she once said Dulha Dulhan was a ghastly movie, though she said she liked working with Raj Kapoor.

  8. I likedIntaquam - it's based on a Marie Corelli novel (the only colour adaptation of any of her books), and Sadhana is the protagonist - the person out to wreak vengeance. Give it a try. Or wait a couple of weeks, and I'll review it. :-)

  9. I remember reading that she and Raj Kapoor were not on speaking terms during the shooting of Dulha Dulhan.

  10. Wasn't she? She spoke very fondly of him in that interview, though she did say that Dulha Dulhan was a bad film.

  11. Oh goodness this film... I watched this year's ago but I never forgot it because of the disturbing hypothermia-rape, and the general stupidity that occurs at the end of the film with the "there's a photo of my child mother in my wallet" and everyone's willingness to believe a photo (I tried really hard to find the logic behind it but couldn't).

    But, hey I liked the songs!

  12. I liked Sadhana too. I had read in one of her interviews somewhere that thanks to her thyroid problem, she had developed problems with her eye sight, if I remember correctly she can see with only one eye, I read this interview long ago, but I am sure I am not making a mistake. I remember her saying that she loves driving so much that she decided to drive even with vision in one eye. I did see her once driving off expertly. This was some years back, she still had some of her earlier charm. Recently however, I think I saw her at a restaurant. She looked faintly like the Sadhana I remember, but age had caught up with her. I am not sure whether it was her or somebody who looks like her,but I think it was her.

  13. Thank you! :) (blushing).What an excellent post on an actress I like and adore!
    Every film of hers is a favorite of mine,The top ones include Parakh,Mere Mehboob,Asli-Naqli,Prem-Patra,Love in Simla,Hum Dono and Mera Saaya.As you have mentioned,she was indeed some of the few actresses who could be called "Divas".She is among the few actress who were not overshadowed by their male co-stars such as Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor.I liked her performances in Hum Dono and Intequam as a strong woman who could take independent decisions and had strong belief in their convictions She played the "Angry young woman" in Intequam with such a panache.
    Thank you once again! This post made my day!

  14. Ha ha ha! I'd completely forgottena bout the 'photo of the child's mother in my wallet' or maybe I just skipped over it. I know I was quite annoyed by the end. Thank you for reading, and commenting.

  15. Yes, the thyroid problem did affect her eyes. You can see the difference in her looks in films like Mera Saya, Ek Phool Do Mali, etc. She looks very, very different now. No wonder she does not like appearing in public.

  16. You are more than welcome, Coolone. I'm glad you liked the post.
    As I was telling Dustedoff, who also recommended Intequam to me, that is one film I haven't seen. I should watch it.

  17. My friend directed me to this specific page after I posted my own thoughts about this film on my blog and I'm glad she did, your blog is great! I should be working but instead I'm perusing through your site... I'm sure my assistants can handle the case work.

  18. Sadhana, not only a beautiful (though pretty would be the more suitable word) but a talented actress. I think we all like her simple avatar.

    The article was nice to read with many anecdotes, about which I had not known at all.
    Thank you, Anu!

  19. Love Sadhana, loved your post! She was always so dignified and graceful, whether it was in a sari with pearls around her neck or those tighter than anything kameezes and churidars. I remember everyone in my school switching to the Sadhana cut from the Saira beehive, and I remember Sindhi girls claiming some relationship or the other with Sadhana! You took me back to my high school days - thank you!
    My favorite film with her was Mere Mehboob, but I also liked her a lot in Hum Dono and Asli Naqli. I have never seen Prem Patra and Parakh, so I can't talk about those movies, but Mera Saaya was also good, though her eye problem was beginning to show by then. Oh yes, I liked her in Woh Kaun Thi, but I think it was the pearls and those black saris more than anything else in that movie! A true diva!!

  20. You are welcome, Lalitha, and I'm glad you liked it so much. Laughing at the Sindhi girls claiming to be related. It always happens, doesn't it?

    In other news, I hope you are coughing less and laughing more. Harvey and Sadu added much to the merriment on the previous post. I do not sugest going there until you feel much, much better. :)

  21. Yes, isn't it? The film too. Beautiful!

  22. Hey, not bad. You got 4 right, which is more than Coolone, who was in third place, did. It's been a while since I closed the quiz, but still... write in a request for a post of your choice, and I shall write one for you. Thanks for taking part. :)

  23. There was an exhibitin of Vayalar memorabilia-I saw the handwritten song on a paper with a single correction.

  24. Really? Where? Ekm? Vayalar used to be great buddies with my husband's uncle, to whom he very rudely and very frankly (and very correctly) said, 'You can't write poetry!' :)

  25. ya.Chakravarhini,Aayiram padasarangal etc werr there.Is the uncle known?

  26. What a shame... I can barely make a rough guess for just two of them... The Alfred Hitchcock one.. Was it Phir subha Hogi...??

    And Inquilab his first movie?......................................

    I am gonnna Google as soon as I hit the 'Post" button

  27. No, re. Not Phir Subah Hogi - that was Crime and Punishment. Anyway, good luck googling. :) When you tire of that, take a look here:


  28. Vivienne LaFontaine17 September 2014 at 04:42

    You know this film was on television not long ago, and, I watched it because I didn't know what I was getting into (I fell for Shashi Kapoor's handsome face and Sharmila Tagore's dimples) .

    I thought the film was disturbing (hypothermia rape, yuck!) but also hysterical. The convenient timing of Preeti's pregnancy, just as her fiancée leaves for Europe. The drama that occurs at Amar's welcome home party and the excruciating melodrama that occurs between Preeti and Prem at Prem's house. But the goons on roller skates beating the daylights out of Prem's takes the cake. NEVER have I seen such a fight sequence done on rollerskates! But overall I thought the movie was pretty stupid.

    And, I agree with you about Prem's character. I hated him, he was so self righteous it was gross, especially since he came off as a Lothario in the beginning with his "courtship" of Preeti and his questionable medical treatment of her hypothermia.

    I have a friend makes endless fun of this movie. She blog too but I can't recall her blog name. Either way I will be directing her to your site! She will surely enjoy it!

  29. Vivienne, welcome!Thank you for reading, and commenting.

    As I said, it's a mixed bag - I liked Sharmila's character, and hated Shashi's. And I wondered what M. Desai was drinking (or smoking) when he made this one! The roller-skate fight! Oh, that was hilarious! Unintionally so, I'm guessing.

    Please, continue to drop in.


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