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4 June 2022

The Many Moods of Nutan


To me, Nutan epitomises simplicity, dignity and grace. She slipped into character like a chameleon, leaving the viewer to wonder where the person ended, and the character began – or vice-versa. There was a pleasing stillness to that face, which could, in the twinkling of an eye, express so much emotion with seemingly so little effort. Her lovely smile lit up the screen and danced merrily in the depth of her eyes. 

Nutan was also excellent with micro-expressions – she could convey so much without a single line of dialogue. She was natural, spontaneous and versatile. She was also, as Lata Mangeshkar put it, one of the actresses who could ‘sing’ to her playback. Perhaps being a singer, herself, had something to do with it. But that does not explain how she was also a great ‘song actor’, someone who could not only look like she was actually singing on screen instead of just lip-syncing to playback, but emote the emotions conveyed by the lyrics most beautifully.

The difficulty of choosing from the vast repertoire of songs that have been picturised on her is because a lot of Nutan’s great songs were not lip-synced by her; instead, she played a more ‘reactive’ role to the singer. 

Think of Kahaan jaa raha hai tu ae jaanewale (Seema), Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar (Tere Ghar ke Saamne), Tum agar mujh ko (Dil Hi to Hai), O jaanewale ho sake to laut ke aana (Bandini), O nigaahein mastana (Paying Guest), etc., where Nutan’s expressive face played a crucial role in making these songs come alive on screen. 

Or they were duets; some of my favourite Nutan songs fall into this category: Chupke se mile pyaase pyaase and Ae kaash chalte mil ke (Manzil), Chori chori ik ishaara ho gaya hai (Basant), Woh chand khila (Anari), Sach bataa tu mujh pe fida (Sone ki Chidiya), Chhod do aanchal zamana kya kahega (Paying Guest)


And so, on her 86th birth anniversary, I present Nutan in her myriad moods. This is a very subjective list and a very non-permanent one. They are chosen merely to showcase the emotional range of an actress par excellence and I've listed them in chronological order.

Romantic

Kaisi khushi ki raat
Nagina (1951)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
A musical thriller, Nagina was rated ‘A’ and its heroine couldn’t enjoy its stupendous success – she was even prevented from attending the film’s premiere because she was still underage. The film also introduced CH Atma as a singer and brought Sebastian D’Souza as an integral part of Shankar-Jaikishan’s music team.

 Starring opposite Nasir Khan, Nutan – then 15 years old – played the part of a mysterious girl in an ancient mansion with √©lan while Khan was the man searching for the truth behind a 20-year-old crime. This was Nutan’s second film (she debuted in 1950 in Hamari Beti). Young and gawky though she is, you can see the glimpse of the actor she would grow into.

The other song, that almost made the cut is Dhadakne kaga dil nazar jhuk gayi  from Heer by Geeta Dutt.

Devotional
 
Manmohana bade jhoote
Seema (1955)
Singer: LataMangeshkar
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
Seema is rightly considered Nutan’s ‘big break’ – she had left films after box-office failures had followed her initial success; her mother, Shobhana Samarth, had taken the unconventional step of sending her daughter off to finishing school in Switzerland. Nutan returned, poised, speaking French like a native and twenty pounds heavier. The girl who was criticised as being ‘too skinny’ to be a heroine was now a beautiful young woman who was ready to take her place among the stars. The year away had give her more than a surface sophistication; it had given her the time to mature as a person and an artiste. In Seema, she played Gauri, a young woman who is arrested for delinquency and send to a remand home. Scarred by her experiences, and angry at the world, she is in no mood to trust.

Yet, the gentle discipline of the man who runs the home (Balraj Sahni) surprises her. When her ‘punishment’ for destroying the furniture and breaking the windows is being asked to sing the same song she was singing while doing so, she’s taken aback. Here, she is finally learning that the world can be a good place as well, and in that home, among other girls like her, she is finally learning to trust – and love.

Watch her in the scene preceding the song, where her eyes flash fire; watch how her expression changes into that of a sulky child when she realises he’s not yelling at her, and finally, watch the devotion with which she sings, lost in the rendition and you can see her visibly calming down. This is also the song that made me realise what a wonderful song artiste she is – it’s quite easy to believe she’s singing for herself.

Anguish
Aa mere raanjhna
Heer (1956)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Anil Biswas
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Heer retold the legend of Heer and Ranjha, the Punjabi folk tale of tragic, doomed love. This film is often cited as the first of many cinematic renditions of the tale in Hindi cinema. This song comes when Heer has been forcibly married off to another man, while her uncle’s men beat Raanjha who had come to rescue her. The anguish in Lata’s voice (and the accompanying melody) is reflected in Nutan’s eyes even as the lyrics express resignation and a promise of being Raanjha’s forever. I love this song for the way the notes lift and fall, and for the way Lata renders it.
 
Waiting
Chand phir nikla
Paying Guest (1957)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
There are many shades of waiting – happy, resigned, sad. One of my favourite songs from the film, Chand phir nikla expresses despair. Her beloved had promised to come, but the moon has risen again, and he’s still missing. Now, the waiting has rendered her without hope and she’s not even sure whether he was hers in the first place. Majrooh’s lyrics paint a vivid picture of that despair: Ye raat kehti hain woh din gaye tere/Ye jaanta hai dil ke tum nahin mere /Khadi main hoon phir bhi nigaahein bichhaaye/Main kya karoon haaye ke tum yaad aaye…

She can’t help herself. It was not just her face, every inch of her trembled with the despair she felt waiting for a man who may never come.

Dreamy
Haaye unki woh nigaahein
Aakhri Dao (1958)
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
For once it’s not Nutan’s ‘nigaahein mastana’  that’s enthralling someone; she is so enthralled by a man’s eyes as she confesses to her friend (Shammi) that she wonders why she shouldn’t love him. Given that the man in question is Shekhar (of whom Harvey once said that he had frog eyes) one can only assume that love is indeed blind. The song is delightful, with Shammi providing the whistling cues to Nutan’s confessions, and Shekhar, unbeknownst to both women, driving them home.
 
Carefree
Ban ke panchhi gaaye pyar ka tarana
Anari (1959)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
This is the ultimate ‘celebrating life’ song. There is such zest for life, such happiness and merriment that one cannot help smiling along with the bevy of girls on cycles. And Nutan, luminous, beautiful Nutan! Hasrat’s lyrics capture that feeling of adventure around the corner: Manzil pe aaye koi naina milaaye koi /Bhar de ye ulfat ki jholiyaan… And how will they recognise these strangers-to-be-companions? Perhaps there will be a sign? Phoolon pe daal jaise rangeen roomaal koi/De humein bhi nishaaniyaan…

Wistful
Kali ghata chhaaye
Sujata (1959 )
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Kali ghata chhaye mera jiya tarsaaye/Aise mein koi mil jaaye.. the very beginning of the song expresses the wistfulness in a young woman who, despite having a home, yet has no one to really call her own. The eponymous Sujata cannot believe that someone would actually like her for who she is  and find her worthy of being loved. And now, mingled with that wistfulness is a feeling that she should seize her happiness for what would the world lose if someone loved her? The way Nutan picks up the book to read, the initial trepidation when she sits down on the sofa (where, as an untouchable, she isn’t allowed to sit), the quick look around before her feelings are expressed in song – a gamut of expressions runs across Nutan’s expressive face, and one roots for her here as one does throughout the film.

Teasing
 
Ye tanhai hai re hai
Tere Ghar ke Samne (1963)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
While Nutan often chose more ‘serious’ or sedate roles, she was also perfectly at home in the lighter roles, especially in films she was cast opposite Dev Anand. Here, as Surekha, the offspring of one of a pair of warring [juvenile] adults, she has fallen in love with the son of her father’s greatest enemy. The romance proceeds parallelly to the feud, and even sustains the shock of knowing exactly who her beloved is. This was Nutan at her impish best, as she teases her beloved with “…thaam lo baahein”, only to pull her arms back as he reaches out to her.

Tere Ghar ke Saamne marked her second ‘comeback’ [the first was after she had taken a year off to go to finishing school.] after the birth of her son, Mohnish.

Mischievous
Nigaahein milaane ko jee chahta hai
Dil Hi To Hai (1963 )
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: SahirLudhianvi
Music director Roshan composed yet another qawwali to Sahir’s lyrics, and Asha’s immaculate rendition brought it to life. And on screen, Nutan was both effervescent and scintillating. Her own training in classical music helped her no doubt in lip syncing to even the sargam without missing a note. Here, she looks both mischievous and adorable, as she sings about her love – not to the person she’s ostensibly addressing, but to the ‘old’ man sitting next to him. He is privy to the joke, and that’s the reason for the mischief that sparkles in those lovely eyes.

Sensuous
Mora gora ang lai le
Bandini (1963)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Gulzar
Yet another young woman, yet another expression of love and a realisation of her own burgeoning sexuality. This time,  for a nationalist on the run from British forces. Kalyani has just heard the story of how Radha used to step out surreptitiously at night to meet Krishna, dressed in dark clothes so she would meld into the shadows of the night. However, her fair skin glows in the moonlight and arouses fears that she may be discovered after all. Kalyani, who is beginning to fall in love with Bikash, imagines herself as Radha, begging god to take her fair skin away and ‘to colour her as Shyam [another name for Krishna]’  - that is to say, to make her dark-skinned so she would be able to meet her beloved at night without the fear of being seen by anyone.

Gulazar’s lyrics expresses the contradictory feelings Kalyani feels – Ek laaj roke paiyyan/Ek moh kheenche baiyyan/Jaaun kidhar na jaaun/Hum ka koyi bataai de… [A shyness shackles my feet/While a strange desire pulls me to him/Do I go or stay?/Will someone please tell me?] Quicksilver expressions – desire, shyness, happiness – chase across Nutan’s face as she lip-syncs these words, and one has no difficulty in understanding those expressed feelings – you don’t need the words.

As film lore goes, the song was a point of conflict between Bimal Roy and SD Burman – the latter insisting that no young woman, brought up as Kalyani was, would sing such a song where her father could hear her, and the former declaring that Kalyani, brought up as she is, would never dream of stepping out of her house at night. Gulzar, brought in to pen the lyrics in folk dialect, could only sit and watch as the debate raged on. Finally, of course, SD prevailed, and the compromise was that Kalyani would sing in her own courtyard.

Devotion
Tumhi meri mandir
Khandaan (1965)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Ravi
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen
This song has been a favourite for as long as I remember but it made its debut on my blog in my post on Whiners and Doormats. I’m still not a great fan of the lyrics but, I guess context makes a difference? Govind (Sunil Dutt) is paralysed and abused/ridiculed by everyone except his loving wife. Koi mei  aankhon se dekhein to samjhein/Ki tum mere kya ho is how she tries to explain to him how much he means to her. Ravi’s composition, Rajinder Krishen’s lyrics, Lata’s rendition,  and Nutan’s emoting on screen simply raises the song to sublime in my opinion and makes me think of what ‘devoted’ can mean in the context of a loving marriage. My vague dissatisfaction with the lyrics and picturisation disappears when I’m listening/watching  to the song. [It’s the same feeling I have when I listen to Aap ke nazron ne samjha.] It’s another matter that when I’m not listening to the song, the lyrics still make me want to poke my eyes out with a blunt fork. [And I could still do without her falling at his feet every two seconds!]
 
Maternal
So ja ladle
Mera Munna (1967)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Kalyanji Anandji
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
I must confess that Kalyanji-Anandji do not feature among my favourite music directors, but once in a while comes a song that makes me sit up in surprise. This is one of them. My introduction to this song came only in the recent past but it has soon become quite a favourite. Like most lullabies, this one is complemented by the softest music, there, but not quite. And Nutan does what she does best – emote. The gentle smile, the loving look in her eyes, all complement the outpouring of maternal affection as she sings her baby to sleep.

So, there we go, a dozen songs reflecting a dozen moods, and a few others that I sneaked in, that have eased my solitude many a day. What songs would you add to celebrate Nutan?

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