Understated Yet Meteoric: Nutan’s Believable Women on Screen
Remembering the quintessential charm of Nutan.
Remembering the quintessential charm of Nutan.

Understated Yet Meteoric: Nutan’s Believable Women on Screen

The camera can make monsters out of us. Like Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard (1950), it’s quite easy to give in to the temptations, and assume that the camera worships your stature, and you cease to be the real you. And thus we have received so many of our larger-than-life heroes, heroines and characters.

But watching Nutan seems like an exercise in disbelief, an act of disregarding vanity. Her carefully etched out characters, infused with subtlety and grace, make a body of work populated by believable women, at a vast distance from our prima donna divas. From Bimal Roy to Vijay Anand, every director she worked with became an ardent admirer of her understated but meteoric talent. And today’s directors like Sanjay Leela Bhansali carry a bit Nutan in their heroines.

Here are five outstanding performances from a beaming bouquet.

Seema (1955)

Nutan’s first breakthrough role, sheplays a juvenile delinquent in a reform home who slowly blooms into a woman ofstartling composure. It’s difficult to believe the assortment of expressionsshe displays – the anger, the hurt, the irony, the self-assurance, and the slowburning ardour of womanhood. It was her return to screen post her stint at aschool in Switzerland, and the hunger of a young actor after being away isunmistakable in the portrayal of a youthful girl misunderstood by the world. Specialmention for the perfect lip sync she has rendered in long takes for ‘Man MohanaBade Jhoothe’ which left even Lata Mangeshkar impressed.

Saudagar (1973)

Playing a ‘gur’ maker who becomes thevictim of deceit because her man Moti (played by Amitabh Bachchan before hebecame the angry young man) is in love with another woman, this film has Nutanin one of her marvellous turns in her later career. Mahjubhi is no match forMoti’s curvaceous catch, she is aware of that, and this awareness locates thevirtues of her solemn beauty on a high pedestal. An exemplary reworking of themodern Indian working woman, she plays the resoluteness, the vehemence, andfinally coming to terms with her fate with terrific emotional lucidity, likelife itself.

Sujata (1959)

Director Bimal Roy was an introvertgenius who wasn’t outwardly expressive. If he liked any shot, he would just say‘OK’, and proceed to the next scene unlike directors who made it a point to letthe actors know that they have done well. One day while shooting an emotionalscene in Sujata, she witnessedsomething rare when the shot got over. Roy’s eyes were moist; a huge appreciationof her craft. And Roy was not the only one thus affected.

Nutan playing the titular character skillfullychurns out the dilemma of a Harijan girl torn between her devotion for hermother, and the sincere love of Adhir (Sunil Dutt). In a film that works as a blazingcondemnation of upper class hypocrisy, Nutan carries the dramatic weight of thefilm with perfect poise, and builds the character as a woman immune to the caricatureof emotional overtures and wins our hearts.

Tere Ghar KeSamne (1963)

Not only plunge into dramatic depths,she could also soar in the breeze of romantic comedy. And that’s most aptlyevident in Vijay Anand’s Tere Ghar KeSaamne where she made a comeback post pregnancy. Two neighbouring loverscaught between two warring fathers, love and tradition must find a balance in thismodernist romantic comedy. She makes a sunny pair with Dev Anand, filling thescreen with real stimulating, playful conversations. Matching steps withdebonair Dev with equal elan, Nutan is joyously radiant in it.

Bandini (1963)

When Roy went to Nutan again for Bandini, she was newly married to RajneeshBehl and was contemplating retirement. When she told this to Roy, he was deeplydisappointed and told her that then he had to shelve the film, and look foranother story. It was Behl who persuaded Nutan to take the role. Duringshooting, Nutan was expecting but she knew that it was the role of a lifetime.And she gave it her all.

Playing a young prisoner and a jiltedlover, her character could easily have become the victim of melodramatic histrionics.But she exercises a rare control and lets us see her face as the canvas for arainbow of emotions, from rage to compassion. The scene where she is driven byinsane fury and is about to commit murder is a masterclass of her craft. Aprisoner of fate, a captive of love, and a hostage of her own beauty, Kalyaniis not only her career best work, but a performance that can rival any iconic workof Indian cinema.

(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise)

(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 21 February 2016.)

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