Range, style, grace and an endearing screen presence make Nargis Dutt a leading lady to celebrate. Here’s a look at the life and work of one of Indian cinema’s finest actors.
Nargis Dutt was reportedly born into a wealthy Punjabi family in Calcutta, Bengal Presidency. Her mother Jaddanbai, a Muslim immigrant was a singer and courtesan. Baby Nargis appeared on screen at the age of six in Talashe Haq (1935).
Her on-screen charisma oscillated effortlessly between simple and chic. Dutt is remembered for her performances in Awara (1951), Shree 420 (1955), Mother India (1957), Raat Aur Din (1967) and Chori Chori (1956). She was the first actor to have been honoured with the prestigious Padma Shri award in 1958. These films not only marked her illustrious career but also became turning points in her personal life.
It has been widely reported that Nargis Dutt dated actor Raj Kapoor who was already a married man with children. They shared a fascinating chemistry on-screen in films like Awara and Shree 420. Nargis is believed to have been heartbroken when the actor refused to divorce his then wife. That’s when the strong willed Nargis decided to move on.
Actor Sunil Dutt was the man for her. He saved her from a fire on the sets of Mother India (1957) and she nursed him back to health. They fell in love in the process and tied the knot in 1958. She won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for the film.
Nargis was a firecracker with a heart of gold. The Dutts together formed the Ajanta Arts Cultural Troupe which brought together leading actors and singers of the time to perform at remote frontiers of India to entertain Indian soldiers. The first troupe had reportedly performed in Dhaka soon after the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Nargis was also the first patron of the Spastics Society of India.
Nargis Dutt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and slipped into a coma on May 2nd, 1981 at Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital. She never woke up again and passed away the next day, at the age of 51.
Her son actor Sanjay Dutt’s debut film Rocky released on 7 May that year and he kept one seat vacant for his late mother.
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 3 May 2015. It is now being republished to mark Nargis Dutt’s death anniversary.)