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Nargis (1929-81)

Hindi-Urdu megastar born in Allahabad as Fatima A. Rashid. Daughter of actress, singer and film-maker Jaddanbai who introduced her to films aged 5 as Baby Rani in Sangeet Films’ Talash-e-Haq. Early films with Mehboob including her first lead role in Taqdeer and as Hamida Bano in Humayun. Best known as Raj Kapoor’s romantic lead in some of Indian cinema’s most enduring melodramas: Barsaat, Andaz, Awara, Shri 420, and Anhonee in which she played a double role. Kapoor used a suggestive image from their Barsaat as the emblem for his R.K. Films. Both Kapoor and Mehboob in their later films built upon her early screen image in historicals and indigenised Shakespearean love tragedies (e.g. the Kamal Amrohi-scripted Romeo and Juliet) where she was often presented as the femme fatale doomed to destruction by her beauty, an updated version of a stereotype from Islamic literature and music. Her performances in e.g. Babul and Jogan also remained the model for that stereotype. From the beginning, Nargis’s performances were authentic to a degree unprecedented in Indian cinema, giving the Imperial and Sagar Studios’ Arabian Nights fantasies new layers of meaning. Mehboob used her as the pivotal figure in his attempts to merge the symbologies of feudal patriarchy into those of capitalism (Andaz) while Raj Kapoor injected Oedipal impulses into his encounters with ‘tradition’. The pinnacle of her career was Mother India, an epic pot-pourri of psychoanalytic, historic and technological symbols condensing the All-India Film’s post- WW2 nationalist sentiment. Turned producer with Nargis Art, producing films directed by Akhtar Hussain. Married actor Sunil Dutt (1959) who played her son in Mother India. Then virtually retired but remained an important public figure, becoming a Congress (I) MP in the early 80s, at one time using that platform for a scathing attack on Satyajit Ray’s films for exporting images of India’s poverty. She was much honoured by the Indian and Soviet governments. Died of cancer shortly after seeing her and Sunil Dutt’s son, Sanjay, in his screen début in Rocky (1981).

FILMOGRAPHY (* as Baby Rani): 1934: Naachwali*; 1935: Talash-e-Haq*; 1936: Hridaya Manthan*; Madam Fashion*; 1937: Moti Ka Haar*; 1942: Tamanna; Pardanasheen; 1943: Taqdeer; 1944: Anban; Ismat; 1945: Biswi Sadi; Humayun; Ramayani; 1946: Nargis; 1947: Mehndi; Romeo and Juliet; 1948: Aag; Anjuman; Anokha Pyar; Mela; 1949: Andaz; Barsaat; Darogaji; Lahore; Rumal; 1950: Adhi Raat; Babul; Bhishma Pratigya; Birha Ki Raat; Chhoti Bhabhi; Jaan Pehchan; Jogan; Khel; Meena Bazaar; Pyar; 1951: Awara; Deedar; Hulchul; Pyar Ki Baatein; Sagar; 1952: Amber; Anhonee; Ashiana; Bewafa; Sheesha; 1953: Aah; Dhun; Pehli Shaadi; Paapi; 1954: Angarey; 1955: Shri 420; 1956: Chori Chori; Jagte Raho/Ek? Din Raatre; 1957: Miss India; Mother India; Pardesi; 1958: Adalat; Ghar Sansar; Lajwanti; 1967: Raat Aur Din.