India, Luminary, Profile

Nalini Jaywant

Dilip Kumar considered her easily the greatest actress he ever worked with, citing her instinct for grasping the essence of a scene as second to none. Filmfare in their poll in the 1950s declared her the most beautiful woman in the movies, ahead of even Madhubala. She acted opposite all the top actors of her time, barring Raj Kapoor although a film was announced with the two of them in 1949 which never took off. She had huge commercial successes like Samadhi (1950), Jaadu (1951), Nastik (1954), Munimji (1955), Mr. X (1957) and Kala Pani (1958) and received great critical acclaim for her fine performances in social-realist films like Rahi (1953), Shikast (1953), Railway Platform (1955) and Awaaz (1956). Yet, when one talks of legendary actresses of the Indian screen in its golden age, Nalini Jaywant’s name hardly ever crops up, and even if it does, it is always somewhat of an afterthought. This is grossly unfair to this extremely good-looking and multi-faceted actress.

Nalini Jaywant was born in Bombay on February 18, 1926, the cousin of famous actress Shobana Samarth (mother of Nutan and Tanuja). She first came to some prominence in movies while still a teenager with Mehboob’s Bahen (1941), which was about a brother’s obsessive love for his sister. She had two other releases the same year – Nirdosh, opposite singer Mukesh, and Radhika. Jaywant just starred in a handful of films over the next few years – Ankh Micholi (1942), Adab Arz (1943) and Phir Bhi Apna Hai (1946) to name some – hardly making an impact. During this period she had also got married to her Nirdosh and Radhika director, VC Desai, who also made Gunjan (1948) with her and Balraj Sahni.

Jaywant finally broke through with Anokha Pyar (1948), directed by MI Dharamsey. The film, initially titled Dil Ki Awaz,  was a love triangle with Jaywant, Dilip Kumar and Nargis, with Jaswant ultimately sacrificing her love for hero Dilip Kumar. It is to her credit that it was she, playing a flower girl, who got the best reviews in the film with many critics calling her the only saving grace in what they found an otherwise highly disappointing film. Even the hard-to-please Filmindia magazine had to admit, “From the players, Nalini Jaywant, though still too chubby, makes a praiseworthy attempt to stage a comeback in the role of Bindiya.

1950 was Nalini’s big, big year as she became an A-rung star with two of her films opposite Ashok Kumar, Samadhi and Sangram. Samadhi was a patriotic drama addressing Subash Chandra Bose and the Indian National army. Nalini and Kuldip Kaur played sisters who were spies for the British. The film, though called politically obsolete by leading film magazine of the day, Filmindia, was a huge success at the box office, its song Gore Gore O Banke Chhore being perhaps Nalini’s most popular song ever. On the other side of the spectrum, Sangram was a gritty crime drama wherein she played the conscience in the film, doing her best to reform the criminal hero. Nalini more than left her mark on both the films and went on to form a hit pair with Ashok Kumar, the two of them doing several films together thereafter like Kafila (1952), Naubahar (1952), Saloni (1952), Mr X and Sheroo (1957). It is said the two of them were romantically involved for a period as well.

Nalini remained an important leading lady through to the mid 1950s. Filmmakers like KA Abbas (Rahi), Ramesh Saigal (ShikastRailway Platform) and Zia Sarhady (Awaaz) extended Nalini Jaywant’s association with social realist films while filmmakers like Mahesh Kaul (Naujavan (1951)) and AR Kardar (Jaadu) developed her alternate mainstream persona, later personified by the frothy Filmistan musicals like Nastik, her biggest hit opposite Ajit, and Munimji, a carefree romantic film with Dev Anand as her leading man.

Of these, Shikast deserves a special mention. Giving arguably her career best performance with her silences speaking volumes, Jaywant owns the film with her superb and complex portrayal of a widow whose love for Dilip Kumar leads to high tragedy. Sadly, it is she who has to pay for her forbidden feelings for him and find release in death so that the prevalent norms of patriarchy remain intact.

Perhaps Jaywant’s last big, successful film was the Raj Khosla directed Kala Pani (1958). She gives one of the best performances of her career as the nautch girl Kishori who is the key witness in framing the hero’s father for a murder he did not commit. Playing a shaded character, she easily stole a march over goody-two-shoes heroine Madhubala in the film and deservedly went on to win the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress for the film. She is absolutely unforgettable in the film be it in the come-hither mujra Nazar Laage Raaja Tore Bangle Pe or as she emotes tearfully in the lovely SD Burman composition, Jab Naam-e-Mohabbat Le Ke Kisi.

Thereafter even as she continued to act mainly opposite her Nastik hero, Ajit, none of Jaywant’s subsequent films were particularly noteworthy, with her last films being Bombay Race Cource (1965) and Toofan Mein Pyar Kahan (1966) before she went into retirement. She did give a strong performance in her actor-director husband Prabhu Dayal’s film, Amar Rahe Yeh Pyar (1961), playing a Hindu widow who brings up a Muslim baby she finds abandoned during the Partition violence at the time of Indian Independence. Years later, she made a comeback of sorts years later as Hema Malini’s mother in Bandish (1980) and playing Amitabh Bachchan’s blind mother in Nastik (1983).

Since then, Jaywant had been living a reclusive life, keeping to herself till she passed away in Mumbai on December 20, 2010.

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