Nutan, one of India’s leading film actresses of the 1950s and 1960s, was born on 4 June 1936 to Kumarsen Samarth, a filmmaker, and Shobhna Samarth, an actress-producer.
Though she appeared as a child artiste in the 1940s, Nutan's first major role was in the 1950 film Hamari Beti when she was 14. The film was produced by her mother Shobhna.
After Hamari Beti, Nutun acted in Nagina and Hum Log, also produced by her mother.
In what may seem ironic from the point of view of today’s heroines, Nutan was initially considered to be too thin to be a Hindi film star. When she was 18, she was sent by her mother to the Swiss Finishing School La Chatelaine in what must have been an unusual decision for that time.
Her big breakthrough came in the 1955 film Seema in which she played the role of a girl who is forced to stay in an orphanage but rebels against her circumstances. She bagged her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her role.
Recalling her performance in Seema, the veteran film critic Dinesh Raheja wrote in rediff.com: “Her eyes flashed fire in the intricately-sung Manmohana bade jhoothe picturised on her (even singer Lata Mangeshkar was impressed). Her character's stricken soul was brought to heart-breaking life as she fought a moral maelstrom while hungrily inching towards a fallen coin.”
A star rises
Nutan's success in Seema was followed by roles in other popular films like Paying Guest (with actor Dev Anand) and Anari (with actor Raj Kapoor).
In an article in The Hindu in July 2010, Vijay Lokapallay wrote: “Dev Anand is the paying guest in this film but Nutan it is who holds the key, literally, to the success of this romantic comedy. Every time the movie threatens to meander from the planned path, she restores quality with her vibrant presence. The close-up shots capture her pristine beauty even as Dev Anand competes to match her acting talents during one-on-one situations. Nutan emerges a winner by miles.”
By now, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bombay.
Nutan married a naval officer Rajnish Behl in 1959.
Two of her most outstanding roles were in Sujata (1959) and Bandini (1963), both acclaimed films directed by the renowned Bimal Roy.
Sujata, the story of a low-caste woman Sujata (played by Nutan) and her romantic relationship with an upper caste man Adheer (played by Sunil Dutt), was nominated for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes film festival and won several Filmfare awards including Best Actress for Nutan.
In Bandini, Nutan plays the unusual role of Kalyani, a female prison inmate serving a life sentence for murder who is torn between a caring jail doctor (played by Dharmendra) and another man from her past (played by Ashok Kumar). The critically acclaimed film won a National Award for the best Hindi feature and swept the subsequent Filmfare awards, with Nutan winning another Best Actress trophy for one of the finest performances of her career.
As the film critic and writer Shoma Chatterji wrote in The Tribune in March 2013: “Nutan communicates mainly with her eyes. She has little dialogue. She fleshes out Kalyani as a quiet but determined woman with a dignity that belies her prison backdrop and her murderer status. Her mental state is expressed through a flood of fleeting facial emotions, especially in the scenes leading up to the murder and afterwards.”
Tributes and memories
The awards kept coming in for Nutan. She bagged the Best Actress Filmfare Award for the 1967 film Milan (starring opposite Sunil Dutt) and for the 1978 film Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. In 1985 she bagged another Filmfare Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the film Meri Jung. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 1974. In the 1980s she also acted in films like Karma and Naam.
Nutan died tragically of cancer in 1991 at the age on 54. A legend of Indian cinema was no more.
As Karan Bali wrote in upperstall.com: “Nutan was undoubtedly one of the greatest and most expressive actresses that Indian cinema has ever seen. She was that rare actress who could convey much more with just a look or fleeting glance or gesture than most actors could even with expansive dialogue at their disposal.”
Also on this day:
1931 — Bina Rai, Hindi film actress, was born
1946 — Balu, South Indian playback singer, actor and music director, was born
1947 — Ashok Saraf, Hindi and Marathi film actor, was born
1959 — Anil Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Group, was born