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When Nimmi turned down Errol Flynn's kiss

On her 84th birthday (18 February), we look back at the time the beautiful actress met the dashing Hollywood star at the London premiere of Aan (1952).

Sonal Pandya

Mehboob Khan's magnum opus Aan (1952) was India's first Technicolor film, a bold proclamation of the filmmaker's big shift from black and white to colour. With an ensemble cast of Dilip Kumar, Premnath, Nimmi and Nadira making her debut, the film went on to become one of the biggest hits of that year. Naturally, the blockbuster had a grand premiere in London, one of the first Indian films to do so.

Nimmi with Premnath

A retelling of William Shakespeare's A Taming of the Shrew, the English version of Aan was named Savage Princess. The London premiere at the Rialto Theatre near Piccadilly Circus was attended by Mehboob Khan, his wife Sadar Akhtar, a former actress, and Nimmi (née Nawab Bano) who played the childhood love of Dilip Kumar's Jai Tilak in the film.

Aan was a smashing success and the London papers, Evening News and Daily Express, declared it "tremendous fun" as well as "thrilling, fast, funny – and welcome" respectively.

The making of Aan (1952)

The beautiful young Indian actress received much attention from the international press at the premiere, especially when she refused to allow swashbuckling Hollywood star Errol Flynn to kiss her hand, stating, "Don’t you know I’m an Indian girl?"

Much was made of that refusal in the press. An American newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal, ran an interview with Nimmi on 13 August 1952 with the headline: Nimmi, India's Most Glamorous Movie Star, Has Never Been Kissed. Nimmi told the reporter about her encounter with Flynn, saying, "He admire my little feet. He ask permission to tickle my toes. I say no."

Back in India, Filmindia magazine editor Baburao Patel called her ' Nimmi of the unkissed lips'. Later, Flynn and Nimmi were even considered for the leads in the British film Fire Over Africa or Malaga (1954), directed by Richard Sale. Eventually, Maureen O'Hara and Macdonald Carey ended up in the roles.

The French poster of Aan

Nimmi and her role in Aan grew so beloved internationally that when the film received a French release in 1954, it was re-titled Mangala Fille des Indes (Mangala, Daughter Of India) though Nimmi was effectively the second lead. In fact, after the first test screening during the making of the film, her role was increased to include a lavish dream sequence, after the death of her character. Indian distributors felt her screen time should be expanded due to her popularity.

Interestingly, famed fashion designer Christian Louboutin revealed to Karan Johar at a panel at the 18th Mumbai Film Festival that the French version of Aan was the first Indian film he saw. He fell in love with film and continued to seek out other Indian films from thereon.