Article Hindi

Mom was a wonderful actress but even better mother: Nutan's son Mohnish Bahl

On the legendary actress's 81st birth anniversary (she was born on 4 June 1936), her actor son shares some memories that give an insight into the person Nutan was.

Keyur Seta

With a career spanning close to 100 films over almost 40 years, Nutan Samarth Bahl — or simply Nutan, as she was better known — holds a special place in the hearts of Hindi cinema lovers. She was one of the rare artistes for whom the word ‘natural' was most appropriate.

When Nutan's son Mohnish Bahl was less than 10 years old, he understood that his mother had a special place among people. "Generally kids have no memories of that age. But I do remember to an extent that when I was 7, 8, 9 and 10, people used to address me as ‘Nutanji’s son’. People still do that. It feels good. At that time I realized my mother was recognized, that there was something about her, although I didn’t understand what exactly it was.”

It was only when he was 12-13 years old that young Mohnish began to understand his mother’s stardom. "I realized she is a screen actor and people like her," he said. "And also about the positive image people have of her. I came to know about the respect she commands in the film industry when I myself entered the industry when I was about 22."

Early on in life, Bahl had not thought about becoming an actor. In fact, he was keen on a flying career. "I had thought of joining the air force or becoming a commercial pilot," he said. "But what happened was that in 1976, when I was 15, I met Raj Khosla on the sets of Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1978), which he was making with Mom.

"I met him again when I was 18 and he asked Mom whether I was interested in acting. I was asked to go to his office to learn proper Urdu since I was from the English medium. Word spread that Nutanji’s son is also interested in acting. At that time, Sanju [Sanjay Dutt] and Kumar Gaurav were getting introduced as star sons. Then I got an offer."

The first acting offer was quite flattering for Bahl. "My pocket money was Rs50 in 1981-82. And I was offered Rs1 lakh for my first film (laughs). I agreed. As far as my mom and dad were concerned, there was full support. They always said one must do what one would like to do throughout life, rather than the routine stuff."

Mohnish Bahl

But things didn’t work out well for him initially. "I did six films as a leading actor from 1982-84, but none worked. Then I didn’t have work for two and a half years. I wondered how I would return to the industry.”

It was his mother who helped him by being a support and an honest critic. "During this phase, she told me about my faults and about my strong points. She was very honest in her criticism as well as appreciation."

The support of his mother kept Bahl going. "What I remember most was the assurance she used to give that things will work out. We used to talk till 2 in the night. This support just cannot be compared with anything, knowing that there is somebody who genuinely cares for you. Those were tough days. If I don’t get any work for two years today, it’s okay. But it is different when you are 24 and don’t know whether you would be able to be an actor.”

During this period, Bahl learnt flying and got a pilot's licence, just to be on the safe side.

Things changed after Bahl met the young actor Salman Khan, son of famous scriptwriter Salim Khan, once. "He was just about to sign Maine Pyar Kiya (1989)," Bahl said. "He suggested that I audition for the role of the villain. I was more than happy! Then, as they say, the rest is history."

Nutan’s support and guidance continued. "She used to tell me things like what you need to remember as an actor. Like, we must keep in mind the editing aspect, continuity, the direction of light, etc. The most important thing she told me was that whatever you do on screen should be done with full honesty, whether you believe in the script or not at that point of time. As an actor and character, you should believe in the genuineness of the sequence you are performing. This is because the audience appreciates the honesty and genuineness."

Nutan in Bandini (1963)

Unfortunately, Nutan did not live long enough to savour Mohnish Bahl's success. "She saw my six flop films and also Maine Pyar Kiya’s success," he said. "She knew that now her son is in the right direction. Unfortunately she couldn’t see me reap success. She passed away in 1991. She knew that people were liking my work and I had signed a few other films too, including Shola Aur Shabnam (1992). In fact, I was shooting for that film when I came to know that mother is critically ill. She saw the trial show of Baaghi (1990) though."

In a philosophical mood, Bahl mused, "She brought me up, experienced my initial failures, but when I started achieving success, she could not see that phase. The same happened with Sanju and, recently, with Arjun Kapoor. But that is life."

Asked about his mother's best performance, he said, "Very difficult to point out a few. I liked her in Saudagar (1973) with Amitji [Amitabh Bachchan]. Of course, there is Bandini (1963). There was another film, Teri Maang Sitaron Se Bhar Doon (1982), although it didn’t do well. She played a character who becomes negative for her son’s betterment. There are many more, like Mujrim (1989) and Karma (1986). There hasn’t been a case where you felt you didn’t find her act that good."

Bahl, however, said he would not attempt to describe Nutan. "I describing her would be like chhota mooh badi baat," he remarked. "I will only say that I haven’t seen a personality like her ever. Not as an actor, person or mother. There is no person like my mother. She was a wonderful actress, but she was a thousand times better mother!"