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Birth anniversary special: 8 significant performances of Nalini Jaywant

On her 92nd birth anniversary today (she was born on 18 February 1926), a look back at the actress’s enduring performances from her four-decade career.

Sonal Pandya

From child artiste to leading actress, Nalini Jaywant was one of the fortunate few who didn’t have to struggle as she grew up in front of the cameras. Cousin of actress Shobhana Samarth and aunt to Samarth’s daughters Nutan and Tanuja, the expressive Jaywant made an impression with her debut film as a 14-year-old in Radhika (1941). Soon she was working for filmmakers like Mehboob Khan and Gyan Mukherjee.

However, despite her talent, the petite actress could never break into the big leagues like her contemporaries Madhubala and Suraiya. She won her only award, the Filmfare trophy for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Navketan’s Kala Pani (1958). After this, the number of films she acted in slowed down considerably. Her last film role was as Amitabh Bachchan’s mother in Nastik (1983).

We look back at remember her enduring performances in eight memorable films.

1) Bahen (1941)

Mehboob Khan’s Bahen featured Nalini Jaywant as the title character but the film was more about her old brother Amar, played by Sheikh Mukhtar who grows too possessive of his sister Bina. Many remarked that they found the story troubling, often bordering on incestuous as Amar plots to keep his sister dependent on him and doesn’t support her wanting to marry the man she loves. As a young girl, Jaywant held her own in the social drama as she continued to sign more films that came her way.

2) Anokha Pyar (1948)

For her first big role as an actress, not a child artiste, came with Anokha Pyar (1948) where she starred with A-list co-stars in Dilip Kumar and Nargis. She played the self-sacrificing Bindiya who gives up her love for Dilip Kumar’s Ashok so he can be with his love, Geeta (Nargis). In a later interview Nalini Jaywant had recalled, “It was my first romantic role and my first conscious challenge. How would I fare in such distinguished company? For the first time in my screen career, I was nervous. I had really grown up. Perhaps all my worrying paid off, for the public really appreciated my acting in Anokha Pyar (1948) and after the release of the picture I was deluged with fan mail.”

3) Samadhi (1950)

The spy thriller, Samadhi, directed by Ramesh Saigal, featured Nalini Jaywant in one of her most popular numbers, ‘O Gore Gore, Banke Chore’, with actress Kuldip Kaur. The song composed by C Ramachandra had the two actresses, playing alluring sisters Dolly and Lilly in the film, at their most light-hearted selves. Nalini Jaywant’s character Lilly is actually a spy for the British and has to betray her love Suresh (Ashok Kumar) who is in Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army. She handled Lilly’s moral dilemma convincingly and stood out in the ensemble cast that also featured Shyam and David.

4) Sangram (1950)

Nalini Jaywant made a winning pair with Ashok Kumar; they acted together in 10 films during their careers. The two had an affair as well (the actor admitted to it in an interview), which explains their easy chemistry on screen. In the blockbuster, Sangram, directed by Gyan Mukherjee, Ashok Kumar plays a negative character Rajendra who cannot escape the wrong side of the law from a young age. Jaywant played his childhood sweetheart Kanta who is the voice of reason in his life. Her donning a swimsuit in the film was considered quite progressive at the time.

5) Shikast (1953)

After Anokha Pyar (1948), Nalini Jaywant and Dilip Kumar only worked together in one more film, Shikast (1953). The overlooked film has the two stars playing former lovers who have grown estranged since they last met. Written by Wahajat Mirza and directed by Ramesh Saigal, Shikast has Dilip Kumar as the doctor Ram who returns to his village to sell his share of the land. He finds Sushma (Jaywant), now widowed, has inherited her husband’s land and treats the farmers on it cruelly. Many have called Shikast Jaywant’s best performance. Author Deepa Gahlot wrote of her acting, “Nalini Jaywant, with her delicate beauty and wide eyes, played the role of Sushma with amazing nuance and empathy. Perhaps the course of her own life provided her with insights into the psyche of this character.”

6) Nastik (1954)

Even though she and Ashok Kumar had great chemistry onscreen and starred in a number of hits and blockbusters, her biggest hit was opposite the actor Ajit with Nastik (1954). This film, directed by IS Johar, dealt with a heavy subject, Partition, as Ajit’s character Anil loses his family due to it and sets out to avenge his family’s loss. Nalini Jaywant played Rama, the compassionate daughter of a priest, with grace. Anil believes the priest is the cause of his siblings’ death and decides to take revenge on the priest by marrying and abandoning Rama, but has a change of heart later.

7) Munimji (1955)

In Nasir Husain’s first outing as writer, he wrote the romantic drama, Munimji, which featured his trademark comedic bits for actor Dev Anand and Nalini Jaywant. The actress played Roopa, recently returned from her studies abroad, who has to choose between duty and love. Both her suitors, Ratan (Pran) and Amar (Anand), have many secrets that they’re hiding from her and the world and it all comes out eventually. The film was a hit due to its popular song ‘Jeevan Ke Safar Mein Rahi’ composed by SD Burman, which had both a male and female version, sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar.

8) Kala Pani (1958)

Playing a courtesan Kishori who holds the key to free an innocent man falsely accused of murder, Nalini Jaywant picked up the Filmfare award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, beating out Lalita Pawar in Parvarish (1958) and Leela Chitnis in Sadhna (1958). She starred opposite Dev Anand (who also won Best Actor) and Madhubala as the fallen woman in the Navketan film, turning into a well-rounded character with a proper arc. Directed by Raj Khosla, Kala Pani was one of her career’s last hits as she began acting in fewer films after this.