Article Hindi

Birth anniversary special: Nargis and her final message for son Sanjay Dutt

On Nargis's 89th birth anniversary today (she was born on 1 June 1929), we revisit her life, death and the final message she left for her son, Sanjay.

Anita Paikat

Fatima Rashid began her acting career in 1935 when she was merely six years old. In the next decade, taking the screen name Nargis, she became the 'lady of Hindi cinema' with films like Humayun (1945), Romeo & Juliet (1947), Aag (1948), Andaz (1949) and Barsaat (1949).

Her Humayun co-star, late actor Ashok Kumar, had gauged she would some day rise to the top. "In Humayun, she didn't play the main lead. Even then, she did the role a with deep understanding. I had understood that she will make a name for herself some day," he said in a documentary titled Nargis, directed by the actress's daughter Priya Dutt and produced by Films Division.

As years passed by, Nargis not only honed her talent, but also developed the ability to play a character with authenticity and dedication. Her scene from Mother India (1957) where she searches for a few chick peas in the muck for her starving, unconscious son pierces ones heart even after five decades.

"Mehboob sahab had constructed that set in the studio. The wet dirt [from that scene] had been lying there for some 10 days and had even started to smell badly. But every day she [Nargis] would do her make-up, walk into that dirt, rub it on her body and face, and get ready for the shoot," remembers Sunil Dutt, who played her son in the film. Sunil Dutt and Nargis went on to marry each other in 1958.

Besides her work ethics, the actress was also known for her benevolent nature. She would not only treat the crew on the sets with respect, but would also occasionally cook for the team. "In the mornings she would come and wake us all up. She would even get our toothbrushes with toothpaste on them," says actor Rajendra Kumar, reminiscing the days of shooting Mother India.

After her marriage to Sunil Dutt, Nargis slowly left the film world, doing a main lead role only in 1967 in Raat Aur Din. Meanwhile, she gave birth to three children — son Sanjay, and daughters Namrata and Priya.

All was going well for Nargis. She had taken a liking for social work; visiting soldiers in the front during the Indo-Chinese war, and becoming the first patron of the Spastic Society of India in 1973. For her extensive philanthopic work, the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi even offered her a seat in the Rajya Sabha.

However, all this work came to a sudden halt when Nargis was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She travelled to New York, and after five operations, lay there in a comatose state for two months. Post a moderate recovery, she returned to India, only to pass away amidst her family and friends on 3 May 1981.

A disheartened Nargis died only five days before her son Sanjay's debut film, Rocky released. The ailing mother, though, left her son a final message in her own frail voice. In the documentary, Sanjay confessed he cried for his mother two years after she passed away, when he heard this recording.

Sanjay has since made his own mark and his tumultous life has even been captured for the big screen. Directed by Rajkumar Hirani, the film, titled Sanju, has actress Manisha Koirala play Nargis and Ranbir Kapoor play Sanjay.

Sanju will not only present Sanjay's journey, but will also remind us of the gem of a person he had as a mother, whom he lost too soon.