Smt. Nargis Dutt

(1929 - 1981)  

Actress & Humanitarian 

Born Fatima Rashid in Allahabad to singer Jaddanbai and Mohanbabu, Nargis first made her film debut in Taqdeer (1943). But it was not until Mehboob Khan’s Andaaz (1949) that she became a star. Her fine portrayal of the modern girl in the film, where she is caught between Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar followed by Barsaat (1949), catapulted her to fame. Nargis came in an era when acting in Hindi films was still on the loud side. She brought naturalness, authenticity and a degree of self- assurance to every role that she embodied on the sliver screen. She could be savagely elemental as in Anhonee or bring a sense of quietness as seen in Jogan.

Nargis was only 28 when Mother India was produced, but hers was the performance of a lifetime from a young bride with painted eyebrows to a matriarchal figure who doesn’t seem to even run a comb through her hair. Her unique ability to portray a strength of purpose made her perfect for the role. Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), an epic saga about the travails of an Indian peasant woman, was a remake of his earlier black and white classic Aurat (1940). Mother India (Played with incredible warmth by Nargis) is an allegory for Mother Earth who gives endlessly of herself yet demands obeisance to certain laws. The film was a through-the-roof blockbuster. Nargis’s highly charged performance as Mother Earth, who ruthlessly guns down her own son in the end, won her the best actress award at the Karlovy Vary festival. Mother India was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

It was during the shooting of Mother India that Nargis met Sunil Dutt, who played her rebellious son in the film. Sunil Dutt Famously saved Nargis during the fire sequence. Nargis was shown trapped inside a raging fire while Sunil Dutt jumps in and saves her. The blaze roared out of control leaving Nargis stranded. Sunil Dutt grabbed a blanket, plunged inside, and wrapping the blanket around themselves, the twosome ran out. It meant several, painful burns for Sunil but it also resulted in Nargis falling in love with him. They were married within a year.

After marriage, Nargis shifted her efforts from film to humanitarian causes. She did lend her voice and silhouette to Sunil Dutt’s “one actor movie monument” Yaadein (1964) and expertly played a woman with a split personality in Raat Aur Din (1967) for which she won the National Award.

Because of her devotion to social causes, Nargis was the first film personality to be awarded the Padmashree and later her charitable work for spastics saw her nominated to the Rajya Sabha. She was a very caring human being whose dream was to see that the best available medical care could also be provided to people who are poor and needy. She already had considerable work to her credit in the care, rehabilitation, and education of handicapped children in India. Unfortunately she did not live long enough to see the evolution of her dream as she died of cancer in 1981, at the young age of 52. Her husband Sunil Dutt and many concerned friends dedicated their lives to pursuing the goals that keep Nargis’s dream alive through the Nargis Dutt Memorial Foundation.