Each of the leading ladies of the black-and-white era had an aura of their own. If Madhubala could torment the most sombre of souls with her crackling laughter, Meena Kumari could mesmerise you with her incredible ability to depict the woes of a woman on screen. If Nargis had the most expressive eyes (and the most spacious nostrils), Vyjayanthimala could take the theatre by storm with her nimble, gracious presence. If Waheeda could reach out for the deepest of emotions, Mala Sinha could humble everyone by her natural flair. They were all phenomenal performers, and yet none of them were my favourites from that era.
Awards, however, do not tell Nutan's story. She was virtually flawless throughout Bandini in an era where Bollywood was synonymous to glamour, glitz and melodrama. She never had the role support in the movie, yet no one ever cast a look at the rest of the cast, even Asha Parekh with the obvious public sympathy, in Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. She never seemed to overdo things - she had everything under control. Seldom has an actress been so accurately economic with her emotions - every smile was controlled, every tear was measured, every glare was the way it was supposed to be. And yet she captured the audience's imagination with her incredible array of emotional display. She wasn't about scandals or headlines: she simply acted, and was a performer way ahead of her generation. She made Sujata happen, she made Milan the epic saga that it was, no one missed Nargis in Anari, and made those two Dev Anand classics - Paying Guest and Tere Ghar ke Saamne - possible.
Two songs, however, stand out in my mind whenever I think of Nutan. Interestingly, both of them are male solo numbers, a fact that makes her performances even more special. Underrated as ever, she never needed to put lips to the lines. The leading actors had the privilege of moving their lips, and Nutan's eyes did the rest, throughout both songs: each and every moment would possibly make you feel that she has done justice to her talent, and, well, lived up to her name with every expression.
The controlled emotional display is simply unbelievable. Not only is it about a woman being loved, it's also about the helplessness of the untouchable. Not a single eyebrow is out of place - it's amazing how she could pull it off so effortlessly when her generation could have easily compelled her to overdo things.
Once again, the economy of emotions is unbelievable. An almost antithesis of the previous song, Nutan shows she can excel in the display of all possible emotions, depict a character of any kind and pull off a wide range of performances with incredible ease.
I wish the industry could do more justice to her talent. I sincerely do.
BANNER CREDITS: RITUPARNA CHATTERJEE
A woman with the potential to make it big. It is not that she cannot: she simply will not.
PHOTO CREDITS: ANIESHA BRAHMA
The closest anyone has come to being an adopted daughter.