Cheshire Cat?

Ugly Duckling? Cheshire cat ? Or Fawn in cattle?

Several articles and comments had shown her to be a gangly girl in her early movies. She looked like that too. An extremely thin girl, proverbially, I assume, without really attempting a zero sizer. No curves, a child just trying to decide whether to enter womanhood or wait for some more time. Still in the peak of growing period so automatically the speed of the bones being covered by flesh was slower compared to the growth of the bones, and the muscles overworked, obviously without success trying to catch up with the physical growth. Leave aside having the flesh at the correct places, she didn’t have the flesh anywhere.

The face was thin, as if starved. I assume the blame doesn’t go to Shobhana, it wasn’t due to being underfed or having anorexia. That she didn’t have these was clear a few years hence. This was simply the period of rapid body growth. And as has been reported, in the K Asif comment by Sobhana, and also if one looks at the pictures, she was quite tall for a girl. This tallness might have made the directors, even great ones like Asif, of her capability to essay roles of grown up and that her age could be over-estimable on screen. But a tall and thin girl looks even thinner. Her first movie (that I have – Humlog) is a role of a consumptive patient, with the disease in advanced stage, and did she fit the role! Look at her thin stick like frame, the thin arms, she does look like one.



Imagine has to be stretched a lot even for me, to call her anything more than plain, or even a slight notch below it. Definitely not a single bit what men will call attractive. No curves, sunk cheeks, only two extra bright eyes looking, almost like the Cheshire Cat with nothing but air around it.


Those eyes too,were too coquettish and not natural. Possessing a pair of large and beautiful eyes, yes that she had, and just rolling them, across the corners doesn’t make one either beautiful or attractive.


The oomph factor she never had, and even had she tried, she won’t have managed that to bring into her otherwise immense armour. Whether she was in Bikini, the first ever top grade Bollywood heroine to attempt to don one or skinny clothes, as in LaatSahab, either she looked just sweet, or the whole thing looked abnormal – what the hell she thinks she is doing? (and the audiences threw it to garbage).


She was of course not attractive or beautiful in the common sense of word ever, but she had something in her where she could transform  herself from an ordinary plain girl into an angel.


How? It is un-explainable. It might have something to do with her inner self, when she was happy, whether really or on screen, she was able to transmit that happiness into whoever was watching her. In fact the feeling on screen never looked to be anything other than genuine. How she was able to do that? One can only wonder and never get to actual, I don’t think even she knew that.

What she only mentioned that she tried to be “Honest to the role that was given to her” whatever she meant by that.

Another thing I have observed is that she was never comfortable with the hero coming up too close to her, that is one area, she was unable to act out and suppress the discomfort, it looks she needed just that much of gap, even in most romantic scenes. Likely not respecting the gap, even on psychological senses, got Sanjeev Kumar the slap.

In the superb song of Anari… last few moments when Raaj Kapoor holds and entwines his hand on her, she just for a fraction of a moment looks distinctly uncomfortable, she quickly overcomes that though.

Is it that initial discomfort what she felt, which had been shown brilliantly by Bimal Roy in Sujata, every time Sunil touched her?


May be in the case of Anari, since she wasn’t supposed to be uncomfortable, it being her beloved, to whom just some time back she had professed her love, she quickly over-rode the uncomfortable feeling?I wonder also, later, it is her hand or what we say of a duplicate ? The camera only went for the hand and didn’t pan rest of the body.

This again tries to show a spontaneous rather than a method actor. A method actor would be making a particular happening to take place repeatedly, through multiple takes, extensive rehearsals, or shadow acting in private. In addition to detail study he or she would be even ruminating on how he/she would act out a sequence. So the momentary discomfort shouldn’t occur. This song is often played in the night TVs and once this just ‘seemed’; then in next episodes, it became more of a conviction.

The ruminating over a scene, play acting in advance, deciding how to act off a sequence, would look most of the time superfluous and ‘acting’ rather than ‘happening’. Even in most of the ‘Great’ actors this can be observed, the lack of that “special ingredient” of Mr Ping (Father of Po, the Kung Fu panda).

By these play acting, in my opinion, it would be just a bit difficult to bring out the naturalness of the feeling that comes to a person, when the incident happens for the first time, as it does in real life. An actor of course has to prepare and read the scripts, without that he or she couldn’t work. It is necessary to feel the character. But after that? Do they rehearse the gestures in minute details? Or they do it broadly, just try to get into the skin of the role, and then let the moments take over the finer parts? This might be the difference between an actor in the role and an actor playing the role? When another actor does something unexpected (I am sure Kishore Kumar for once might be doing that) the effect automatically becomes involuntary. In fact there are certain other episodes which looks too natural reaction to be rehearsed.


Whenever I see this scene I wonder did Shubha really punched her on the stomach? It in fact I am sure must have been (of course here Shubha could tell us that). This doubling up is too realistic to do without the punch and even the face expression. The startled jump , well that is possible, though that too had been too natural. 

If she had been method acting/ acting through sheer hard work, and rehearsing as mother said, then she had been much more than exceptional, almost unbelievable. My strong belief is that all her hard work and studies, which the mother misunderstood, was in trying to change Nutan into Gauri or Shanti (Shanno).

But this was all of a later stage, when she was master of herself, and the audience, and could change the atmosphere inside the cinema hall by a twitch of a muscle or just by appearing there.


Who can ever forget that an out and out Hero’s movie. With the then prime heart throb, Dev Anand. The only role that the heroine had in the movie was of a show piece. Then suddenly it became the show-piece’s movie and audience waited for the heroine to come to screen and tease the hero (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne) ? The immortal parts of the movie that just doesn’t get erased from any one who has watched the movie are the Nutan in the Glass of liquor or the episode in Qutub Minar or the most unforgettable was her coming over to the balcony hearing Dev Singing. The change in the expression in those few minutes was exceptional.

Reading serenely a book, then hearing the sound – – is it he? , getting out to confirm, the happiness at seeing him, are you nuts? What are you doing here at this time? Then going back and almost blushing with happiness, peeping through door to see whether others woke up and heard him, and then finally coming back ‘OK, now that we are undisturbed, you can look at me to your heart’s content’. This whole speech without talking, acted in a minute or so, with only the situation, not even the lyrics to support her ‘talking’.

It is famously said that she was one of the rare heroines (is/was there anyone else in Bollywood?)  who could talk without a sound uttered, purely through expressions. It feels so unfortunate that this capacity of her was not utilised, through the role of a dumb girl ? 

What was her situation back in the first couple of years of fifty, before she turned really sweet sixteen or rather eighteen with Seema?

Was she so plain looking? For that I have some snaps from the first two movies I have, Humlog and Nagina. As well as one snap of 1950 available on net, or even if I look closely at the childhood photograph with her mother.


We must also remember that during this ugly period, she was virtual Miss India. Virtual, because technically Miss India contest has not started/ named like that. 

Then what happened? Why her beauty was not exploited on screen except on rare occasion, and then too as if by mistake? The intention was to keep her plain looking? Obviously it can’t be deliberate; it was her mother’s production. And her intentions, were not bad was later proved when she, finding the child not excelling, sent her for a rest to Swiss, and what happened afterwards, we know. The first movie on return was Seema, second Heer (which was unexplainably flop), followed by Paying Guest. Three intense movies, each with different type of intensity, and excellent, in absence of a superlative term, performance by Nutan.

The main culprit in this case comes from a hint. Sobhana is reported to have seen the potential of her daughter when she has observed Nutan’s expressive eyes and realized the potential and wanted to hand-craft her daughter before releasing her for the others to exploit the potential.

Due to this fixed idea, did she concentrate on this feature excessively?

The girl also must have been told this, so she too tried to use the asset to the maximum benefit, and it became a coquettish and unnatural phenomenon especially in Humlog, whenever she tried to use it, for enticing the hero (to be frank with a Hero looking like that, why she should try to enticing him one would wonder, but unfortunately he was hero, he had been selected to be the one to woo her, and she had to get wooed and reciprocate! Interestingly Shobhana was supposed to have a weakness for good looking men (of course she isn’t reported to have crossed limit, but for two, her husband and later Motilal), but then why didn’t she chose good looking boys for her daughter? Afraid ? Who knows.

When I closely looked at this scenario, the other face expressions too seemed to indicate that her own concentration was not in the hero, but on her own eyes. Of course as I said, and I believe, she didn’t know how to entice a man, or may even be what it is.

The director and the camera too concentrated on this feature of her. Often blackening out the whole screen except the face and further, the lighting was very often adjusted to leave everything out but those two bright spots.


Only when she didn’t get a chance to show-off her ‘Eye’ power, the other powers came to surface.

There is of course no doubt in the power she had through her eyes and how much she could express through these two arrows.The flashing eyes when she was scolded or the laughing one when she was happy must have been seen by Shobhana and realised their power. But did she fail to realise that the power of those strengths came when the girl felt the corresponding emotion and shot the arrow?

I have almost no doubt that the total error was due to this misconception. And very fortunately had that not been overcome, the world would never have got Nutan. She would have been one of those myriads of star kids, born with the silver spoon of Bollywood in their mouth, sponsored by the parentsand fade into oblivion quickly. One in this list, unfortunately includes her only child, though he hasn’t completely washed out, like quite a few scions of mighty Kapoor family amongst others.

However it is strange that she wasn’t one of the first to be with proverbial silver spoon and iron leg (a term used in part of India to denote an extremely unlucky and jinxed person). It could well have been the case, since no record shows any of her first few movies breaking even in the box office.

The disappearance of HamariBeti from the scene, despite my best effort I couldn’t trace a single source), Hungama, Nirmohi, Parbat, Shisham– ditto. Aagosh ,Humlog and Nagina I could put my hands on, however none of these seemed to have done a good business at box office. The availability of the discs of Humlog and Nagina seems to indicate some business. But definitely not counted as hits, since the corresponding year’s performer’s list do not include them.

It is lucky that she survived the audience rejection of her- not one or two but first eleven movies,

1950- HamariBeti

1951 – Humlog, Nagina

1952 – Hungama, Nirmohi, Parbat, Shisham

1953- Aagosh, Laila Majnu, Malkin

1954- Shabaab.

Out of these eleven movies I could put my hand on only –  Humlog, Nagina, Aagosh, LaliaMajnu and Shabaab. All other seven (this incidentally is largest gap in my collection) seems to have been lost forever. Unless the archives or some other take a decision to revive them, and also assuming the prints are in revivable state still and not one of those that were destroyed in the fire accident in the Archives.

However all were not lost even in this era.

Here I have basically talked of the first two movies of her I could put my hand on. Did the things change after that? Or it was still all eyes?

When one looks at various statements attributed to Shobhana, on her children, especially with regards to Nutan and Tanuja, one finds quite a bit of contradictions.

The disobedient girl, at some other interview was called very loving and soft hearted. I don’t want to discuss on she declaring Nutan as method actress and Tanuja as with inborn talent. The movies tell us all what we need to know. Did she make the mistake and tried to make something out of someone who wasn’t what she thought she was?

It looks highly probable that the so called method actress, hardworking and learning the role by rot, was a natural sensitive actress, and when she was coached to act, she automatically made a mess of it.

Sobhana mentions somewhere that during shooting of Humlog, Balraj and Nutan would sit hours together and Balraj would try to teach Nutan of the nuances and Nutan would rehearse the scene again and again. By this Shobhana interpreted that it was only the hard work of Nutan, rehearsing again and again till she has polished her acts that made her seemingly great actress. However if we see the movie, it looked like it in fact spoilt her than improving? The effect must have continued for some more time, having been taught by a reputed actor like Balraaj Sahni.

In Humlog or early movies it is natural. She of course wasn’t able to differentiate between A and Acting so obviously she would try to please the others and not embarrass them? We really can’t say. And I don’t think now, no one is alive who could tell what really was on her mind then.

But the amount of respect she got from the directors and crews alike, gives me courage to imagine that she didn’t need many retakes to shoot a scene.

It was like a fawn perchance born in a cattle herd. The herd observed the bright and beautiful eyes and either loved or felt envious of it. The seniors (parents), observed her sprightly behavior and disapproved, asking her to fall in the line and stay with others. The potential could never be realized till she grew up into a magnificent and beautiful impala.

She was a gem which the owners misidentified and polished along wrong planes, thereby dulling the fire instead of enhancing. Fortunately there came a master, who saw the mistakes and re-polished it to expose all the spark that was inside.

Digressing fast forward, Nutan had in her interview to Gautam Rajadhyaksha, (as available in mentioned that, 

“If only Amiyada had lived longer, we would have made more films of different kinds. He had such plans…”

She had elsewhere made the similar wistful observation about her other mentor, “Bimalda” too.

One of them died of heart attack, may be accelerated by a broken heart, while only 44 after a series of memorable movies towards the end of life, Patita, Seema, Kathputli and Dekh Kabira Roya, the last one being a beautifully made comedy, Interestingly he was credited with discovering Dilip Kumar (whose first movie- Jwar Bhata he had directed, along with another of his memorable movie Daag – 1952).

The other of her mentor lived just a bit longer and died at ripe young age of 56, of Cancer. The vibe between him and his protégé was so much that he wanted to continue with her, however her retirement (temporary) came in the way. In that period he found another actress with similar earthly looks as Nutan and made two movies, Parakh and Prem Patra with her. The effect of Nutan of Sujata on these two movies could be very clearly seen. Though it could be said without prejudice, that the spontaneity was missing, and that too in spite of the fact that Bimal Roy was at helm, the difference between great and not so. Fortunately she identified that and migrated to Glamour movies the moment the original was back.

Of course the moment she was back, he made his, unfortunately, last movie with her, the all time masterpiece Bandini.

To end this , an interesting comparison between two films (the first is Sujata) and the second is Parakh (most of the snaps), where the role was a bit more intense, at least the heroine was, though as per story the second (Prempatra) was much more poignant. These two movies look to have been conceptualized with Nutan in mind, certain reports do mention it to be so.  The scenes were almost of similar circumstances (of course the stories were different)- for example both have refused to tie up with the hero.. etc. 



5 thoughts on “Cheshire Cat?”

  1. Great comments and insights, thanks a lot! I was very pleased to read all this. I loved the way you spoke about the hand drawn away in Anari, I watched it again recently and was struck by it too! It isn’t much, if one does’t watch Nutan carefully, but if one is attentive, it certainly stands out as not planned. I have half a mind she’s sensing RK as taking advantage of the situation and hoping to signify something ever so fleetingly, and she won’t let him do that!
    So yes, you’re quite right about her “slight distance”, it’s something I had noticed or felt at times but which I have not really spoken about. I suppose it can be attributed to her lack of any dose of bantering when it comes to true feelings. She’ll do the roles, and this entails touching, but only what she role demands, and nothing more, and I suppose she would have refused roles which would have been too directly intimate, because her choice as an actress meant measuring exactly what public and private meant on the screen. There would be a good deal to explore there!
    Great job at comparing the scenes of Sujata and Parakh: did you notice all this yourself?
    Finally I disagree about what you (too) call her “ugly” period, even though what you speculate about Sobhana’s role is interesting. The pictures you show to demonstrate that I find quite beautiful. And BTW, there are some more pictures of her as a young girl around. I’ll send you the ones I have if you want.

    1. Well I , may be a bit too much, try to read into her. And these small acts I feel is her the ‘intelligence’- the emotional one. As a natural ‘Indian’ girl, she won’t let the ‘other man’ come too near her, emotionally, or even try to take advantage of her, trying to use the script as advantage. I am sure on the sets it was a rebuff on Raj, (and when this crossed limit the slap on Sanjeev). Touch, hug etc are OK, but some times these could be a bit suggestive, the way I saw, she won’t stand that, back of her mind there seems to be a small chamber, which tells the difference between role demand and appropriateness. This is what even more stresses on teh fact (which I strongly believe) her being a spontaneous actress and not a hard working one who had perfected through ruminating/ rehearsals. The spontaneity was lost, just for few moments when a ‘foreign body’ tried to approach too close. The minor rebuffs would put the body to its place, and her to her role?
      When I got Bimal Roy DVD Box, the Parakh and Prempatra were part of it. While watching them, it was a clear case of aping. I understand Bimal had Nutan in mind (as I read somewhere) while planning for these, and went to Sadhana due to Nutan’s disappearance. But that is director’s angle. He won’t say act as Nutan would have. The actors, unless they ape, will have their interpretations, and act out a bit differently. But she was completely trying to play Nutan.
      She was beautiful (for us).. but by ugly- if you concentrate on one aspect (yes her strong point) and she too is made to focus on that (as if that’s the only one) the results are not pleasing- by Ugly, it’s not Nutan (She could never be to me), it is the effect on the screen, which couldn’t be pleasing. If you see Aagosh, there is much less exposure of eyes, and that too had been under-utilisation. The director concentrated on histrionics capability, the expressive face. In few scenes the eyes were in shade, exactly opposite of Humlog/ Nutan where face was in shade, only eyes. When the whole was done face and eyes, e.g. where Nasir holds her face in his palms, the effect was magic. She was comfortable, and the face laughed with pleasure at his adoration as eyes did. A lot of times , may be more than normal, you would see the the smile or laugh limited to mouth/ lips. But not with her. The question is whether director/ cameraman has the intelligence to take a proper shot to capture? The whole merging- mouth, eyes, muscles.. started may be with Seema and then there was no stopping.

    2. By the way there is another comparison I wanted… there is a lovely scene in Sujata (Blushing Sujata peeping at Adheer from behind a tree) – Here my memory failed – I have seen it exactly repeated later- Once by Aishwarya Rai (was it Devdas)? ANother one too I distinctly remember either Sadhana or Asha parekh- of course no one could bring the timid blushing smile. I was thinking of putting that, but the other two the reference is just plain washed off. When I recall that and also some other comparatives, I will put. There are many copies of course – but these don’t attract IPR so no plagiarism notice can be issued 🙂

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