Cradle

Nutan Samarth was unarguably one of the finest actress ever to have graced Bollywood screen, and for some like a handful of us, she was THE. ultimate to have graced the screen.

Born on June 04, 1936, to an actress mother, Shobhana Samarth and Kumarsen Samarth — from CKP community, highly placed in the caste hierarchy and hence where the professions like movies were not looked at with kind eyes. Kumarsen Samarth was one of the earliest developers of the Films Division of India. In fact he seems to be the first Chief of the Films Division of India from Maharashtra, as I could see from one of the Government Press release –

“The formation of Maharashtra state filmed by Kumarsen Samarth, the state’s first chief of the films division and also the father of actresses Nutan and Tanuja is one of the rare gems that are being restored. It is the only film done in Eastman Colour, the others are all black and white.”

Unfortunately, despite all this accolades, he died unsung in 1970s, like many of the greats.

Nutan herself was the third generation of actresses in a rare enduring matriarchal movie geneology. This matriarchal system continues till date.

The journey in the movies started with her grandmother Rattan Bai, who was a conventional housewife of a much older but highly educated husband. Her husband was a PhD in economics from Cornell University and instead of going into the teaching or other government activities, founded a bank, “Shilotri Banks”

However his extra-curricular activities were not well appreciated by the people in power. They were not only anti-British but in fact he was rumored to have been funding of the underground movements. It was obviously noticed and monitored. The sleuths waited for an opportunity, and the moment they got it, he was put behind bar and prosecuted. He was put behind bar for few years, and when he got out at the end of the term, he has lost all his money and his health. He died, not long afterwards, of Tuberculosis, no more a rich and thriving man, at his ancestral home. This aspect of the family and its contribution to the freedom struggle seems to have been a forgotten episode.

After his death and bankruptcy, Rattan Bai wasn’t left beggar on roads, fending for herself and her child, because she too belonged to a family of repute, not in the bad books of government. She moved there, where her brother was the then family head, with her daughter. He was  incidentally father of Nalini Jaywant another classic beauty of those times. Referred to as the woman with the beauty of a porcelain statue, and was mentioned as the most beautiful woman to have graced the bolly-wood celluloid those times. And if we look at her movies, when she was at her prime, say Bahen, she might aptly be one of the most beautiful ever. 

Rattan bai seems to have had a love for music and she reputedly wrote as well as sang devotional songs, and also her bhajans would be sung in various religious gatherings. Is it what has passed on the genes to her grandchild, Nutan? She had reportedly acted in a Marathi Moviein early 1930s, named “Swarajyachya seemewar”, based on the life of Shivaji, in the role of Jijabai, Shivaji’s mother. It was her only traceable venture in celluloid.

She was supposed to be an extremely beautiful woman, with ankle length hairs. The beauty seems to be a part of the families ‘X’ gene. The long and luxuriant hairs and the beauty that Nutan has inherited could well have been from her grandmother in addition to the religious flavour, writing and singing Bhajans as well as her musical voice and the talent. Of course it was honed, since she as well as her mother Sobhana had mentioned that from a very early age, she had been learning Kathhak Dance as well as classical singing. 

However no photograph of Rattan Bai, of her young age could be found, though of the other Rattan Bai (actress of Yehudi Ki ladki) photographs are available but not Rattan Bai Shilotri nee Jaywant’s. After the maiden movie, Rattan Bai had come back to her housewife existence and social/religious activities, away from grease paint, I assume due to her brother’s strictures.

I guess her mother too could have been another extremely beautiful person. She would be the common factor of the Samarth and Jaywant women. The whole matriarchal family consisted of beautiful women, Sobhana Samarth, Nutan, Tanuja, Chatura, Kajol. In the only photograph I could find (thanks AnujaGhoshalkar), of the by then Grandmother, Rattan Bai,  one could only guess that she could have been quite handsome back in her youth. But the genes that she had passed on to the generations down shows that it most likely wasn’t a normal beauty.

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Due to her foray in to the movie-land, though for only a maiden venture, her only daughter, Saroj Silotri (Sarojini Silotri? Nutan had said in her interview her father used to call her jini, short for Sarojini, though the media everywhere usually refers as Saroj, the genie in her missing !), already a teenager then, might have been attracted to the celluloid world.

The people associated with movies were however not looked down well those days, and no girl of good family would dream to be associated with that. Even in case of males, we have heard of the stories of Naushad, S D Burman etc who had to bear lot of opposition and hear snide contemptuous remarks for venturing in the movie land.

Saroj Shilotri’s the then guardian, who was supporting the family after her father’s bankruptcy and subsequent demise was Rattan Bai’s brother, Dadasaheb Jayawant (?). He was vehemently opposed to her entering the movies.

Though she used to rehearse with the theater groups, but as she said in an interview, “I knew that if I actually went up on stage, there would be another dramas as my uncle would have dragged me off the stage. So I kept my peace,”.

Her uncle was right from his angle, and his stance, as far as he was considered, was for her good. Since at that time the social situation was “nobody would marry Shobhana if she became an actress”, which he repeated for his own daughter Nalini Jawant too, and in that case it went to the extent of virtually disowning his own daughter.

The situation for Saroj didn’t escalate due to providence.  At that time, a proposal came for Saroj’s marriage, the groom was one of their distance relative, Kumarsen Samarth, who had just returned from Germany. Saroj, even in those ages, and though only 17, had a mind of her own. She was furious at the plan of tying her up, and that too through an arranged marriage. She mentions in a chat that she spoke her mind in quite vitriolic manner to the family. However, 

“But then one day, I returned home to find this devastating looking man sitting in my house. He was extremely handsome and I fell for him immediately. When I came to know that this was the man mummy had chosen for me, I didn’t object, He was handsome and had a wonderful sense of humour. Fate was presenting me with an opportunity to act. When I asked him if he would object to my acting, he said, ‘not at all.’ He was all set to do cinematography himself, after learning it at Germany.”

The marriage solved the problem, since the guardian now, the husband, himself actively participated in his wife’s movie voyage, and also often, she acted in her home productions. Her husband renamed her on screen as Sobhana. Her debut movie, Nigahen Nafrat (1935) was in fact released only few months after her marriage. They remained married till 1949 and then just moved apart, amicably and also never legally divorcing.

Nutan was born in June, 1936, when Shobhana was only 19, and it was just providence as she had mentioned in her reminisces, after Nutan passed away,

“Nutan wouldn’t have been, had she not survived the accident I met with when I was three months pregnant with her. We were shooting for this film Do Diwane, also made in Gujarati as Be Kharab Jan (Two Bad Men). There was a scene in which I was to be swinging in a hammock when it breaks. It so happened that while shooting, the strings really snapped and I fell heavily to the ground. The doctor was skeptical when he examined me and said that I might have a miscarriage. But, miraculously I didn’t. My condition improved as days went by. Nutan had to be, so she survived, perhaps because I was destined to have so much sorrow. She had so much to give, both good and bad.”

May be she was a sorrow for her, though we don’t know each other’s side of the story. Both of them had been quite private about it, especially Nutan. But whatever she had, the whole movie going fraternity, without doubt, only had joy from her, the unadulterated one.

After Nutan three more siblings were born of the union between Kumarsen Samarth and Sarojini (or Shobhana) Samarth. Two more daughters and a son. Of this next generation Nutan and Tanuja both entered the show business, but the youngest Chatura decided it wasn’t her cup of tea as did the brother, Jaideep, the youngest of all,

There seem to be some controversy about the first movie of Nutan. Certain sources say that in 1945, Chandulal Shah had offered the main role in Nala Damayanti, however Shobhana had already identified her potential and wanted her to be her own, and refused the offer. Some other sources tell that Nutan had acted in Nala Damayanti  as Child actor.

The second seems to be quite probable, since definitely in a 1944 or 1945 movie an eight year old child can’t be heroine, so most likely she would be chosen for the role of the child. Secondly when one sees her initial movies, Hum Log, Nagina etc, that are six to seven years thence, she still looks pre-teen by looks as well as mannerism. So again it is highly unlikely that one would attempt to make a heroine of her. Thirdly encyclopedia of Bollywood tells that in 1945, there was a Nala- damayanti , directed by by Kumarsen Samarth and heroine in the role of Damayanti was Sobhana Samarth. It is highly likely that in this family production Nutan would have essayed a child’s role either Pushkara- Nala/ Damayanti’s child (with a gender change?) or may be the young Damayanti?

A likely source of the rumour may be that around 1950s, Chandulal Shah might have tried for a movie with Nutan as a heroine and that was the movie that was turned down by Sobhana. It is said that Sobhana has seen her potential, the sparkle in her eyes and decided to take her under her own banner.

In fact Sobhana herself said in her interview.

“One day, when Nutan accompanied me to a mahurat (she often accompanied me to shootings, races) she was looking very pretty and older than her 13 years. She was very tall, even taller than I. So, it wasn’t surprising when K. Asif offered her a role in his film. That’s when, for the first time, it occurred to me that why don’t I make a film for my daughter.”

This is an interesting statement, Nutan- tall of course she was, quite tall compared to average Indian women. But looking older than her age of 13? In the next year, when she was 14, she barely looked 11 or 12, by today’s standards. However this also is explainable, why the girl who looked older to the great movie Moghul Asif, seemed on screen as a child. Unfortunately despite a lot of searching around I couldn’t get my hand on her first two movies, Nala Damayanti (1945) or Hamari Beti (1950) so I can’t comment on that aspects. But of her movies that I have in my Nutan collections (74 movies out of 97 she had acted in), Hum Log (1951) is the earliest.

In this movie, one can’t see anything extra ordinary from her. The sparkle in her eyes, that is reported to be what the mother said as her strong point was there. In fact if one looks at the movie, it is only those bright eyes, and rest was skin and bones. Luckily it didn’t contradict the theme of the movie, she was in the role of a terminally ill tuberculosis patient. However despite having those bright eyes, she didn’t know how to use them to its potential.

She was all of around fourteen or fifteen then, but looked preteen, may be around 11 or twelve. The only other actress at her time, of her age, was Vyjayanthimala (in fact she was two and half months younger in age, at least as per records). The first bollywood movie of Vyjayanthimala, Bahar (1951), brings out the difference in physical structure of the two. While Nutan still looked a child, only skin and bones, not even in teen, of the same age, 14 years then, Vyjayanthi was already a blooming young woman.

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In addition there was another difference. Vyjayanthimala was a trained danseuse. Though Sobhana mentions, and Nutan also reported to have told that Nutan was trained in Kathak and classical singing. But in Kathak, the acting isn’t the main ingredient of the dance, it is more on the gestures and the feet. Since the Bharatnatyam uses extensively facial expression, and the Rasas, Vyjayanthimala had an advantage in acting out the scenes. However when the fluid movement of the body is concerned, at a later time, we do get certain glimpses of her extremely graceful movement, for example in Seema we could see a graceful dancer in action,

Another beautiful dance was in the Qawwali sequence (Dil Hi to Hai– Nigahein Milane ko Jee Chahta hai) and she did some mujra in Zindagi ya Toofan too (at least one in the copy that I have), again the advantage of the Kathhak training, for the fluid movement of hand and feet crowned by her acting talent made this superb..

Not only the dance, but the face that matched the mood, and that is not very easy when you are doing a dance very near the pure form,

kisi ke manaane me lazzat vo paayi – ki phir ruth jaane ko ji chaahta hai  : So much of satisfaction I got from being begged by some one, that I want to again get angry (on him) – She makes the face to suit it or in the end- where the yearning – to be bride- is expressed through action and the face.. The heart yearns that I should come to him and never go away… the symbolic veil of the bride, coyly looking at the groom through non-existence veil, as if it exists, had been excellently rendered. 

She didn’t get many chance to dance though. Mainly because rarely she got the roles where the heroines would start an impromptu dance in a park? I assume that she wasn’t very comfortable in the party type modern dances either. In most of those occasions one would see her on piano than on the dance floor. Though I wonder what she would have been doing in real life, Rajnish definitely would be taking her to his naval parties, and she did mention to have visited those. Would she be on piano there too?

Once we see the love making scenes the difference between the two would be clear. When it is Vyjayanthimala with Karan dewan (Bahar – 1951) her teasing and enticing the hero is much more like a lover than under the similar situation that Nutan did in Hum log (1951- Sajjan) or even one year later Nagina (1952 – Nasir Khan),

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If one looks at the manner and the way Vyjayanthi had been enticing the hero, Karan Dewan, Nutan looks extremely stiff. And the expression of being in love and being near her beloved or in his arms, simply didn’t exist.

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That particular times, in early fifties, the movies haven’t yet gone away from the theatrics. The acting was a bit loud, the actions affected, the heroines played excessive coy, touch me not type. In addition her mother, being in mostly period and mythological movies, would act like that, and the effect must have rubbed on the child, through observation, even if not by coaching. Even the great actresses like nargis, had been maintaining the distance from her beloved (say in barsat) 

Everything wasn’t lost though, in a few scenes one could still see her capability to do histrionics But then it was half only her, the other half belonged to the main protagonist BalrajSahni (who essayed the role of disillusioned and frustrated elder brother). When it came to histrionics, the difference between the two wasn’t that wide, in fact the situations reversed.

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There is a scene similar to the last one, when the mother is hit on head in Bahar, and at that moment Vyjayanthi’s expression is not so much of horror/ shock, but accusing, the shock at the incident isn’t there (the back-ground- Pran has denied the wife and child, obviously since he wants Vyjayanti, who wants poor man Karan Dewan), typical south Indian Masala movie of AVM.  In the melly Pran throwas a vase on Karan, and trying to hit Pran, in retaliation with a Chair, Karan, the hero, hits Pran’s wife with it, on her head.  The horror of the incidence should have been more prominent and what is called is a scream, not an accusing look “How could you do it?” 

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There is just that bit of what the feeling would be, when a situation like this happens, and that difference differentiates a good actor from a great one.

However despite being a die-hard adorer of Nutan, frankly she wasn’t that good in these movies. She had only shown flashes of what she would be from Seema onwards. I have selected portions of the movies where she had brought out the promise, it was quite often, not rarely and far between. But then there were so many patches when she did more of rote acting, not living the role what she would be later. However while she filled the gaps, by living the character throughout the duration and improving it to the excellence, the others usually stayed where they were or did a minor improvement over it.

The reason of the gaps in Nutan’s act may be quite a few, and might have been only known to her, or her mother.  In absence of both, and hence with no one to contradict, I can make my guess.

First point is in all the love making scenes with hero she was very stiff.  There can be only one reason, she didn’t know what it was to feel like. That is quite probable, when I look at the society back then, and also her probable upbringing.

Her mother was more on religio-period movies. Of course you don’t expect the heroines of those movies say Damayanti (Nala Damayanti) , or Seeta (Ram Rajya, Bharat Milap) to profess their love, in fact nor the heroes would. So the open profession of love on screen was not very comfortable for her, or even known how to do it.  

Secondly on those times there were no visual media to quickly make the children adult, as happens now, through multitude of soap operas. Now almost from the time the children leave the parent’s lap, they know all about it, but was it then? So maximum she could have done is by dreaming through M&B or whatever equivalent were there those times, and that too provided mother had allowed. Since it looks that she was allowed only kid- stuff. In one of the incidences of her dance performance she seemed to have told of genies that would catch her if she danced at the back of the stage. She had recently watched Aladin and Magic lamp movie. This is also my practical experience since may be upto class 10 or so, we were only permitted censored movies. Some of my father’s orderly would first watch the movie, certify it was good enough for kids and then only we would be taken there. So our childhood movies were “Rani Aur Lal Pari” or things like that. I don’t know how a romantic one too we were permitted, may be due to the animal dominance? that was “Haathi Mere Saathi” 

Thirdly Sobhana had commented at some place that Nutan in her childhood was a bit disobedient kid. I will look at this in other angle. With mother at works, she would be left at home, with her siblings, three of them and all of them quite younger than her, the next one being 6 years younger Tanuja.  In fact her mother mentions, that Nutan was almost mothering Chatura while Shobhana was away due to her professional career, and her relation with Tanuja was a bit bossy. Does that mean there were frictions? In those cases it would always be Elder Child’s fault as far as parent’s verdict is concerned.

At least of that age if I see my siblings it would be that. And might well mean that she was a tomboyish too? Some of her pictures of childhood do not show her to be too feminine.

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However there seems to be a bit of contradiction here. The second picture shows her to be an extremely loving and one craved to be loved. The way she is hugging her mother and her face expression of bliss and at peace can be faked, only by her, at a later age, not while she is about ten? It doesn’t really show a recalcitrant, rebellious kid.  They don’t cuddle to their mothers like this.

Was it the tomboyish behaviour added to her, natural teasing of the siblings, obviously objected by the common mother, made her to be declared as rebellious? The tomboy mentality would definitely hamper her love making to the heroes, since this is one subject she would not be aware or interested till the movies were thrown onto her, and that too at a very tender age, not only year wise, but also her physical structure, frail and thin shows she was yet to cross the girlish, growth period and preparing to settle down into womanhood?

And there was another major reason. All these initial few movies (all flops though) were under Sobhana Samarth’s banner or under her watchful eyes.  It might have been a bit difficult for her to make love to the hero while mother watching her? Despite the permission accorded? 

A person like “Asif” willing to give her a heroine’s role must have opened the eyes of the mother towards the potential and she wanted the one to grab the opportunity, with almost fatal consequences. It was plain lucky for the history of the Bollywood that a talent like Nutan wasn’t made to stifle and disappear due to plain misunderstanding the potential and mishandling.

Sources: Cineplot interviews , web informations (filtered to suit), and rest pure imagination. So most could be taken as imaginary, (with so called no relation to any person living or dead) Though I wont like to believe that. 
The photographs taken from web, I hope they don't have copyrights on them. However most are through snapshot in the movies, again technically copyrighted material "No part of this..." but I am risking that.

13 thoughts on “Cradle”

  1. All very interesting, thanks. I wonder if you have info of a more practical nature too, such as: where she lived, went to school, her holiday-places, what sort of school results were hers, etc. Some time ago there as a piece of news about her bungalow… but that would have been later in life.

  2. I really don’t understand the line of arguments,
    – So if one can be student at a certain age he/she could be teache too? That is the relation between actor and director, before you again jump to conclusion.
    – Would Tanuja have listened to her?
    – Basu Bhattacharya, pl check his interview- he regretted till end of not taking her just for that one reason, means?
    – The refused movie is Mughale-e -Azam, please check the data, it was for quite long rumoured and then now it is everywhere. She was the first person, which the reports indicate was signed, and she didn’t pass it to madhubala, after her last moment back-out, not because of dance obviously, it was offered to some one more proficient than Madhu, Suraiyya and she too backed due to the reason Nutan did, or in fact she was the reason (and Nimmi) that Nutan did that.

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