Nimi; the doe-eyed princess-Entertainment News, Firstpost
Actress Nimmi was courted by Cecille B. DeMille, one of Hollywood’s founding fathers, to star in his film. His staggering fame in the early 1950s attracted even more Hollywood offers. She turned them all down because she was only 21 and the brightest star in Hindi cinema.
The incredible Tabassum, who has been in the public eye for almost as long as India has been independent, and in 75 years has gone from film actress to TV show host to YouTube sensation, was born as Kiran Bala Sachdev to Ayodhyanath Sachdev, who had participated in the Indian freedom struggle. Raj Kapoor was a family friend and often made fun of little Tabassum for that mouthful of screen name she had. Instead, he preferred his nickname, Kinni. Sometimes he also called her “Badi Bi” because she often spoke like grown-ups. She endured it all. But when one day Raj Kapoor told her he was about to name one of his heroines Kinny after her, baby Tabassum screamed at the top of his lungs. There was no way she was letting that happen. They tried to explain and soothe her, but she lay on the floor and screamed. There was no way anyone else would get Kinni’s name. So the revered Raj Kapoor had to bow to the iron will of this little girl. He chose to name his heroine a similar sounding “Nimmi”.
Nawab Bano’s family were no strangers to cinema, although they had never experienced it. She and her grandmother were now living with her aunt Jyoti, who was married to a handsome singer-musician named Ghulam Mustafa Durrani, who was quite the star. Her mother, Jyoti’s sister, Wahidan, had played small roles in several Mehboob Khan films. Thanks to these connections, 15-year-old Nawab Bano was allowed to enter the premises of Central Studios to watch the filming of Andaz, which was led by Khan himself. The film starred Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Nargis. It was one of the enduring casting hits in the history of Hindi films. These two men never shared the frame again. Anyway, Nawab Bano was on the sets watching them act. One day she walked in and saw Jaddan Bai sitting on one of the two chairs in the room. The other chair was empty, but Nawab didn’t dare sit next to her. She was Nargis’ mother, after all! Nawab continued to watch, standing.
Jaddan Bai realized there was this young girl standing next to her, clearly intimidated. She insisted and made Nawab sit down. Between takes, Raj Kapoor approached Jaddan Bai to touch his feet. He bowed to the matriarch, and his eyes caught the girl sitting next to her. Many years later, Nimmi argued that if this Raj Kapoor hadn’t bowed down to touch Nargis’ mother’s feet that day, she probably would have had a different life. Raj was looking for a new heroine for his second directing venture under the RK Films banner, Barsat. Nargis had already been cast in the romantic lead role opposite him. He was looking for the second lead role, a girl with the most innocent face ever, who would attract the sympathy of the public. The script demanded it but Raj couldn’t find anyone who fit that description. Until this precise moment. He continued to stare at her for a moment, then asked her name. By the time she answered, the girl’s fate was sealed.
Barsat released April 22, 1949. It was a dream debut. Nimmi was remarkably confident for someone with no screen experience. Not a dialogue or a look was out of place. It was as if she was born to do this. The title song Barsaat mein humse miley tum was featured on it, just like the climax of the film. The public reacted to this confident start and Nimmi was up there on the marquee. He was a star and people ate his hands. Nimmi was inundated with offers. Within a year or two, she had major outings with the Three Kings, the ruling triumvirate of Dev-Dilip-Raj. With Dilip Kumar in particular, she had an enviable hit rate: every movie they worked on together is not just a hit but a classic. They made five films together: Deedar (1951), Daag (1952), Aan (1952), Amar (1954) and Uran Khatola (1955). Two of them, Amar and Ah, were both led by non-conformist Mehboob Khan. Amer, even by today’s standards, would be a disturbing film. Nimmi plays Soniya, a rustic girl who has resisted the advances of the village tough guy and, while running away from him, finds herself in the lavish mansion of law attorney Amar Nath (Dilip Kumar). In the dark halls, Soniya is raped by Amar, the paragon of virtue and righteousness. The crime would have gone unnoticed had it not been for Anju (Madhubala), who stands up for her. Nimmi’s performance as a naïve villager and her loss of innocence were impeccable. The film features her in an underwater sequence, perhaps one of the oldest in India.
Aan (1952) was a colorful swashbuckling show. It was one of India’s first color films. Aan was released worldwide under the title wild princess. Nimmi hit the UK tabloids when she refused to be kissed – on the hand – by Errol Flynn at the London premiere of Aan. Nimmi achieved unprecedented popularity due to her role in Ah, which wasn’t even the main track. Cecille B. DeMille offered him a film, along with three other Hollywood filmmakers. Nimmi turned them all down, preferring to continue making Hindi films. With other successes like Uran Khatola, Basant Bahar and Bhai Bhai, Nimmi led the way in the 1950s. His swan song love and god, the ill-fated love saga of K. Asif, might have been his grandest film, were it not for the production delays and the untimely death of hero Guru Dutt and possibly K. Asif himself. By the time the Fragmented and Assembled film was released in 1986, Nimmi had long since retired and settled into a happy family life of S. Ali Raza, who had written his films. Amar and Ah, and Mehboob Khan’s eternal classic Mother India.
Amborish is a National Film Award-winning writer, biographer and film historian.