A strange series of Sadhana-centric coincidences happened over the past fortnight or so. A new reader—a die-hard Sadhana fan—suddenly arrived on my blog, and commented enthusiastically on just about each of the Sadhana film reviews I’d posted. Then in an e-mail exchange with blog reader Neeru, I mentioned to her that my mother used to look astonishingly like Sadhana in her younger days. Sufficiently like Sadhana, in fact, to invite the complete unwelcome attentions of neighbourhood loiterers who would call out, “Sadhana! Sadhana!” when my mother would emerge from her home in Calcutta. Enough, too, for my father (then only my mum’s fiancé, not her husband yet) to be asked by a cousin—who had never seen my mother but saw her photo on my father’s desk—to remark, “I didn’t know you were such a fan of Sadhana’s.”
Then Anu reviewed Aarzoo, and I couldn’t help but recount an incident related to that film and to my mother’s resemblance to the actress.
So much Sadhana. And I thought: I really must do a list of Sadhana songs someday. After all, she’s one of my absolute favourite actresses. This is long overdue.
Instead, on Christmas morning, I heard the news that Sadhana had passed away.
I have never been one of those fans who get completely carried away. I can really like someone’s work, even appreciate them as individuals in the rare case when I’ve heard or read or seen things that show a personal (and likeable) side of them, but that’s usually the extent to which it goes. Admiration, not blind fanaticism. Rarely does someone have the effect on me that their passing actually shakes me up. That was how it had happened with me when Shammi Kapoor died, and that repeated this last week. I found myself inexplicably and extremely saddened by the news of her death. So much that it took me a while to gather up the strength to write a tribute to her. (Yes, there’s also the fact that I haven’t been too well this past week, but that’s another story).
Why? I don’t know. Perhaps, at some subliminal level, it’s got something to do with the resemblance between my mother and Sadhana. Equally, though, I think it’s because there has always been something about Sadhana that has appealed to me. From my very first memory of her—as the mysterious and so absolutely alluring woman singing Lag jaa gale in Woh Kaun Thi?—Sadhana has been a special favourite.
A favourite for varied reasons. Her acting. Her voice, never screechy or shrill. Her beauty, of course. Her stylishness.
I won’t go on about the ‘Sadhana cut’ or the churidar-kurtas, or the wearing of mojris, but one thing I will point out when it comes to Sadhana’s style is the effortless way in which she seemed to fit just about any look. On previous occasions on this blog, I’ve talked about other actresses not seeming comfortable in a certain style: Waheeda Rehman (another favourite), for instance, not seeming absolutely at home in Western dresses; the same with Nanda. Or several other actresses who seemed at ease only in a particular type of look—Mumtaz, I thought, didn’t make a convincing village girl; neither did Saira Banu.
But Sadhana seemed to be able to carry off just about any look that was required of her. From the slacks-and-sweater of Aarzoo,
To the sharaaras and demure dupattas of Mere Mehboob,
All the way to the super-glamorous stylishness of Waqt, with those fabulous embroidered chiffons and heavy jewellery and the flower tucked into the hair…
… and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the fresh-faced, un-made up look of Parakh, the very embodiment of the simplicity of a village girl.
And in between. The Sadhana of Prem Patra or Hum Dono, for instance, is neither exceptionally glamorous, nor completely devoid of ornamentation: somewhere in the middle, her sarees not always cotton, her earrings not simple gold hoops, her lips coloured, her eyes highlighted, her hair done interestingly.
(Interestingly, while Sharmila Tagore’s swimsuit stint in An Evening in Paris invariably draws comment, people tend to forget that Sadhana had, two years earlier in Waqt, also worn a swimsuit for a fairly long—and actually pretty sensuous—scene).
With that versatility in style came a versatility in acting as well. People rave about the acting of greats like Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rehman and Nutan; I think Sadhana was underrated as an actress. Perhaps it was a result of her having appeared in so many films that were similar in tone. Waqt, Ek Musaafir Ek Haseena, Aarzoo and Budtameez, for example, could all have been done with just about any other leading lady of the period. But contrast that with somewhat unusual films—the Bimal Roy films, for example: Parakh and Prem Patra—and you see how different Sadhana could be.
Over the past few years, as I’ve watched and rewatched several of Sadhana’s films, one thing that’s struck me is the dual nature of so many of the characters she’s played. In at least two films, of course—Mera Saaya and Woh Kaun Thi?—she’s played double roles (not that Mera Saaya is much of an example of a double role, since her role as the dacoit’s wife is fairly short). In the third of the suspense thriller films she did with husband-director RK Nayyar, Anita, while there’s no double role, the plot is such—and her character’s actions such—that it seems as if this is not the same woman, just someone who looks like her…
And that happens in other films too. Her debut film in Hindi, Love in Simla, for example, which begins with a clumsy, tomboyish Sadhana without a glamorous bone in her body. Plus low esteem and a tendency to make threats she will probably never be able to do anything about. But halfway through the film, and she’s transformed into a beautiful, chic young miss who’s oozing self-confidence and allure.
Or, less than a decade later, a film that marked one of Sadhana’s last major appearances as a heroine: Intequam. A story of a woman out to seek vengeance, this one had Sadhana starting off as a chawl-dwelling woman, not dirt-poor but pretty close. Innocent, even naïve—and finding herself unable to do anything to stem the tide as she’s nearly molested, then accused of being a thief and sent to jail for a year.
Her stint in jail transforms her, and when, with the help of a wealthy (and also wronged, therefore also thirsting for revenge) benefactor, she sets about implementing the plan to wreck a few lives, it’s as a glamorous but mysterious woman. Singing as she wanders through the valleys of Kashmir, ensnaring the gullible son of the man who sent her to jail and, indirectly, caused the death of her mother. And then, in another twist of character, another layer peeling away—once she’s managed to get married to the young man, she tells him all: that she hates him, and that she is now out to ruin his family. A cold, bitter woman, seemingly without a shred of humanity left in her.
So who will I remember Sadhana as? The sweet, gentle girl who wanders quietly through her village home, carrying a lit diya and urging her heart to go on burning, no matter what? The sultry siren, clinging to a very puzzled man and telling him that this may well be the very last time they will be together? The beautiful young bride who, no matter how hard she tries, cannot understand why her husband, from the moment he has seen her face, seems to be repulsed by her?
The schemer? The victim? The innocent soul? The glamour girl? The girl next door?
Each of those. And more. Bless you, Sadhana. You were one of the best, and you will be missed.