It has been a nerve-wracking past few months. And just as I thought things couldn’t get much worse—what with the violence in Delhi, coming on the heels of increasingly acrimonious and violent disputes regarding CAA/NRC/NPR—coronavirus struck, and we, as a country, have ended up in lockdown.
And now, this news came. Nimmi, 88 years old, passed away on March 25.
I will admit that my views on Nimmi have varied considerably. She is one actress I cannot claim to love in every role, but again: she’s not an actress I cannot bear. She’s shone in some roles; in others not so much. But she’s beautiful, and she’s had some lovely songs picturized on her. Peppy songs, heart-wrenching songs, songs of love and songs of despair. Here are ten of my favourite Nimmi songs (all songs to which she lip-synced), all—as usual—from pre-70s Hindi films that I’ve seen. As always, these are in no particular order.
1. Mera salaam le jaa (Udan Khatola, 1955): When I wrote of ‘peppy’ songs picturized on Nimmi, this was the one I was thinking of. Nimmi here is the leader of a group of girls riding through the countryside and watching an aviator flying above in his aeroplane. He cannot possibly hear them, but that doesn’t deter her (and her sahelis) from singing a greeting to him. A greeting, and a warning: there’s a storm ahead, beware. Nimmi is absolutely beautiful in this film; if I had to name my top favourite song when it comes to Nimmi looking gorgeous, it would be O door ke musaafir, also from Udan Khatola—but Mera salaam le jaa comes a close second. With her curly hair floating in the breeze, and that slightly lop-sided and attractive smile, she’s very pretty indeed.
2. Intezaar aur abhi (Chaar Dil Chaar Raahein, 1959): Chaar Dil Chaar Raahein was a film I first watched for Shammi Kapoor—he’s one of my favourite actors—and, though the film (which would have been one of Hindi cinema’s first multi-starrers) had a good pairing between Shammi and Kumkum, the love story that really enchanted me was that of the characters played by Nimmi and Ajit. He is driver to an insomniac nawab. She is a skilled gaanewaali—and, because of this talent, she is employed by the nawab to sing him to sleep (only when he is asleep can she leave; the driver will take her home). Through the long, long night, she sings, lulling the nawab to sleep. Singing, even when she is exhausted. Singing and waiting for the dawn that takes so long to arrive. A beautiful, gentle song, and Nimmi is as gentle and lovely.
3. Tum na jaane kis jahaan mein kho gaye (Sazaa, 1951): I have a special fondness for this song, because the violin for Tum na jaane kis jahaan mein kho gaye was played by my uncle, David Vernon Liddle. In Sazaa, Nimmi played one of those characters for which she got typecast pretty early (in Barsaat, Aan, Amar, and many other films, she played the often timid, easily brow-beaten young woman who seemed to always get the short end of the stick). Here, she was a poor mute girl who, working at the home of a rich woman, found her mistress bringing home an injured man—the poor maid’s one-time sweetheart, from whom she’s been separated by a cruel fate. That same cruel fate now sets about dealing yet another blow, with the mistress falling in love with the maid’s ex. Ek jaan aur laakh gham, ghutke reh jaaye na dum (one life and thousands of sorrows: I may suffocate under the weight of them): so vivid a description of this woman’s plight. The song is hauntingly beautiful, Lata’s voice is flawless and sublime—and Nimmi’s portrayal of her character’s misery is just right.
4. Ae mere dil kahin aur chal (Daag, 1952): Nimmi acted in several films opposite Dilip Kumar, of which Daag was one of the earlier ones. For me, at least, this was a relatively forgettable film—but for Ae mere dil kahin aur chal, a wonderful song about wanting to be free of the world and its sorrows. The versions sung by Talat Mehmood, one slow and one fast (but both ‘sad’ songs), are probably more famous, but I also love this version by Lata. It’s a deathbed scene: Nimmi’s character is tending to the dying mother of the man she loves, and the old lady begs her to sing the song he used to sing. A poignant scene, and a short, slow version of the song.
5. Main piya teri tu maane ya na maane (Basant Bahar, 1956): Basant Bahar was one of many films that starred Bharat Bhushan as a singer—and, naturally, that meant he got to lip-sync to some superb classical-based songs. Fortunately, Nimmi (who acted the love interest of the singer) got some good songs too. Of these, this is my favourite: she sings, insisting on her love for him, whether he likes it or not. She dances, she flirts, she makes promises of undying love. Nimmi is all charm and coquetry here: very pretty.
6. Udi-udi chhaayi ghata (Amar, 1954): Nimmi’s role in Amar was both representative of the typecasting Nimmi was often subjected to (the shy, naïve village girl), as well as beyond that (the naïve village girl ends up being raped by the man she has fallen in love with). In this song, towards the beginning of the film, well before that ghastly episode occurs, she traipses through the countryside, past fields and river, through the woodlands, singing about the coming of the monsoon. Not just a good song, but also a song that’s beautifully picturized, what with the scenic views, the light and shade chasing each other across the frames, the water and the trees.
7. Dil ka diya jalaake gaya (Akashdeep, 1965): Nimmi didn’t just get cast as the timid, constantly suppressed and brow-beaten belle, she also got cast—in several films—as the disabled woman: mute in Sazaa, blind in Pooja ke Phool—and mute again in Akashdeep. Where Akashdeep differed from the others was in showing a woman who finds happiness despite her disability, and without having to take recourse to much weeping and self-sacrifice along the way. Dil ka diya jalaake gaya is sung (her character lip-syncs to the song being played on a record player) in the first flush of that joy: a man, an eligible one (and a very sane one, I’d add) has fallen in love with her. A beautiful song, and the soft glow of Nimmi’s expression is a lovely glimpse into the reaction of her character to this situation.
8. Allah bachaaya naujawaanon se (Mere Mehboob, 1963): Mere Mehboob was an unusual film in that though Sadhana played the lead female role, two other actresses, both leading ladies—Nimmi and Ameeta—also played important roles in the film. Nimmi here played elder sister to Rajendra Kumar’s character, a sister who has devoted her life to educating her little brother, even if it has meant giving up her own personal life and becoming a dancer. A dancer, of course, wasn’t a ‘respectable’ profession, as emerges in the course of this performance: as her embarrassed brother takes his seat among the audience, he overhears lascivious comments being passed about his sister (not that anybody knows she’s his sister). Nimmi does little in the way of actual dancing—that is left to the other dancers, including Madhumati—but yes, her character is the focus here.
9. Ae mere maalik mere parvardigaar (Sohni Mahiwal, 1958): Nimmi’s talent for being able to portray the distressed and despairing was rather apt for Sohni Mahiwal: in this classic tragic romance, Sohni—believing her beloved Mahiwal (Bharat Bhushan) to be dead, does not resist when she is married off to a potter (Om Prakash). She is not just too sad, she’s also in a daze where she doesn’t really know what’s happening: at times she even thinks it’s Mahiwal she’s marrying. But when it’s time for her bridegroom to consummate the marriage, Sohni regains her reason long enough to offer up a prayer, begging the Almighty to save her from this. It’s a haunting song, sung with minimal instrumentation (just a brief beat every now and then), and Nimmi is beautiful—and very convincing as the desperate woman, reaching for the one support she can think of.
10. Barsaat mein humse mile tum (Barsaat, 1949): And, to end, a song from Nimmi’s very first film, Barsaat. Nimmi—born Nawab Bano—entered the film industry thanks to her mother Wahidan, who was a courtesan, singer and actress, and had good connections in the industry. One of her friends was Mehboob Khan, who (knowing Nimmi’s interest in cinema), invited Nimmi to watch the shooting of his film Andaaz. On the sets of Andaaz, Nimmi met Raj Kapoor, who was then about to begin Barsaat. RK was charmed by Nimmi’s shyness and thought she would do well as the innocent village girl who falls for a city slicker in Barsaat. The rest, as they say, is history.
Here, Nimmi’s character and her friends stage an outdoor performance of song and dance for the two ‘shehar ke babu’ (gentlemen from the city). Her demure shyness borders on the gauche, but she’s still pretty. And it’s quite an iconic song.
Goodbye, Nimmi. Thank you for the films.