Nargis Dutt (1 June 1929 – 3 May 1981), born Fatima Rashid but known by her screen name, Nargis,was an Indian film actress. Regarded as one of the greatest actresses in the history of Hindi cinema, she made her screen debut as a child in Talash-E-Haq in 1935, but her acting career began in 1942 with Tamanna (1942). During a career that spanned from the 1940s to the 1960s, Nargis appeared in numerous commercially successful as well as critically appreciated films, many of which featured her alongside actor and filmmaker Raj Kapoor.
One of her best-known roles was that of Radha in the Academy Award-nominated Mother India (1957), a performance that won her Best Actress trophy at the Filmfare Awards. In 1958, Nargis married her Mother India co-star, actor Sunil Dutt, and left the film industry. She would appear infrequently in films during the 1960s. Some of her films of this period include the drama Raat Aur Din (1967), for which she was given the inaugural National Film Award for Best Actress.
Along with her husband, Nargis formed the Ajanta Arts Cultural Troupe, which roped in several leading actors and singers of the time and held stage shows at border areas. In early 1970s, she became the first patron of Spastics Society of India, and her subsequent work with the organisation brought her recognition as a social worker, and later a Rajya Sabha nomination in 1980.
Nargis died in 1981 of pancreatic cancer, a few days before her son Sanjay Dutt made his debut in Hindi films. In 1982, the Nargis Dutt Memorial Cancer Foundation was established in her memory.The award for Best Feature Film on National Integration in the annual National Film Awards ceremony is called the Nargis Dutt Award in her honour.In 1958, she was honoured with the Padma Shri by the Government of India.
Nargis was born as Fatima Rashid in Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, India (now Kolkata, West Bengal) into a Punjabi Muslim family.Her father was Abdul Rashid alias Mohan Babu, a wealthy Mohyal Tyagi from Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) who had converted to Islam. Her mother was Jaddanbai, a Hindustani classical music singer and one of the early pioneers of Indian cinema. She was alleged to be the illegitimate daughter of Motilal Nehru. She introduced Nargis into the movie culture unfolding in India at the time. Nargis’ maternal half-brother, Anwar Hussain (1928–1988), also became a film actor.
Fatima made her first film appearance in the 1935 film Talashe Haq when she was six years old, credited as “Baby Nargis”. Nargis is a Persian word meaning Narcissus, the daffodil flower. She was subsequently credited as Nargis in all of her films.
Nargis, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar in scene from Andaz
Nargis appeared in numerous films after her debut; she won lasting fame for her later, adult, roles, starting with at the age of 14, in Mehboob Khan’s Taqdeer in 1943 opposite, Motilal She starred in many popular Hindi films of the late 1940s and 1950s such as Barsaat (1949), Andaz (1949), Awaara (1951), Deedar (1951), Shree 420 (1955), and Chori Chori (1956). She appeared in Mehboob Khan’s Oscar-nominated rural drama Mother India in 1957 for which she won the Filmfare Best Actress Award for her performance. Baburao Patel of the film magazine Filmindia (December 1957) described Mother India as “the greatest picture produced in India” and wrote that no other actress would have been able to perform the role as well as Nargis.
After her marriage to Sunil Dutt in 1958, Nargis gave up her film career to settle down with her family, after her last few films were released. She made her last film appearance in the 1967 film Raat Aur Din. The film was well received and Nargis’ performance as a woman who suffers from multiple-personality disorder, was critically acclaimed. For this role she won a National Film Award for Best Actress and became the first actress to win in this category. She also received a Filmfare Best Actress Award nomination for this film.
In 2011, Rediff.com listed her as the greatest actress of all time, stating, “An actress with range, style, grace and an incredibly warm screen presence, Nargis is truly a leading lady to celebrate.”M.L. Dhawan from The Tribune said, “In almost all her films Nargis created a woman who could be desired and deified. The charisma of Nargis’s screen image lay in that it oscillated between the simple and the chic with equal ease.
She was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha (Upper house of Indian Parliament) from 1980–81but fell ill and died during her tenure
Nargis had longtime relationship with actor Raj Kapoor, who was her co-star in the films Awara and Shree 420. Raj Kapoor was already married then and had children. After he refused to divorce his wife, Nargis decided to end their year long relationship.
Nargis married actor Sunil Dutt (himself a Mohyal from Jhelum, Pakistan) on March 11 1958. Reportedly, Dutt had saved her life from a fire accident on the sets of Mother India. The couple married on 11 March 1958 and had three children together: Sanjay, Namrata, and Priya. Sanjay went on to become a successful film actor. Namrata married actor Kumar Gaurav, son of veteran actor Rajendra Kumar who had appeared alongside both Nargis and Sunil Dutt in Mother India. Priya became a politician and a Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha).
Along with her husband, Nargis formed the Ajanta Arts Cultural Troupe, which involved several leading actors and singers of the time, and performed at remote frontiers to entertain the Indian soldiers; it was the first troupe to perform in Dhaka, after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and the formation of Bangladesh.Later, Nargis worked for the cause of spastic children. She became the first patron of The Spastics Society of India. Her charitable work for the organisation got her recognition as a social worker.
Nargis was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent treatment for the disease at Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York.Upon her return to India, her condition deteriorated, and she was admitted to Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. She went into a coma on 2 May 1981 and died the next day.At the premiere of her son’s debut film Rocky on 7 May 1981, one seat was kept vacant for her.
Nargis was buried at Badakabarastan in Marine Lines, Mumbai. A street in Bandra, Mumbai was renamed Nargis Dutt Road in her memory.