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March 31, 2020

‘Nimmi was always ahead of her time’

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‘She was gutsy and rebellious enough to take on roles other more conventional actresses wouldn’t dare and she excelled in them.’
Subhash K Jha remembers the actress like none other.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Film History Pics/Twitter

Vivacity came naturally to Nimmi.

p>It wasn’t a trait she cultivated; it was a part of her DNA.

That’s why they cast her repeatedly as the chulbuli gao ki gori or the rebellious girl who won’t kick off her high heels at a kirtan sammellan.


Photograph: Kind courtesy Film History Pics/Twitter

Nimmi’s passing away is, frankly, of little relevance to cinematic history.

Among the great actresses of her time, she was never a topnotch player, never in the league of her edified contemporaries like Nargis, Meena Kumari and Madhubala.

The formidable film-maker Mehboob Khan cast her repeatedly in his films.

In one of her best-known roles in Mehboob Khan’s Amar, Nimmi was cast as a rape survivor.

It was a role no major actress of the time would touch.

Legend has it that Madhubala was offered the choice of both the female leads in Amar, but she said a flat no to the role of the illiterate village girl who gets raped by Dilip Kumar. Instead, she played the educated sophisticated girl who gets justice for the victim.

“It was never about the ‘correct’ role or the size of the role for Nimmiji. She was always ahead of her time. She was gutsy and rebellious enough to take on roles other more conventional actresses wouldn’t dare and she excelled in them,” remembers Sanjay Leela Bhansali who wishes he had worked with her. “But I did work with one of Nimmiji‘s closest friends Begum Para in Saawariya and it was a delightful experience.”


Photograph: Kind courtesy Film History Pics/ Twitter

The iconic Lata Mangeshkar, who voiced many songs for Nimmi, recalls her as spirited and sociable.

“She was well read, lively and fun to be with. I first met her when Raj Kapoor saab cast her in Barsaat in 1949. We become a group of driven, committed, fun-loving artistes — Rajsaab, Nargisji, Nimmi, Shankar-Jaikishan, (lyricists) Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, (singer) Mukesh bhaiyya duringBarsaat,” Lataji recalls.

Lataji remembers Nimmi emoting to one of her most beloved songs of all time.

In Barsaat, the song Jiya beqaraar hai chayee bahaara ajamorey balma tera intezar hai was a super-hit and Nimmijidid full justice to it. She was the portrait of a young girl in love. The title song Barsaat mein humse miley tum sajan tumse miley hum was also filmed on her and again, she did full justice to my voice.”

Lataji also recalls Nimmi emoting to one of her most favourite songs of all time.

“In Mehboobsaab‘s Amar, I sang what I consider one of my best written and composed songs Namilta ghamto hbarbadi ke aphsane kahaan jaate… It is a very difficult song to project on screen, but Nimmijidid. Unko mera salaam!.”

Photograph: Kind courtesy Film History Pics/ Twitter

Nimmi’s most memorable films include Barsaat, Sazaa (in which she played the lead for a change and emoted to the immortal song Tumna jaane kis jahan mein kho gaye), Aan, Daag, Mere Mehboob and Basant Bahar.

She was last seen in K Asif’s posthumous Love & God, which took a grueling 23 years to be completed.

This re-telling of the Laila-Majnu legend was started with Nimmi and Guru Dutt who died midway and was replaced by SanjeevKumar. Then he died as well.

‘Laila lived, but Majnu kept dying,’ Nimmionce joked and then broke into her full-throated laughter.

And now, Laila is gone too.

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