Born as Fatima A. Rashid on June 1st 1929, Nargis’s screen name was an inspired choice for the fragrant white flower she was named after could well be said to sum up her career.
The career of Hindi-Urdu megastar Nargis began at the age of 5. Known as Baby Rani she appeared in Sangeet Films' Talah-e-Haq, introduced to film by her mother, the actress, singer and film-maker Jaddanbai. Her first adult lead role was in Mehboob Khan's Taqdeer (1943) opposite Motilal. She made her presence felt in the same filmmaker's Humayun (1945) as Hamida Bano but real stardom came her way with Andaaz (1949) and Barsaat (1949). Andaaz remains one of the best triangles in Hindi Cinema with Nargis turning in a fine performance as the modern woman caught between Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor.
Nargis often played women caught in a dilemma of the heart leading to a tragic ending - Mela (1948), Andaaz (1949), Jogan (1950), Babul (1950), Deedar (1951) and Bewafaa (1952) among others (the kind of roles Patience Cooper did in the 1920s). Off-screen, her affair with the already married Raj Kapoor was a matching of soul and spirit. After Awaara (1951) she worked almost exclusively with him even turning down her mentor Mehboob's Aan (1952). The Raj Kapoor and Nargis pair had chemistry hitherto unseen on the Indian screen. The passion that each had for the other poured out on the screen as they romanced each other in several films - The song Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua from Shree 420 (1955) with Nargis and Raj under the umbrella in heavy rain is subliminal romance at its best. Nargis knowing Raj Kapoor's obsession for white took to dressing in white and was known as his lady in white. She even met the then Home Minister Morarji Deasai to try and get him to sanction a marriage between her and Raj Kapoor! However by 1956 the pair had broken up, Chori Chori (1956), a breezy entertainer based on Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934), being their last film together. She did do a special appearance in his production Jagte Raho (1956) for old time’s sake and perhaps it was fitting that at the end of the film she is the woman who finally quenches Raj Kapoor's thirst. With Raj Kapoor out of her life, almost as if on cue, Mehboob offered her his magnum opus Mother India (1957).
Mother India is the ultimate tribute to Indian Womanhood! This epic saga of the sufferings of an Indian peasant woman has an inherent and perennial appeal, being typical of the Indian situation. The film is an opulent colour remake of Mehboob's earlier austere Black and White film Aurat (1940). In fact everything about the film is highly charged right down to the strong, earthy central performance by Nargis. The film represents the pinnacle of her career and won her the Best Actress award at the prestigious Karlovy Vary festival. Mother India was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film but it lost to Fellini's Nights of Caberia by a solitary vote! It is a well-known story that while shooting for the film, Nargis was trapped amidst lit haystacks. As the flames got higher and higher, Sunil Dutt playing her rebellious son, Birju, in the film ran through the fire and rescued her. He proposed to her and Nargis married Sunil Dutt and quit films after marriage. She did lend her voice and we do see her silhouette in Sunil Dutt's 'one actor movie monument' Yaadein (1964) and she did make a comeback of sorts expertly playing a woman with a split personality in Raat Aur Din (1967) winning the National Award for the same.
• 1957 - Filmfare Best Actress Award, Mother India • 1968 - National Film Award for Best Actress, Raat Aur Din • Nargis Dutt was the recipient of the "Urvashy Award", the highest honour that can be conferred on a movie actress in India. • She was not just the first actress to win the "Karlovy Wary Award", but the first film personality to be conferred a Padma Shri and also a Rajya Sabha seat in Parliament. • She had been conferred with a National Award for cinematography for contribution to Indian Cinema. • On January 8, 2001, Amitabh Bachchan and Nargis Dutt were honoured with the "Best Artists of the Millennium" award by Hero Honda and file magazine "Stardust".
Nargis was one of the greatest Indian actresses of all time. Her performances were authentic and natural to a degree not seen then in Indian Cinema, which could still be quite loud and theatrical. She will always be remembered as Radha in the Magnum Opus Mother India. On May 3, 1981, she died of cancer, the same year her son Sanjay Dutt made his screen debut with Rocky.