Tribute to Sadhana Shivdasani

2 Sep 1941
25 Dec 2015
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Sadhana Shivdasani (September 2, 1941 – December 25, 2015), better known mononymously as Sadhana, was an Indian actress who was one of the top stars in the 1960s and the early 1970s. She was the third highest paid Hindi actress with Nanda from 1970-1973 and was highest paid actress in Hindi Cinema from 1962-65 with Vyjanthimala.

Born in a Sindhi family in Karachi, British India, Shivdasani was named after her father’s favorite actress-dancer Sadhana Bose. Her father was the brother of actor Hari Shivdasani, father of actress Babita.

The family fled from Karachi during the post-Partition riots and settled in Mumbai. Her mother home-schooled her until she was 8 years old after which she studied at Auxilium Convent, Wadala and Jai Hind College.

Sadhana aspired to be an actress since childhood. Her father helped her enter films. In 1955 she played a chorus girl in the song “Mur mur ke na dekh mur mur ke” in Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420. When she was 15 years old, she was approached by some producers who had seen her act in a college play. They cast her in India’s first Sindhi film titled Abaana (1958), where she played the role of Sheila Ramani’s younger sister. She was paid a token amount of 1 rupee.

A photograph of her publicizing the film appeared in a movie magazine Screen. It was then that Sashadhar Mukherjee, one of Hindi cinema’s major producers at that time, noticed her. She joined Mukherjee’s acting school along with her debutant co-star Joy Mukherjee, Sashadhar’s son. R. K. Nayyar, who had previously worked as assistant director on few films, directed this film. He also created her trademark look, called Sadhana cut, inspired from British actress Audrey Hepburn. The Filmalaya Production banner thus introduced Joy, Sadhana and her iconic hairstyle in their 1960 romantic film Love in Simla. The film was declared a hit at the box office and was listed in the top 10 films of 1960. Sadhana played the role of a simple, bespectacled girl who is transformed by her grandmother into a beautiful woman and encouraged to pursue the hero. In the film, Sadhana wins a beauty contest and is awarded a three-year film contract with Filmalaya, which was the case in real life too. During this period she would again work under the same banner opposite Joy in Ek Musafir Ek Haseena.

Alongside Love in Simla, Sadhana was signed by acclaimed director Bimal Roy for his satirical film on Indian democracy, Parakh. She portrayed a simple village girl in this multi-award-winning film. In 1961’s other hit Hum Dono she played the love interest of Dev Anand. This black-and-white film was colourized and re-released in 2011. Rediff.com in the film’s review writes about Sadhana; “Her eyes, expressive and captivating, do most of the work, while she balances out her submissiveness with a firm tongue.” The Rafi – Asha duet “Abhi Na Jaao Chodkar” remains evergreen. In 1962, she was again paired with Dev Anand in Asli-Naqli by director Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The same year saw director-screenwriter Raj Khosla cast her opposite Joy in his musical film Ek Musafir Ek Hasina. Khosla would again work with Shivdasani to make their famous suspense thriller trilogy.

In 1963, Shivdasani played her first role in a technicolour film Mere Mehboob directed by H.S.Rawail. The film was the “Blockbuster” of 1963 and ranked in the top 5 films of the 1960s. The scene where Rajendra Kumar encounters Shivdasani for the first time and sees her eyes through her burqa stands as one of the most remarkable scenes of Hindi film industry. Notable actor Danny Denzongpa describes the visage of Sadhana in a burqa with just her eyes visible as “unforgettable.”

Shivdasani in 1964 played her remarkable double role in the first of the suspense-thriller trilogy, Woh Kaun Thi?. This white-sari-clad performance opposite Manoj Kumar earned her first Filmfare nomination as Best Actress. Through this role she got to be part of Lata Mangeshkar – Madan Mohan’s all time classics like “Naina Barse” and “Lag Ja Gale”. Rediff.com called her a show-stopper “with an intriguing Mona Lisa-like smile”. The film was a box office “Hit” Raj Khosla cast her in two more succesaful mystery films, Mera Saaya (1966) and Anita (1967) thus making her famous as the “Mystery girl”. Mera Saaya, a box office “Super Hit” courtroom drama film again saw her playing a double role, now opposite Sunil Dutt. The song “Jhumka Gira Re” sung by Asha Bhosle and composed by Madan Mohan saw Shivdasani perform dance steps choreographed by Saroj Khan. Khan was then an assistant to dance director Sohanlal. The song became so popular that excited audience in cinema halls used to throw coins at the screen. The film also had the classic songs “Naino Mein Badara Chhaye” and the haunting theme song “Tu Jaha Jaha Chalega, Mera Saaya Sath Hoga”, both voiced by Lata Mangeshkar.

Her other notable works in 1960s include performances in Parakh, Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Gaban, Manmauji (1962), Ek Phool Do Mali, Rajkumar (1964 film), Dulha Dulhan, Asli-Naqli, Hum Dono (1961 film), Budtameez and Mere Mehboob.

Shivdasani got her second Filmfare nomination as Best Actress for the role of Meena in Yash Chopra’s directorial saga Waqt (1965). She stood out in Bollywood’s first ever ensemble cast by bringing along the fashion of tight chudidar-kurtas. The film proved to be 1965’s “Blockbuster”.

Sadhana (first from right) with Helen, Waheeda Rehman and Nanda in 2010
Sadhana had health issues due to her thyroid, which she got treated at a hospital in Boston hence did not sign films between 1967 to 1968. After returning from the US, she starred in the successful movies Intaquam (1969), Ek Phool Do Mali (1969), Aap Aye Bahar Ayee (1971), Dil Daulat Duniya (1972), Geeta Mera Naam (1974), which she also directed.

She was paired opposite Rajendra Kumar in films like Mere Mehboob, Arzoo and in film produced by Rajendra Kumar – Aap Aaye Bahar Aayee. Her films with Shammi Kapoor include Rajkumar, Budtameez and Chote Sarkar. In career, she acted in two comedy films – Manmauji opposite Kishore Kumar and later Dil Daulat Duniya with Rajesh Khnana. She acted in only two films in Sindhi language – Abana (1959) and Stree (1968), both of which are regarded as classics. She acted in 33 films as lead heroine but had 27 hits. She acted as junior artiste in only four films.

In Intaquam she played the role of a woman who allures the son of her own boss who cheated her to be put behind the bars for a crime he did not commit, for revenge.Her last successful films were the comedy film Dil Daulat Duniya in 1972 opposite Rajesh Khanna, followed by her directorial venture Geeta Mera Naam.

After that, she retired from acting as she did not want to be cast as a side-actress or do character roles Later, she and her husband formed a production company. She also directed a movie starring Dimple Kapadia in 1989.

Sadhana married her Love in Simla director Ram Krishna Nayyar on 7 March 1966. Their love blossomed on the film set. But as she was very young then, her parents opposed it. They were married for nearly thirty years, until his death in 1995 from asthma. The couple had no children. She suffered from a disorder of her eyes due to hyperthyroidism. After her retirement, she has refused to be photographed simply because she wants to be remembered the way she was. Living in Santacruz, Mumbai, she is a tenant in an apartment building owned by singer Asha Bhosle. In 2013, she stated that she doesn’t keep in touch with her cousin Babita but does keep in touch with actresses Asha Parekh, Waheeda Rehman, Nanda (actress) (who passed away in 2014), and Helen Jairag Richardson.

Sadhana Shivdasani introduced the fringe hairstlye in Indian film industry in her first film Love in Simla. R. K. Nayyar, director of the film and her future husband, suggested the fringe style in order to make her forehead look narrower. Shivdasani says, “They tried to stick a strip near the hair-line, but it didn’t work out.” Nayyar then suggested she go for the fringe style as was then sported by the Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn. The fringe soon became popular and a fashion fad in the 1960s. The style was copied by girls in India and is still known by the same name. This look suited the role of naughty, pretty, glamourous Sonia that she played. But when Shivdasani went on the shoot for Bimal Roy’s Parakh, Roy was disappointed to see her modern look. She had to stick her fringe back in order to match the simple village girl she played here. In 1963, when she signed to play a role of simple Muslim girl from Aligarh in Mere Mehboob, Shivdasani undid her famous “Sadhana Cut” to fit the bill. She had centre-parted her hair and wore it in a plait; which was immediately discarded by the director H.S. Rawail. He said that the audience wanted to see her signature “Sadhana cut” and demanded it. Recently, the Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone sported the same fringe in her films Om Shanti Om (2007) and Chandni Chowk To China (2009).

Shivdasani is also credited for bringing into fashion tight chudidar-kurta. She went with this concept of gracefully changing the traditional loose salwar kameez to her director Yash Chopra for 1965’s film Waqt. Chopra felt insecure and thought that it would not be accepted. But Shivdasani with the help of her fashion designer Bhanu Athaiya showed him a sample, which he liked. The trend lasted well in the 1970s and can be seen to be adopted by many actresses. In a song sequence of “Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte” for the film Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), actress Bipasha Basu dressed herself in a white chudidar-kurta and also frolicked with the famous fringe as a tribute to Sadhana.

In 2014, the seventy-two-year-old Sadhana made a rare public appearance walking the ramp in a pink sari at a fashion show to support the cause for cancer and AIDS patients. She was escorted by her relative actor Ranbir Kapoor.

Despite the fact that many of Shivdasani’s films fared very well at the box office, she did not receive any of the leading awards of the film industry. She was nominated for the Filmfare Award in Best Actress category for her roles in Woh Kaun Thi? and Waqt. For her contribution towards the film industry, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the IIFA in 2002.

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