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Sadhana – The Hindi Film ‘Style Icon’ of 1960s

Sadhana – The Hindi Film ‘Style Icon’ of 1960s

The real-life “mystery girl” rarely gave interviews and didn’t like to be photographed saying that she wants her fans to remember her as a young, beautiful, heroine.

The highest-paid actress of her time faced hard times in later years, lived in a rented flat and had no child of her own.  

Today is birthday of Sadhana Shivdasani who was born on 2nd September 1941 in Karachi Sindh. Known by the mononym Sadhana, she was an Indian film actress, who appeared in many successful films of 1960s and 70s. Regarded as one of the greatest f finest top leading film actresses in the history of Hindi cinema, Sadhana was the highest-paid actress of her time from early 1960s to late 1970s. Popularly known as ‘The Mystery Girl’, Sadhana was one of the most beautiful actresses during that period regarded as Bollywood’s ‘golden era’. She was active from 1960 to 1981. She passed away on 25th December 2015 in Mumbai.

Actress-sadhanaFamily background, birth-name, childhood and debut

Sadhana was named after her father’s favorite actress Sadhona Bose. Her father and actor Hari Shivdasani were brothers. Hari’s daughter Babita Kapoor was also actress. Sadhana was the only child of her parents who made her the center of their lives. Sadhna’s mother home-schooled her until she was 8 years old. The family fled from Karachi in Pakistan during post-partition riots. Although they encountered difficult times, their daughter was allowed to see as many as two films a week. When she was 15 years old, she was discovered by some producers who had seen her act in a college play. They cast her in India’s first Sindhi film titled ‘Abana’ (1960), where she played the heroine’s younger sister for which she was paid a token of one rupee. The film became a major hit. A photograph of her publicizing the film appeared in a movie magazine. Subodh Mukherji, one of India’s leading producers at that time, saw the magazine and gave her the lead role in her first Hindi film ‘Love in Simla’ (1959), opposite his newcomer son Joy Mukherjee. The film was directed by another newcomer, R.K. Nayyar, who created her trademark look called ‘The Sadhana fringe.’ It was modeled after Audrey Hepburn’s hairstyle to cover up Sadhana’s flaw, her broad forehead. The film became a great success and Sadhana became an overnight star.

Sadhana continued making films and became the one of the biggest stars of the 1960s with hits like Mere Mehboob, Hum Dono, and Asli-Naqli. In addition to the ‘Sadhana fringe,’ she started the trend of the churidar pyjama and kameez with saleem shahi in the film Waqt (1965). Her acting in that film was appreciated too, as she was nominated for a Film Fare Award as Best Actress. She was fluent in several languages, including Sindhi (her mother tongue), Hindi, and English.

Mystery Girl

Sadhana had stated that she subconsciously modeled her acting style after her idol, Nutan. Most of her films were major hits, and many of them still remembered as all-time classics. Her films such as Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Raaj Kumar, Budtameez and Arzoo were known for their romantic plots and beautiful music, but Raj Khosla, her director in Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, saw an enigmatic, mysterious side to Sadhana and cast her in Woh Kaun Thi (1964). The film became a huge hit with its themes of the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo (1958) and gave Sadhana her signature role of the “mystery girl,” where her performance kept everyone guessing till the very end. She was nominated for a Film Fare Award as Best Actress. Khosla later directed her in two more box-office hit suspense thrillers, Mera Saaya (1965) and Anita (1968).

Actress-Sadhna-3Love, Marriage and difficult times

Sadhana also worked well with her leading men Shammi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, and Raj Kapoor. In fact, it was Raj Kapoor who reintroduced her to her first film director R.K. Nayyar. Sadhna and Nayyar fell in love and wanted to get married. Her mother was against it, since Nayyar wasn’t a Sindhi, but Sadhana was adamant and with her father backing her up. Sadhana and Nayyar married in 1966 and it seemed like she retired from films.

At first, she was content to be a housewife and took cooking lessons and became well-known in the film industry for her culinary skills. But she had serious health problems with her thyroid, and she went to Boston for treatment and she recovered, but there was a physical change. The thyroid condition affected the appearance of her eyes. Her husband’s financial problems propelled her return to films after a two-year absence and delivered the hit film Inteqam (1969) directed by her husband followed by another hit film Ek Phool Do Mali (1969). She and Nayyar went through a difficult time when she suffered a miscarriage. Later they had no children.

Actress-Sadhna-4She directed and starred in her last film playing dual roles in Geeta Mera Naam (1974), which was a box office hit. She wanted to end her acting career in Hindi films just as she started, in a starring role as a young heroine. She didn’t want to play supporting character roles as an old mother or a bhabhi (sister-in-law), so she retired as an actress and formed a production company with her husband. Their marriage lasted until his death in the 1990s. She closed down the Production Company and retired, quietly living the life of a widow.

The real-life “mystery girl” rarely gave interviews and didn’t like to be photographed saying that she wants her fans to remember her as a young, beautiful, heroine. She faced turbulent times in her later years.

 Sadhana lived as a tenant in an apartment building for many years, when the builder wanted to evict her in 2012. Suddenly, she was thrust into the public eye when she went to the police station to file a complaint against the builder. Several court cases came out of this incident, and the stress took a toll on her fragile health. In an interview Sadhna said the builder threatened to kill her.  

She also was estranged from her cousin Babita Kapoor because of a family problem. She did keep in touch with her friends Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, Helen, and Nanda. She once said that she and Nanda were alike, since they don’t step out at public events. However, when Nanda died in 2014, she lost her comrade, and thus she suddenly changed her stance on public events. Just a few weeks later, she invited her relative, actor Ranbir Kapoor, to escort her on the ramp of a fashion show for charity. She wore a beautiful pink sari and took center-stage on the arm of the handsome young Kapoor. She looked cheerful and glamorous being in the limelight with the audience applauding her. That turned out to be her last public event, and the star that she was, she wanted that to be her lasting impression on her fans. It also left a lasting impression on her, since she kept a framed picture of her and Ranbir from that fashion show on her nightstand. A year-and-a-half later, on December 25, 2015, she died from a high fever. Her friends, fans, and the film industry veterans all attended her funeral.

Personal stuff like letters, notes and photographs were found with a scrap dealer in 2018.Film Heritage Foundation an NGO later claimed the stuff.

Actress-Sadhna-2More about Sadhna

In her life, she didn’t attend funerals, because she hated it. However, when her Waqt (1965) director Yash Chopra died, she visited his widow privately. She did the same, when her Dil Daulat Duniya (1972) leading man Rajesh Khanna died, by visiting his widow Dimple Kapadia.

On the set of her first film, Sindhi film “Abana”, in which she had a supporting role, she asked the film’s star, Sheila Ramani for an autograph. Ramani scribbled, “One day, I’ll come and ask you for your autograph.” She was the first who recognized Sadhana’s star potential.

She affectionately called her husband R.K. Nayyar ‘Rummy’.

Although, she stopped acting in 1974, five of her films had delayed releases, the last being Ulfat Ki Nayee Manzilen (1994), released twenty years later. Sadhana hadn’t completed her work in it, so a double was used for some of her scenes.

From 1959 to 1974, she acted as the heroine in 33 films. Of these 28 were blockbusters and only 5 flops. Earlier before 1960 she had acted in 5 films as child artiste.

With her first starring role Love in Simla (1960), Sadhana was bound by a three-year contract to the studio Filmalaya. The first year she was paid 750 rupees a month, the second year 1500 rupees a month, and the final year 3000 rupees a month. Once the contract ended, Sadhana commanded top money for her films.

She missed not having children. In 2012 she said “Yes, I do fear that if something happens to me, no one would be around. But even those who have children can’t depend on them. I know so many mothers who’re distressed about their children and daughters-in-law, that I think God has been kind to me. I’ve adopted (though not officially) a baby when she was five minutes old. She and her parents live with me. Her name is Rhea. She’s added a zing to my life. I don’t expect anything from her yet she gives me so much love. She calls me Nani. I’ve planned for her education and marriage.”

Her husband Nayyar once told her, ‘You have three voices. One is your natural every day voice, another voice that you use to scream at me, and the third is the voice you have cultivated for screen’.

After the India-Pakistan Partition in 1947, my family came to India. I was only six years old. We moved from Delhi to Banaras to Calcutta before settling down in Mumbai in 1950. Now, I can’t imagine living without the Mumbai Sea. In Mumbai, people give you space and yet rally around in your hour of need. Besides, it’s the only place where, even in the ’60s I could announce that I wanted a whiskey with coke without raising eyebrows.


Courtesy: IMDM, Wikipedia, The Hindu, Times of India and other websites