Nanda, a star of the '60s and '70s known for working with new heroes of her time relives the old memories. Daughter of producer, director and actor, Master Vinayak (Vinayak Damodar Karnataki), Nanda was the third born in the family comprising of seven brothers and sisters. "Sometimes I used to wonder why, in a family as big as mine, I was the favourite child of my parents. My father and mother (Sushila) were, to me, like a god and a goddess. My father used to relate stories of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Capt. Laxmi, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru etc. My parents were instrumental in imparting high moral and cultural values in all of us. This is the time when the young girl dreamt of becoming another Capt. Laxmi."
When Nanda was 5 years old, one day her father came up to her and said, "You have to work in my film." The young girl was taken aback and for a moment saw her dreams of becoming a second Capt. Laxmi being shattered. "He tried his best to cajole me in agreeing but I put my foot down and said "Nothing doing". Later my mother pacified me into giving in, saying, "Your father loves you and that is why he chose you to star in his film. Later when Nanda gave her nod, to her surprise, she was told that she would have to play a boy in the film. "I wondered why did he have to choose me when my father could have taken any of my brothers to play a role? After much explanation I agreed to do the film and that was Mandir (1948). While making the film my father expired. After his death, Dinkar Patil completed the film. Having tasted filmdom, Baby Nanda decided to do films besides attending school. First she did Jaggu(1952) as a child artiste in which Shyama was playing the heroine. In 1954 she did Shankaracharya and Jagat Guru. In the same year she did Angaray directed by K.B. Lal that starred Nargis and Nasir Khan and had a good supporting cast that included Vanmala, Jagirdar, Jeevan among others. "Then she did Dinkar Patil's Kuldaivat followed by Shevgacha Shenga produced by Sadashiv Row Kavi and directed by Shantaram Athavle.
Once there was a wedding at V. Shantaram's place. "He called up my elder sister Meena and requested her to also get me for the marriage but with a saree on. I did the same and in the middle of the party, Shantaram came up to us and promptly told Meena, "She is the heroine of my next film." But when Meena said that I looked too young to be a heroine of a film, Shantaram shot back saying, "The story of my film involving a brother and a sister demands a young girl and I am sure Nanda will fit the role perfectly." The film was Toofan Aur Diya(1956) and this was the first Hindi film of Baby Nanda's career. "After that there was no looking back and I decided not to pursue with my studies any more. And the girl Baby Nanda became Nanda."
As I changed tracks, offers started pouring in but I started getting sister-roles. On these lines I got Bhabhi and Dulhan (1957), Agra Road, Pehli Raat and Chhoti Bahen(1959) and Kala Bazar (1960), After Chhoti Bahen became a very big hit, people started signing me as a heroine. I started getting good offers and my first few films were Hum Dono (with Dev Anand in 1961), Char Diwari (with Shashi Kapoor in 1961), Aaj aur Kal and Usne Kaha Tha (both with Sunil Dutt in 1963). Soon big banners started approaching me with good offers. "I excelled in doing emotional roles. It was said in filmy circles that it was first Meena Kumari and then me who excelled in doing emotional type of roles," avers Nanda.
For Nanda, romance didn't come when it was needed the most; and when it came, a stroke of bad luck never allowed her to make the most of it. Her affair with Manmohan Desai was shortlived as within two years after their engagement on June 18, 1992, Desai expired. "This phase was the shortest and the sweetest phase of my life. In this period I came to know what is love, in fact I learnt the reason to live. Though Manji and I never worked together, we fell in love with each other. "You are like a goddess and am very fortunate to have you in my life," he had said, recalls Nanda adding, "We were supposed to get married. That was the time when my mother contracted Cancer and I being deeply attached to my mother was constantly besides her. Manji said, 'I will not marry you now. If I do so, your love will get divided between your mother and me and that is what I don't want,' he had stressed. Nanda's mother expired in 1993 while in the following year she lost Manji.
Three people influenced Nanda the most
In Kala Bazar, Nanda played sister to the then one of the three 'muskeeters' Dev Anand. Devsaab was impressed a lot of my performance and started treating her like family. "One day he came upto me and said, " Nanda, one day I will play your hero. A year later Devsaab came to sign me as a heroine for his Hum Dono in which I played his seedhi saadhi wife. The role, the film and the music were well-received. One day at a party, he came up and said, " Now you will have to play a modern girl in my film and incidentally the film was Teen Deviyan. I saw that Devsaab was a man of words. Later I found out that he was constantly gauging my talent. I have a lot of gratitude towards him," she asserts.
As a child, Nanda used to watch Dilip Kumar films like Kohinoor, Devdas etc and rave about him. "The first time I met Dilipsaab was at Bharat Bhushan's party. I was a little shy and was afraid to go and meet him. As the party went on, at one time we came face to face with each other. As our eyes met, he said, " You are Master Vinayak's daughter. I wish you all the best." I found him to be well-mannered, well-behaved and very courteous and till today, he hasn't changed a bit. Both he and Sairaji take lot of care of me. In fact they are the ones whom I found besides me when I was in the midst of bad times."
Raj Kapoor knew Master Vinayak very well through his previous association. Rajji was making Boot Polish. It so happened that he was auditioning a lot of child artistes for the film, among whom besides Baby Naaz and Baby Tabbasum I was also present. After the screen test, he called me over, spoke high about my father and then lamented, "Sorry, I can't take you in the film because in no way do you look like a beggar."
"When I was at the twilight of my film career, I met Rajji at Yash Johar's party at my best friend Waheeda Rehman's house. He asked me why I was not doing any films. On my giving an excuse he immediately asked me whether I would work in his film. I thought he was joking and in the same vein said 'Yes'. To my surpise on the second or third day after that, I got a call from Rajji. "According to me, you would fit the role of Chhoti Bahu in my film; would you do it" he asked. "Not before I read the script." I answered. The next day I found Jainendra Jain with the script in my house. After going through the script I guessed that there were three scenes where I could score in and I did Prem Rog opposite Kulbhushan Kharbanda.
Among her co-stars Nanda treats Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar as the people who played a vital role in her career. All the rest including Shashi Kapoor, Dharmendra and Manoj Kumar - all newcomers were good to her."I have also worked with Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra, Sanjay Khan and Sanjeev Kumar. But by the time I played my last role as a heroine I sensed a change of attitude in everybody and that is when I decided to leave films, " sighs Nanda. In her life Nanda had few friends but the ones she had continue to be so and close. Among her best friends are Waheeda Rehman, Helen, Shammi, Asha Parekh, Sadhana besides Saira Banu. "All of us friends meet at regular intervals but it is only Sairaji's house that I visit."