The launch of Darlingji: The True Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt in New Delhi today coincides with an important, but lesser-known anniversary. This week, 50 years ago, Mother India was released. It’s the classic Indian melodrama celebrating idealistic notions of motherhood and chivalrous honour; and the beginning of the romance between its two lead actors, Sunil Dutt and Nargis. The book begins with Dutt visiting the Umra village in Maharashtra where the film was shot.
Author Kishwar Desai, a journalist and the wife of Lord Meghnad Desai, approached Sunil Dutt for a biography of Nargis Dutt in 2005, but shortly after, he passed away. With the help of daughter Namrata and Priya Dutt, Desai got access to the letters, detailed diaries and photographs of the couple preserved meticulously in the family home. She also interviewed members of Nargis Dutt’s extended family, film stars and contemporaries such as Dilip Kumar and Simi Garewal, Ameen Sayani and others for this book.
Desai chronicles Nargis’ life from the time she arrived in Mumbai with her mother Jaddanbai, a musically-gifted woman who became a host to the who’s who of Bombay’s film industry at mehfils in her home in Marine Drive. Mehboob Khan discovered a 13-year-old Nargis for his film Taqdeer and her cinematic journey followed. Darlingji (the title refers to the name Sunil and Nargis Dutt used to address each other) is also a mirror to the changes that Indian cinema went through after the Partition; the dreams, disappointments and struggles of its early architects.
The riveting chapters of the book, unlike in Mr and Mrs Dutt, another recently penned by daughters Namrata and Priya, are not the relationship between Sunil and Nargis Dutt. The famous love affair between Nargis and Raj Kapoor—intense, but doomed—take that claim. Desai details Nargis’ determined break from Kapoor and the R.K. brand that the both of them built together after Sunil Dutt rescued her from a fire on the sets of Mother India. Her fame after Mother India came at a time when Sunil Dutt was struggling as an actor and there were times when they were on the verge of separation. Nargis’ insecurities and personal failings are based on her diaries and memories of her contemporaries, including her various suicide attempts.
She’s remembered for her powerful lead roles in films such as Shree 420, Awara and Mother India. In this book, she’s human, endearing and fallible.
Darlingji: The True Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt
HarperCollins, 432 pages,
Photos courtesy: Darlingji/HarperCollins