Feb 9, 2006 a scroll at the bottom of a news channel frame announced – “Nadira died early in the morning. She was suffering from meningitis. She was 74”… it took a few moments for the news to sink in; “Nadira ji has expired!” Instantly a large net of memories from the past fell over me. In so many years in this field I developed relationships of various levels with many actors, technicians and workers. As I think today, Nadira would be a very special for me. The reason for is not so much that I found many great qualities in her; but in the fact that she made me feel special. When we worked together, our relationship was only becoming better. I did not work for this relationship to grow. She did. She just decided that this is the way she will be towards me and she stuck to it.
She has been around since ‘Aan’ and I was too junior to her. In the start of my career, I worked with her only in three films, ‘Darling Darling’, ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ and ‘Aap Ki Khatir’. In the first film I was only an assistant and second film (Ishq Ishq Ishq) was my first film as an independent recordist. So I was completely raw then. I also did an interview with her for Plus Channel much later. But I guess I met her last time many years back in a party. She had been very affectionate and kind to me right from ‘Darling Darling’. I used to live as a paying guest in Girgaon, then. And she was in a building called Vasundhara at the Peddar road. So every day after shoot’s pack up at the Mehboob studios, she would approach me to ask if I was going home. If I was free then I would immediately say yes, but as a technician some time I would take time wrap up things and put them back neatly. In that case she would wait for me for a few minutes without any problem. I would get a lift in her red ‘Triumph’ to Haji Ali, from where I would take a taxi home. At this point I must mention two other gentlemen too who so willingly gave me lifts in their Benz and Premier cars, numerous times. They were cinematographers Late Fali Mistry and Late Jal Mistry. Nadira was a very kind hearted and helpful person. It is my honor to put on record some notable incidences in my life of which Nadira was a part.
Once after ‘Darling Darling’ shoot at Mehboob studios her car stopped at the Bandra station crossing. The signal turned red and as always beggars of all kind surround the cars to beg. They start knocking the car windows and pester people. Nadira ji was wiping her sweaty face with a napkin, when a beggar in white shirt and pant extended his palm towards her. There it goes, I thought. She looked at his face through her large glares and in a moment her body was shaking. Just before the signal turned green she managed to dish out a fiver, gave him and sped on. Five rupees was big money that time. My ‘conveyance allowance’ used to be that much. But I realized at the next red signal she was completely worked up and was crying bitterly. I was zapped. Patting her shoulder to comfort her, I asked, ‘who was he Nadira ji?’ She told me, ‘that man was ‘Purushottam’. He has acted in 5-6 films a long time ago in lead roles. But as you can see, he has turned into a total wreck and a drunkard.’ She had seen him after ages, she told. She stopped the car at Haji Ali and I got off…
Much later I came to know that she called up right people and spoke about Purushottam that got him some work on television. She also got him an interview on local Bombay TV station and somehow organized a small regular income that would be sent directly to his family. She did not want Purushottam to have access to that money as it would be lost on liquor.
Second incidence is from ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’. In October 1973 I was in Pokhara, Nepal for a three month long shooting schedule. In a few days only I fell sick very badly due to some stomach ailment. Only thing I remember today is that my stomach pained horribly. Somehow Nadira saw me looking sick and immediately took me to her hotel room and organized a doctor. She was staying close to the shooting area. After she came to know of the cause of sickness, she ordered an extra bed for me in her own room. It was placed on the floor in the middle of her and her maid’s bed. She ordered prescribed diet food for me from the hotel kitchen. She gave me prescribed dozes on time herself or her maid if she was not there. I was sick for 6 whole days. She totally took care of me for all those days. Very gradually I got better and went for shoot from her room itself. My friends had got my clothes from my room. She did not allow me to go to my hotel for many days. Only after ensuring from doctor that I was completely well, she let me to go my own hotel.
Sadly this news traveled to Bombay totally distorted and spiced. People asked me strange questions about her. They spoke to her also similarly. She was mad at all this, but could not avoid this hearsay.
Last important incidence happened sometime in mid 90s. This was the first time I went her house. We were shooting her interview for Plus. During long Q&A session she spoke eloquently about her past. Among many details of shooting of ‘Aan’, she narrated incidence multiple retakes of a ‘slap shot’ with Dilip Kumar and how she endured all the pain. She was ecstatic when Raj Kapoor approached her for a song ‘Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh’in Shri 420. She had high regards for the great film maker.
After a while during the interview she was not required, as we were taking random shots of her house, trophies, photographs etc. I saw her standing near her bedroom door and realized that she looked very different. I was sure she had a drink or two, as she looked clearly intoxicated. Her personality changed and suddenly she seemed very frail. Her maids saw this and helped her to her bed. She lied down and called me to sit near her. I was a little scared because she was not in her senses and was looking unwell. Any ways I sat down next to her. Then she found a comb, gave it to me and asked me to comb her hair. It was crazy. I have been very close to her. But I felt totally awkward in the presence of my unit members. More over I was a senior person in ‘Plus’ and ‘Arunji (me) combing Nadira’s hair’ did not make a pretty picture. Next thing she did was to ask me to call her Mama. After being forced a few times, I said ‘Ok mama. She said ‘no ok mama, just mama’. I said, ‘Nadira mama’. She said ‘NO, not Nadira mama, just Mama.’ Well I had to call her mama many times over, to handle her swinging mood.
This factual stuff may sound comic and odd; but it’s not difficult for any sensible person to realize what ‘Nadira mama’ had gone through in her personal life; how much she got, what she lost and what she could never get…
TV news said ‘Nadira was admitted to a hospital at Tardeo’. She was suffering from meningitis and other ailments’. As I heard this I wore my shoes and started on my journey to Tardeo some 30 km from my home. I reached the hospital and asked the staff to guide me to her room. But I was not allowed to go up there as she was in ICU and was in coma. A kind lady told me that I could come back and see her when she is out of ICU. I turned back disappointed. I knew it in my bones that I was not going to see her again, ever.
I felt it ironic that with her life, were gone my chances of returning the huge favor I owed her.