Sadhana, whose birthday passed recently, has stayed away from films for decades. A tribute to the heartthrob of times past.
There are women who are beautiful and there are women who are lovely. But Sadhana was an exception who, apart from being beautiful and lovely, also had graceful and vibrant simplicity to take our breath away. In the golden era of the 1960s, when melody was king, Sadhana lent meaning to many a great song, because the lyrics literally symbolised her demeanour.
Go down nostalgia lane and you realise why she was not just idolised but also regarded as the ultimate “Phoolon ki Rani, Baharon ki Mallika” of everyman’s “Arzoo”. Or why everyone said “Bahut Shukriya, Badi Meherbaani, Meri Zindagi Mein Huzoor Aap Aaye” (“Ek Musafir Ek Haseena”) when she treaded across the screen into their hearts. Unlike modern-day heroines who crave for attention with indecent posture, Sadhana’s dignified presence ignited mass hysteria of adoration whereby she was above reproach, cat calls or ogling.
Never before and never thereafter has any actress generated mass frenzy as Sadhana was able to do with her hairstyle, clothes and fashion accessories in an era devoid of mass media. Not just women but men too were absolutely bonkers about Sadhana’s looks and dresses, sighing and adoring when the actress strode in different costumes across the silver screen. Film devotees recall how from kindergarten to university campuses, girls adorned their foreheads with Sadhana fringes, while also adopting her sartorial accoutrements of exquisitely cut churidaar-kameez with mojdis. So strong was her influence, that from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s you could always see a dozen women inspired by Sadhana’s vision at any function on any given day.
But this did not mean Sadhana was just attractive and elegant. In fact, her inherent talent and haunting on-screen abilities prompted even the great Meena Kumari to label Sadhana as her personal favourite. Surely, none can dispute her assessment especially when it is on par with the opinion of giants like Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, H.S. Rawail and Ramanand Sagar who all found Sadhana a spontaneous actress with remarkable depth of expression. Probably, it would not be wrong to say that Sadhana, alongside her own favourites, Meena Kumari and Nutan, was the most effortless female performer of the Indian cinema. While all three were blessed with immense versatility in terms of dialogue delivery, body language and facial expression, as well as getting into the skin of a character, Sadhana scored over her two idols in terms of her vivacious appeal which made her acceptable in rustic and urbane characters with equal ease. Moreover, she exhibited better dancing skills than the other two and this made her an instant hit with audiences of all ages.
She merely did around 30 films yet established a secure place in the pantheon of greats with her versatility. Everything from a simple village belle to a sophisticated urban woman and a snooty college girl to an orthodox wife, Sadhana enacted her characters with remarkable ease. Look at the giant leap she takes in her roles from “Parakh” to “Hum Dono” or “Mere Mehboob” to “Woh Kaun Thi” or “Waqt” to “Mera Saaya” wherein if she melts into the village girl next-door, she also dissolves into a ritual bound Muslim girl or a mysterious seductress or a nautch girl cum high clan bahu with equal ease, exhibiting a wide repertoire of acting skills within the constricting boundaries of commercial cinema.
Even more appealing is the manner in which Sadhana rendered songs on screen, becoming a piece of lyric herself! Do rewind to the eternal classic “Tera Mera Pyaar Amar” (“Asli Naqli”) where she magnifies a woman in love in her first flush of youth with remarkable serenity… it is a scene to die for just as her twinkling smile in “Chehre Pe Khushi” (“Waqt”) radiates an enormous sense of joy for every beholder. Her fluid expressions add enormously to the impact and emotion of many a song like “Jahan Mein Aisa Kaun Hai’ (“Hum Dono”), “Naina Barse Rhim Jhim” (“Woh Kaun Thi”), or “Mera Saaya Saath Hoga” (“Mera Saaya”).
Despite being a silent performer in many songs, the pictorial eloquence of her countenance adds volumes to the depth of the scene — as deciphered in the immortal song “Mere Mehboob Tujhe” (“Mere Mehboob”) where the mere lifting of her eyebrows results in a classic ambush of collective consciousness! She even stole the limelight from Shammi Kapoor’s solo “Haseen Ho Tum Khuda Nahin Ho” (“Budtameez”) with her delectable tantrums in tune with Rafi’s gyrations just as she matched him step by step in the seductive “Dilruba Dil Pe Tu” (“Rajkumar”).
But once Sadhana realised the era was changing, she quickly vanished behind doors of domesticity. Like a true champion, she made no compromises nor allowed herself to do meagre saas-bahu-mother roles. Guided perhaps by Francis Bacon’s famous observation that “the job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery”, Sadhana may have left the film audiences languishing for her, but has certainly intensified their yearning. If Sadhana today lives a quiet life amidst friends, books and music, who are we to question her choice, especially when she has contributed so much to our joys and memories.