November 6th, 2019 is a very important day in my life, so I thought I’d make this post to talk about what it means to me. November 6th is the day I first watched Mother India starring Nargis, a film that changed me forever for a number of reasons. In addition to introducing me to Bollywood and my favorite actress ever, it is also one of the best films I have ever seen. For the uninitiated, Nargis Dutt was considered one of the most talented Indian actresses of her time- I think she’s the best ever of any nationality, in any time period.
Released in 1957, Mother India has been compared to Gone with the Wind in its scope and impact in cinema. It remains one of the highest grossing Indian films of all time, was one of the most expensive ever made, was the first to be nominated for an Oscar, and is Nargis’s magnum opus, among other things. In fact she was so excellent in this movie that people told her to stop acting as she would never be able to top it. And she did stop acting, save for one film she made in the 60s. Even though this is not a film review but a post about Nargis, it is impossible to separate her from the role of Radha. On the film set is where she met her future husband, who saved her from a fire. And she became the first actress to receive a Padma Shri for her performance. There are many, many things I can discuss about this movie and I probably will in a later post, but the entire film all revolves around Nargis. All of it. She could have been acting against wooden props and nothing would change, it was THAT focused on her. She literally had to play a woman from her marriage to almost her death, encompassing so many emotions that I can’t even get into it right now. I know acting is just a job but I don’t know how she did it. Nobody else could.
We had to watch Mother India for a film class, so I got to experience it in a theater too. I will never forget anything about how I felt that night, what I saw, and how I reacted to it. It was literally like a seismic shift in my life. I vividly remember being about halfway through the movie and thinking, “okay, this is the best actress I have ever seen”. I was just in complete awe of her. This scene cemented that opinion for me. I remember walking to my apartment on campus in the dark, sitting by a chair in the lobby and just thinking and trying to process everything. And then I tweeted this:
Almost immediately, I started to stan her harder than I have ever stanned anyone before. Within a few days I made an Instagram for her, changed my Twitter username to nargisji, ordered a book about her, like you name it I have done it. I don’t think I can ever really explain how much I love her and connect to her, nothing will ever be enough. She was just the sweetest, most charitable, most talented, gorgeous person to ever live. I literally cry thinking about her sometimes. I have looked up so many anecdotes about her that I might make a post about that too, and a few have even made me cry as well (a lot of things make me cry). I cannot get enough of her honestly, I have to know everything because she’s just everything. And EVERYONE loved Nargis, everyone. She could do no wrong, her nickname was “Baby”. She had tons of fans probably just as intense as me. Surprisingly, a lot of them were in Russia. Here she is there promoting a film:
What’s so amazing to me about Nargis is that she was a total renaissance woman- she didn’t even want to act but she was so naturally gifted at it. A director literally showed up at her house and asked her to read lines when she was 14 years old and they hired her on the spot. And actually, he sort of guilt tripped her into it, he told her people would be fired if the movie didn’t get made with her specifically in the lead role. Honestly it’s sort of sad-her family made her the breadwinner when she was very young, which is still not that uncommon. But Nargis always liked helping people other than herself, and never complained outside of letters she wrote to her husband. She was also a very gifted writer, and I’ll post pictures of that underneath this post.
Nargis has been described by others as resilient, very generous, humble, spirited, and a well-rounded person. She described herself as introverted and basically resilient. I could talk about how talented she is as an actress for years but her post Mother India life was probably what Nargis would want us to remember her by: a mother and a social worker. Despite how talented and revered she was, she gave up acting to raise her family. As her daughter put it, “Mom never regretted quitting films. She’d say, “I reached my peak. I’ve given so much to my work. I want to enjoy the other things of life. Family is what I want. It’s not a sacrifice.” Nargis wanted to be a doctor all her life, but instead of that she took up social work after her marriage and excelled at it. In a documentary her daughter Priya made about Nargis, someone described her as genuinely interested in what she was doing-this wasn’t a star type of thing to make her look good. She actually gave a shit.
“Giving a shit” was kind of her thing. Nargis was so passionate and loved the people in her life very very deeply. I mean there was never a time where she wasn’t throwing parties for her kids, helping out at their school, cooking, knitting stuff for them, trying to make her husband happy by having a perfect home, talking to her friends constantly, helping out at The Spastic Society where she was the first ever patron (not very PC, it refers to cerebral palsy and they changed the name later), she was a politician at one point, she met Mother Theresa, she even raised her brother’s children. She gave so much of herself to others all her life and was so kind, and that is maybe her greatest legacy. Anyone who knew her and who has talked about her makes a mention of it. These are passages from a book by an actor who knew her.
Nargis dedicated entire self to her family and after she died, they fell apart and had to learn how to put themselves back together again without her help. She died 40 years ago and the Dutts still talk about her regularly. Look who’s hanging in the back of her daughter’s icon! Priya is my favorite child of Nargis because she described herself as almost physically attached to her and talks about her the most. She helps run the Nargis Dutt Foundation, which works towards health care, women’s empowerment, and education among other things. They also have a charitable trust set up in her name.
Despite all that I’ve said so far, Nargis wasn’t a perfect person and she wasn’t always an angel. These complexities make me appreciate her as a human being more. I talk about her very glowingly but she has fucked up. She had an affair with director Raj Kapoor for almost 10 years, and she really thought he would leave his wife for her that entire time. Finally she broke up with Raj and apologized to his wife years later. People never begrudged her for it because she basically never bothered Krishna Kapoor or anyone really, handled it with grace never talked about it for the rest of her life after she walked out. But I mean…don’t do that, sis. She told her husband she wished it never happened. Nargis was also known to have quite a temper, said shitty things about a director once, and has made at least one very mean comment about another actress. That’s about it. Her good qualities far outweigh the bad, and people are complicated.
Because God isn’t real, Nargis unfortunately did not get to grace us with her presence on earth for very long. She died when she was only 51 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. This is literally like the hardest kind of cancer to detect early and because of that it is almost always fatal- I know because I looked it up and made myself really upset. The worst thing about it is nobody deserves the amount of true suffering she went through. And yet-the worst kind of agony imaginable was saved for the most wonderful human being that has ever lived. I said “God isn’t real” more as a figure of speech but after she died, her family really did remove statues of gods and put pictures of her in place of them. I can’t say I blame them. They stopped believing because nothing worked no matter how hard they prayed, but she still stayed alive. This woman had 7 surgeries done and a hole in her side that they left open because they were worried another surgery would kill her, she had to prick her fingers and have dialysis done, she went under a coma and came out of it, she was known as the miracle woman of Sloan Kettering and she still passed away just days before the debut of her beloved son’s first movie. In fact the cancer was GONE, but she died from an infection because her immune system was so weak. Nargis told her husband that wanted to be there even if she had to be in a wheelchair, so they left a chair empty for her at the premiere. This is all very, very bleak and makes me so angry, it’s just a reminder of how cruel nature or God or whatever you want to call it can really be. But her innate goodness still shines through in the most touching way that still resonates today through her legacy. Despite all of what she went through, she told her husband that she shouldn’t have been brought to New York for treatment. When he asked her why, she said that everyone should be able to have the same access to great healthcare that she did.
This is the kind of human being she was. She was literally on her deathbed still thinking about other people.
This touched Sunil and he spent the rest of his life trying to live up to her request. He set up the foundation for her and made a documentary about cancer, among other things. Nargis wouldn’t want us to dwell on her sad her death was, she wanted to help others, and through the foundation she gets to do that to this day.
This is a MONSTER of a post that I didn’t plan on making. I will definitely make more Nargis posts in the future- I haven’t even gotten into her relationship with her husband which is so fascinating. I am super emotional and I’ll probably watch another one of her movies later this week-maybe Shree 420. I was going to today but time always gets away from me. Truthfully, I have been putting off watching her filmography even though I know virtually everything about her because I don’t want to run out of movies, and I know I can always rewatch them but it’ll hurt. She died years before I was born but I still miss her so much. I think she’d find my stanning method amusing and she’d be shocked to even have fans. I am definitely the most active one right now, there was another Nargis account on instagram that had pictures even I haven’t seen but she deactivated 😦 Anyway, I just wanted to put this into the universe today. I love you forever, Nargis. You are the best actress of all time, one of my favorite people and you always will be. ❤️
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