If you were a college girl in the early- to mid-’60s, especially in North India, there were high chances that you wore a clinging knee-length kurta, tight churidars to go, and a single pony or plait adorned by a fringe.
Street fashion has always been dictated by cinema trends, and what stars donned became the style du jour. During the ’60s, when Sadhana was all the rage, there was nothing as influential as the ‘Sadhana Cut’, and that outfit — her own creation — which looked as if the wearer had been poured into it. An ultra-stylish aunt who used to carry off that look once told me that the secret was an invisible zip on the side, which opened just enough to let you get into the kurta, and woe betide you if you had to scramble out of it in a hurry: it almost always tore.
Sadhana passed away Friday morning in a Mumbai hospital after a brief illness, and with her has gone yet another leading lady who personified timeless elegance and grace.
She belonged to an era when Hindi cinema was transitioning from the slow ’50s construction of the still-young nation, to the more playful, chaotic ’60s, in which the contours of India were much more clearly visible, and young men and women were free to engage in a more modern, contemporary manner: they could fall in love and fight class battles, and sometimes, even win.
That fringe was a perfect accessory for a young actress who played, with equal ease, a village belle and a city girl, and who wore, with similar poise, a ghaghra and a sleeveless dress. Her first Hindi film (her debut was in India’s first Sindhi film, in which she played the sizzling Shiela Ramani’s younger sister) was the 1960 hit Love In Shimla, in which she played the romantic lead opposite the producer’s son, Joy Mukherjee.
It was directed by R K Nayyar, who later became her husband, and who, more importantly, created that very Audrey Hepburn like-cut: it began as a ploy to hide her “too-wide” forehead, but it became Sadhana’s trademark from the get go.
The film had great music (I challenge you to listen to Gaal gulaabi kiske hain without breaking into a yodel). Mukherjee was successfully launched: that was the chief purpose of the film; his leading lady, as a great fringe benefit, pardon the pun, became the girl of the moment.
She remained on top through the ’60s, sharing space with such lovelies as Nanda, Babita (her cousin), Saira Banu, Asha Parekh and Sharmila Tagore. She worked with all the top heroes of the time: Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Raaj Kumar, Manoj Kumar. Most of her films (Mera Saaya, Parakh, Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Mere Mehboob, Woh Kaun Thi, Waqt) have remained in our memories because of the music: Naina barse, Lag ja gale, Tu jahaan jahaan chalega, mera saya saath hoga are still as haunting; Abhi na jaao chhod kar is an all-time romantic ditty; and that song-and-dance which displayed her chulbula side, Jhumka gira re Bareilly ke bazaar mein, choreographed by Saroj Khan, is unforgettable.
Sadhana also possessed lovely, speaking eyes (fans went into raptures over her “khubsoorat aankhen” visible in a burqa in Mere Mehboob), outlined in thick, fishtailed kajal, a style enjoying a revival of sorts currently.
They tried getting rid of the fringe, but it was no-go. If it was Sadhana, then her fans wanted her just so, and that’s the way it stayed till the ’70s, when she made her last few films, directing one. She then slid from public view, wanting to be remembered as the pristine beauty on screen: there were sporadic stories of her being involved in a legal wrangle over the house she lived in; she appeared at a show-for-a-cause with Ranbir Kapoor sometime in 2014. The grace was intact. So was that fringe.
Time to bring it back, as a fitting tribute?