My earliest recollection of Nanda is of her singing Allah tero naam in Hum Dono. I loved the film but I was Team Sadhana. I must have been around six or seven years old when I saw the film and, in my mind, Hum Dono was Sadhana and Dev Anand’s love story.
After all, they had all the romantic shimmer— the rich girl-poor boy conflict, the musical lighter and Abhi naa jaao chhod kar.
Really is there a more romantic song in the entire filmography of the Hindi film industry than this timeless soul lovin’ Rafi-Asha song? To my kid’s brain, Nanda came between Sadhana and Dev. I was most upset that she mistook Captain Anand as her husband, Major Verma. I had a lot of issues with her.
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Somehow her face (especially that big bindi) and Lata Mangeshkar’s voice never left me. Allah tero naam grew old with me. Nanda became the face of the song. I don’t know how she did it but the way she performed it on screen— completely immersed in it — it was as if she, and not Lataji, was singing it. Years later, I would learn what an acting masterstroke that is.
Nanda was a no fuss actress. She didn’t need much to be impactful. She was simple, understated, basic, classic. She was the lady with the gulaabi aankhen. She was someone who could play Dev Anand’s sister in Kala Bazaar and romance him as his wife. She had no qualms in supporting younger actors— Jeetendra, Manoj Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra and, of course, Shashi Kapoor who made their careers with her able support. She brought a certain naturalness to all her portrayals.
She was as intriguingly effective in Ittefaq as she was as the Western memsaab in Jab Jab Phool Khile, who danced for herself in a gown to Yeh sama, sama hai yeh pyaar ka. For someone who started out as a child actor (for many of her fans she remains Baby Nanda), she gracefully made the transition to character roles — she just did three films, strangely all with Padmini Kolhapure — but her performance in Prem Rog is one for the ages.
I always felt that out of all the actresses, Nanda cried the best on screen. Of course Meena Kumari is the legendary Tragedy Queen but when it comes to natural crying, Nanda gets a gold star from me. But the most striking Nanda thing was her authenticity in songs. Just look at her in Ek pyaar ka nagma hai. Every time Nanda sings Zindagi aur kuch bhi nahin teri meri kahani hai, I buy it. Always.