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Nargis Dutt was born Fatima Rashid on June 1, 1929 in Allahabad, India. Her first film was Taqdeer in 1943, but it was not until she played a role in Mehboob Khan’s Andaaz in 1949 that she became a star. With her portrayal of a modern girl caught between Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar in the 1949 film Barsaat, Nargis achieved widespread fame.1 She was described as the “perfect muse” for Raj Kapoor, whose film company produced the movie because of Nargis’s unconventional beauty.2
As an actress, Nargis was said to have brought a sense of authenticity and self-assurance to every role she played. She was described as “savagely elemental” in Anhonee and possessed a “sense of quietness” in Jogan.3
However, she may be best remembered for her portrayal of strength and purpose in Mother India in 1957. Mother India is the story of an Indian peasant and a remake of the 1940 film Aurat. The title is said to be an allegory for Mother Earth and Nargis’ performance in this role, in which she cruelly kills her own son in the end, won her a Best Actress Award at the Karlovy Vary Festival. The film was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
During the shooting of Mother India, Nargis met her future husband Sunil Dutt. After marriage, Nargis focused her attention on humanitarian causes. Still, her voice and silhouette appeared in Sunil Dutt’s Yaadein in 1964 and in 1967 she portrayed a woman with a split personality in Raat ur Din, for which she won the Indian National Award.
In 1981, Nargis died of cancer at the age of 52. Her family set up the Nargis Dutt Memorial Foundation to continue charitable work in her name,4 while her son Sanjay Dutt followed in his parents’ footsteps and became an actor.5