Sadhana Shivdasani was a fairly decent actress, but more than that, she was a beauty, a trend-setter, a phenomenon.
A year into our marriage, when my wife was in Kashmir recuperating after the birth of our son, she called me one evening. She sounded little fitful. When I asked her the reason, she roared that she saw a dream that an older woman was living with me in our flat. I told her I had made a collage of some of my favorite pictures of Sadhana the actress, and put it up on one of our walls in the hallway. The dream was true in some ways.
The fact is I’m not just a Sadhana fan, in that sense. I do believe with good conviction that I’m in love with her. And it’s not just the love of a fan towards an actress, it’s something more. Something else! Al Pacino says his favorite actress is Julie Christie – Lara from Doctor Zhivago fame, because she is the most poetic actress. Same can be said about Sadhana. She owned a face which would invariably inspire you to rattle off a couple of lines as an ode to her beauty, her subtlety, her femininity. On her mannerisms and affectations, which were her signet.
Sadhana is at her enchanting best as a belle in songs like abhi na jao chod kar from Hum Dono, where, in a childlike affection, she has a tete-a-tete with Dev Anand. The lyrical fluidity of the Sahir Ludhianavi song accentuates the entire mood. I don’t think this song could have been picturized on any other actress. Or the Madan Mohan composed lag jaa gaale from Woh Kaun Thi.
In an age when movies in Hindi film industry were largely about social issues and aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, and very less emphasis was on fashion, Sadhana was a sort of an aberrant, a fashionista who made unmistakable statements through trends that she set. She was an icon in her Audrey Hepburn inspired fringe, known in India as Sadhana Cut. What better proof of her sense of style that the tight churidar and mojris she wore in Yash Chopra’s Waqt are still in vogue. If you happen to take a look at family albums of the 60s and 70s, Sadhana imprint is all over the girls and women.
There is a very famous incident that occurred on the sets of her first film, in which she had a small supporting role. She asked the film’s heroine Sheila Ramani for autograph. Ramani scribbled: “One day I will come for your autograph.” It was hard to ignore Sadhana’s star potential even very early in her career.
As for the popular fringe, there is an interesting anecdote. It was her to-be husband R.K Nayyar whom she fondly called Rummy who advised her to cover her broad forehead. Those days Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck had just released. Sadhana was promptly sent to a Chinese hairdresser and the famous Sadhana fringe was born.
Being a trend setter that she was, the tight fusion churidars was her idea to her costume designer, Banu Athiya. One day during the filming of Waqt, when Yash Chopra saw her wearing a sleeveless, gold embroidered kurti, churidar and mojris, he immediately gave thumbs-up to the chic look, stating that it was exactly the look he wanted for his heroine. That costume can be seen in the Ravi-compsed hum jab simat ke aapki bahon mai aagaye, which is shot in Srinagar’s Lalit Grand Palace’s majestic gardens.
Sadhana’s love affair with Kashmir isn’t confined to her song sequences – bedardi balma tujh ko and all those breathtakingly melodious tunes – that were shot in the serene, scenic climes of the Valley. There is a permanent landmark in her name, a landscape called Sadhana Top, 50 kms to the northwest of the frontier district Kupwara.
Brand Sadhana had touched such a high that even her burqas that she wore in Mere Mehboob set off an infectious trend among young Muslim women of that era.
Sadhana had a successful marriage with her first director R.K Nayyar – a marriage that ended only when R.K Nayyar died suddenly in 1995. A week before his death, he called her and, in some premonition, asked her to take care of herself after he was gone. Sadhana quipped: what if I die first? “Phir do arthiyan uthengi – then there will be two deaths. I will not be able to survive without you,” said Nayyar.
Sadhana didn’t do a single film for the next two decades that she had to live without Nayyar. She breathed her last at the age of 74 on 25th December, 2015, leaving behind a trendy legacy that is hard to replace.