Nanda's last outing

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 30.03.14
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Bharathi S. Pradhan Celebrity Circus
Bharathi S. Pradhan

The best thing that Shashi Kapoor ever said about a heroine was when he told me how grateful he was to Nanda for unconditionally co-starring with him in films like Jab Jab Phool Khile. She'd done this when he was floundering as a star and she was an established name. It wasn't about working with him as much as it was about not making any casting couch demands on him that had really touched Shashi.

Thirty years ago, one was naïve enough to wonder why a young man would have to go through the casting couch until Shashi Kapoor pointed out heroes like Sanjay Khan and Dharmendra. "You've no idea how they were blackmailed by senior actresses when they were newcomers," the candid Kapoor had explained to me. "I'm very grateful to Nanda that she was extremely gracious and decent with me."

Shashi himself is wheelchair-bound and in no condition to offer condolences to anybody. But when she passed away on Tuesday, the spontaneity with which Nanda's penthouse apartment in Verso-va was flooded with mourners was an accurate indication of how much she was respected despite having been in self-imposed retirement for years.

While the doctors tirelessly fixed up her face in her bedroom upstairs, the rooms downstairs saw Nanda's best friend of more than 40 years, Waheeda Rehman, quietly taking charge. Nanda had woken up around 8am, taken her medicines and collapsed about half an hour later on the washbasin. Struck by the suddenness of her death, the only person her brother remembered to call was Waheeda. She, in turn, dialled the stalwarts' group of Asha Parekh, Helen and Salma (Salman's mother) who rushed to Nanda's beautiful Versova apartment. Helen and Salma had daughter Alvira Agnihotri accompanying them, while fellow Maharashtrian Padmini Kolhapure was among the younger mourners. Even Rameshwari (the girl who played the lead in Rajshri's Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye) turned up only because she was a fan.

Apart from leading a comfortable but retired life, Nanda was reticent about being seen in public. She, like Sadhana and even music director Usha Khanna, didn't relish the idea of ageing under the spotlight and therefore avoided functions and TV appearances. She turned 75 in January but close friend Asha Parekh who was travelling extensively sent across a gift only on Monday, the day be-fore Nanda passed away. She had called up Asha the same night and thanked her for it, looking forward to having the suit stitched and wearing it.

"She was perfectly all right when she spoke to me last night," said Asha Parekh, stunned that it turned out to be her last conversation with Nanda. Salim Khan who screens the latest films for this gang of ladies always has Waheeda and Asha Parekh on his guest list; Nanda would occasionally join them. But the last time all of them met at Waheeda's place for lunch, Nanda, who was growing increasingly reclusive, told her friends that this would perhaps be her last outing with them.

In fact, when she passed away, the family even tried to keep the media away, convinced that Nanda would not have wanted the attention.

When Nanda's brother told her friends that once she was ready to be taken away to the Oshiwara crematorium, they could quietly leave before they were caught in the media frenzy downstairs, Waheeda Rehman spoke up. Fragile looking but strong, she said, "I will wait right here until all of you go and come back from the crematorium. I'm staying put. That's what Nanda would have wanted me to do."

I wish Shashi Kapoor had been healthy enough to give her a farewell as well.

Talking of recluses, affable former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who has not been spotted anywhere for over five years, is suddenly being remembered on the front pages with much speculation over his current medical status. "He's not doing well," says his friend, L.K. Advani, who is saddened by the health of two of his close political colleagues. "I'm perturbed by the condition of two of my friends," comments the 86-year-old patriarch of the BJP. "One is Atalji who is three years my senior. The other is George Fernandes who is three years my junior. They are both ailing."

Whether politics or films, the famous will always arouse curiosity, they can never completely walk into the wilderness.