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February 18, 1933
|Spouse(s)||S. Ali Raza 1965–2007 (His death)|
Nimmi (born 18 February 1933) is a former Indian screen actress who achieved stardom in the 1950s and early 1960s in Hindi films. She gained popularity playing spirited village belle type characters, but has appeared in diverse genres such as fantasy and social films. Nimmi is regarded as one of the most successful and influential Hindi movie actresses of all time.
Nawab Banoo was born in Agra, India. Her mother was a famous singer and actress by the name of Wahidan who was well connected within the film industry. Her father, Abdul Hakim, worked as a military contractor. As a young child, Nimmi had memories of visiting Bombay, and her mother being on good terms with Mehboob Khan and his family, who were prominent and influential within the movie making business.
When Nimmi was only nine years old, her mother died suddenly. She was sent to live in Abbottabad with her grandmother. Nimmi's father stayed on in Meerut where he worked. With the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, among the multitude of migrants and refugees were Nimmi and her grandmother. As Nimmi's aunt Jyoti, who was also once a leading film star had a home in Bombay, that is where she and her grandmother settled. Jyoti's husband G. M. Durrani was also popular and legendary Indian playback singer, actor and music director.
Through the connection with her mother who had worked with him in the 1930s, in 1948, the famous film maker Mehboob Khan, invited the young Nimmi to watch the making of his current production Andaz at Central Studios. She had shown an interest in movies and this was an opportunity to understand the film making process. On the sets of Andaz, Nimmi met Raj Kapoor who was starring in the film.
At the time Raj Kapoor was filming his production of Barsaat (1949). Having already cast the famous actress Nargis in the female lead role, he was on the lookout for a young girl to play the second lead. After observing Nimmi's unaffected and shy behaviour as a guest on the sets of Andaz, he cast the teenaged Nimmi in Barsaat opposite the actor Prem Nath. Nimmi played the role of an innocent mountain shepherdess in love with a heartless city man. As an introduction to film audiences, she could not have asked for a more illustrious launch to her film career.
Barsaat, released in 1949, made movie history. It was a phenomenal critical and commercial success. Despite the presence of established and popular stars Nargis, Raj Kapoor and Premnath, Nimmi had a very prominent and well received role and was an instant hit with audiences. The film's popular title song Barsaat mein hum se mile tum as well as three other ever-green classics, Jeeya bekarar hai , hawa me udta jaaye mora lal dupatta malmal ka and Patli kamar hai were all picturised on Nimmi. The film's climax also revolved around the fledgling actress. The huge success of Barsaat made Nimmi a star and nationwide sensation overnight.
Rise to stardom
After Barsaat Nimmi never looked back and was flooded with films offers. She quietly polished her histrionic abilities and developed a mannered but effectively unique style of acting. The diminutive actress quickly won a loyal fan base with her intense and expressive performances.
She worked with top heroes like Raj Kapoor (Banwara), and Dev Anand (Sazaa, Aandhiyan). To her great advantage Nimmi formed a very popular and dependable screen pair with Dilip Kumar, after the success of films like Deedar (1951) and Daag (1952). Aside from Nargis with whom she co-starred with in Barsaat and Deedar, Nimmi also appeared alongside many notable leading ladies including Madhubala (Amar), Suraiya (Shama), Geeta Bali (Usha Kiran), and Meena Kumari (Char Dil Char Rahen (1959)).
A little known fact is that Nimmi was also a singer and sang her own songs in the film Bedardi (1951) in which she also acted. However, she never continued singing and recorded songs only for this film.
Mehboob Khan was next to cast her in his film Aan (1952). This prestigious production was to be India's first full feature in Technicolor. The film was made with an extremely large budget. Nimmi played one of the female leads. The film also co-starred Dilip Kumar, Prem Nath and introduced Nadira. Such was Nimmi's popularity at this point that when a first edit of the film was shown to the film's financiers and distributors, they objected that Nimmi's character died too early. Therefore an extended dream sequence was added to give Nimmi more prominence and screen time in the film. Nimmi's character and her on-screen death dance in Aan were very popular with audiences.
Aan was one of the first Indian movies to have a world wide release. The film had an extremely lavish London premiere which Nimmi attended. The English version was entitled Savage Princess. On the London trip, Nimmi met many western film personalities including Errol Flynn. When Flynn attempted to kiss her hand she pulled it away, exclaiming, "I am an Indian girl, you cannot do that!" The incident made the headlines and the press raved about Nimmi as the "...unkissed girl of India".
Although Nimmi was not the romantic lead, she made a huge impact on audiences and her character, Mangala, emerged as the most popular in the film. This was to such an extent that, when the film was released dubbed in French it was retitled Mangala, fille des Indes (Mangala, girl of India) and Nimmi was heavily promoted as main star of the movie in the theatrical posters and trailers for the French language release. Nimmi further revealed in a 2013 interview, that at the London premiere of Aan, she received four serious offers from Hollywood, including Cecil B. DeMille who greatly admired the film and Nimmi's performance. Nimmi declined these offers, choosing to focus on her flourishing career in India.
After the great box-office success of Aan, Mehboob Khan asked her to appear in his next film Amar (1954). Nimmi played a poor, milk maid seduced by a lawyer (Dilip Kumar). The film also starred Madhubala as Kumar's wronged fiance. Its controversial subject of rape was way ahead of its time and although the film was not a commercial success, Nimmi's intense performance and the film were applauded by critics. It remained the favorite film of Mehboob Khan amongst his own productions.
Nimmi also turned producer with the popular film Danka (1954) which was released under her own production banner, and she gave a striking and off beat performance.
Kundan (1955), produced by Sohrab Modi co-starring newcomer Sunil Dutt, gave Nimmi a memorable double role as mother and daughter. Her sensitive portrayal earned her further recognition as a talented and spirited actress.
Nimmi next had two big successes in 1956 with Basant Bahar and Bhai Bhai. In 1957, at the age of 24, Nimmi received the critic's award for best actress for her role in Bhai Bhai. These films were also notable for her songs which were dubbed by Lata Mangeshkar. Nimmi was fortunate throughout her career to have some of the most popular and enduring songs picturised on her, and appeared in films with exceptional music scores.
By this point, with a largely consistent run of success at the box-office, Nimmi had firmly established herself as one of the most bankable and popular leading ladies in Hindi cinema.
In the late 1950s, Nimmi worked with renowned directors Chetan Anand (Anjali ), K. A. Abbas (Char Dil Char Raahen) and Vijay Bhatt (Angulimala). Prepared to take risks, Nimmi took on controversial characterizations, such as the prostitute of Char Dil Char Raahen (1959). It was during this phase that Nimmi became very selective as she strove for better quality projects and roles. However her judgment was sometimes questionable when she rejected films like B. R. Chopra's Sadhna (1958), and Woh Kaun Thi? (1963), both of which went on to be big successes for Vyjayanthimala and Sadhana, respectively.
She erred most with the film Mere Mehboob (1963). Nimmi was first offered the coveted female lead in the film which was tipped for big box-office success. It was to be shot in colour and on a very big budget. Nimmi would be part of a large star cast which included prominent actors such as Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Ameeta, Pran, and comedian Johnny Walker. Nimmi recalled in an interview with Movie magazine : "Initially I was offered Sadhana's role and Bina Rai was to do my role. However I opted for the role of the sister as I felt it was the back bone of the story and had scope for acting. Though it didn't turn out the way I had visualised it." In rejecting the female lead, opposite a hugely popular leading man, Rajendra Kumar, for what was ostensibly a character role, Nimmi lost a valuable chance at making the successful transition into the new phase of films that were then evolving. The role Nimmi rejected was played by Sadhana and was instrumental in placing her among the most successful heroines of the 1960s. Nimmi did receive a Filmfare award nomination for best supporting actress for her performance and Mere Mehboob went on to be one of the biggest hits of 1963 at the box-office.
These detrimental choices were not helped when in the 1960s, a new breed of Mod actresses like Sadhana, Nanda, Asha Parekh, Mala Sinha and Saira Banu changed the concept of the Hindi film heroine. Although she retained her star status and continued to be credited above the title, junior actresses like Nanda and Mala Sinha were cast as the romantic leads, while Nimmi's roles alongside these actresses were more unconventional parts such the blind girl in Pooja Ke Phool (1964) and Ashok Kumar's mute wife in Akashdeep (1965). With the younger generation of actresses emerging to dominate the industry, although Nimmi's popularity as a star began to fade, her performances had matured considerably and critical reviews in this final phase of her career were largely positive.
At this point Nimmi opted for early retirement and marriage, but not before investing her best efforts into one last film production. Director K. Asif had started his version of the Laila-Majnu love legend, Love & God even before completing his magnum opus Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Nimmi believed that Love & God would be a fitting swan song to her career and her claim to eternal fame just as Mughal-e-Azam had immortalised its leading lady, Madhubala. K. Asif had problems casting the male lead before finally selecting Guru Dutt as Nimmi's co-star. However Guru Dutt's sudden and premature death put a halt to the film's shooting. Sanjeev Kumar was cast as his replacement but the film was shelved altogether when the director K. Asif died.
Nimmi had retired from films for over two decades by the time K. Asif's widow Akhtar Asif released Love & God on 6 June 1986 in incomplete form. The film suffers badly from compromised editing in an attempt to cover the fact that several key scenes and a clear climax were not filmed before Asif died. But the footage that Nimmi completed before the film was shelved showed she had delivered a subtle and sensitive portrayal and looked beautiful in Technicolor and the period costumes.
As with most film stars, speculation surrounded Nimmi's personal life. Because of her successful on screen association with Dilip Kumar, baseless rumours and stories were printed of an off screen liaison between the two. This was entirely false, and was strenuously denied by both Nimmi and Dilip Kumar, who at the time was in a relationship with Nimmi's contemporary, Madhubala.
Nimmi herself fell in love with screen writer S. Ali Raza, who wrote the dialogues for her films Barsaat (1949), Aan (1952) and Amar (1954). S. Ali Raza was the nephew of famous Bollywood story, dialogue and screenplay writer Aghajani Kashmeri (aka Kashmmiri and Agha Jani), who trained Ali Raza and introduced him to Bollywood. Both were from Lucknow. She married Ali Raza and settled down in Mumbai in the mid-1960s when she retired after her last film Akashdeep (1965) opposite Ashok Kumar. Nimmi and her husband never had any children. She remained happily married for 42 years until S. Ali Raza died on 1 November 2007 of heart failure at the age of 85, leaving Nimmi a widow. She now lives alone in her sea-facing Juhu Beach apartment in Mumbai. In June 1991 Nimmi was in the spotlight again when a non-published, non-sourced news source claimed the Hindi actress Kimi Katkar is Nimmi's daughter, but failed to offer any evidence, other than some alleged "face resemblance".
Unlike many vintage stars, Nimmi is not in seclusion and is often seen attending industry functions and events, with former colleagues such as Dilip Kumar. She is also often seen entertaining guests at the NSCI (National Sports Club of India) in Bombay, close by to her earlier home in the Worli area of Mumbai.
- Barsaat (1949)
- Wafaa, Raj Mukut, Jalte Deep (1950)
- Sazaa (1951)
- Deedar (1951)
- Buzdil (1951)
- Bedardi (1951)
- Badi Bahu (1951)
- Usha Kiron (1952)
- Daag (1952)
- Aandhiyan (1952)
- Aan (1952)
- Humdard (1953)
- Alif Laila (1953)
- Aabshar (1953)
- Pyaase Nain (1954)
- Kasturi (1954)
- Danka (1954)
- Amar (1954)
- Uran Khatola (1955)
- Society (1955)
- Kundan (1955)
- Char Paise (1955)
- Bhagwat Mahima (1955)
- Rajdhani (1956)
- Bhai-Bhai (1956)
- Basant Bahar (1956)
- Anjali (1957)
- Chotte Babu (1957)
- Sohni Mahiwal (1958)
- Pehli Raat (1959)
- Char Dil Char Raahein (1959)
- Angulimaal (1960) .
- Shamma (1961)
- Mere Mehboob (1963)
- Pooja Ke Phool (1964)
- Daal Mein Kaala (1964)
- Akashdeep (1965)
- Love & God (1986)
- Interview, Nimmi: "I have a dream to be Queen", The Indian Express Newspaper, Issue date: Friday, 30 May 1997. Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.
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