Published On: Thu, Jul 28th, 2016

Remembering Bollywood’s yesteryear actress Leela Naidu, on her 7th death anniversary today.

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Remembering Bollywood’s yesteryear actress, the indelible beauty Leela Naidu, on her 7th death anniversary today.

Leela Naidu was a charming Indian beauty with a conspicuous touch of Western sophistication and elegance. This characteristic, that sprang from her mixed Indo-European origin, made her stand out among contemporary Indian film celebrities of the 1960s such as Nargis, Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rahman.

Born to Dr Ramaiah Naidu, a scientist, and a French mother, Marthe Mange, who had been a journalist in 1940, Naidu entered the limelight in 1954 when she was crowned Miss India. Naidu made her debut as an actress in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anuradha (1960). A discerning director, Mukherjee displayed great insight by choosing her for the role of a lonely housewife (Anuradha) in a remote Indian village who gives up her career as an established singer to live with her doctor husband, Dr. Nirmal Chowdhury, played by Balraj Sahni. Under Mukherjee’s deft direction, Naidu played her part with subtlety, restraint and poise and the film turned out to be one of the classics of Hindi cinema.

Leela Naidu with her mother Dr. Marthe Mange Naidu.

Leela Naidu with her mother Dr. Marthe Mange Naidu.

Naidu’s big break in popular cinema came with R. K. Nayyar’s crime thriller, Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke (Love’s Pathways, 1963), in which she played the lead female role of the adulterous wife. Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke proved a commercial success and helped to turn Naidu into something of an icon for women’s liberation in India.
Another film that brought Naidu critical acclaim was Gharbar (The Householder, 1963) a film by Merchant Ivory Productions. Based on the 1960 novel of the same name written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, it was directed by James Ivory.

Sunil Dutt and Leela Naidu in 'Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1964).

Sunil Dutt and Leela Naidu in ‘Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1964).

As an actress Naidu’s classic performance came in Shyam Benegal’s Trikal (Past, Present and Future, 1985) where she played the central character of a distraught widow, Maria Soares, who refuses to believe that her husband is dead.

Sunil Dutt and Leela Naidu in 'Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963).

Sunil Dutt and Leela Naidu in ‘Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963).

But in spite of her talent, dedication and commitment, Naidu only ended up acting in a handful of films. This was because in a film industry ridden with stereotypes, the strengths of her personality and innate style turned into disadvantages or drawbacks. Moreover, unlike modern day Indian actresses, many of whom are adept in dancing, she lost the coveted role of Rosie in Vijay Anand’s Guide (1965) to Waheeda Rahman because she was not a trained dancer.

Leela Naidu and Sunil Dutt, a co-star she described as a limited actor and a perfect gentleman.

Leela Naidu and Sunil Dutt, a co-star she described as a limited actor and a perfect gentleman.

Naidu’s personal life was far from happy. She married and divorced the affluent scion of the Oberoi Group of hotels, Tikki Oberoi, and then poet and writer, Dom Moraes. Her two failed marriages and her failure to get custody of her children left her shattered and shaken. To fight her sense of loss and loneliness, she sought comfort in the philosophical teachings of J. Krishnamurthi in London. Later on, she lived like a recluse in Mumbai.

The beautiful actress passed away on 28th July 2009, in Mumbai after a prolonged illness.

About the Author

Syed Ammar Alavi

- is Lahore (Pakistan) based journalist & writer with 25-year experience in print, wire and broadcast forms of journalism. His major fields of interest are politics, film,tv,sports, climate change and technology

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