Sadhana Birth Anniversary: My last conversation with Sadhana, “Ranbir Kapoor is utterly, butterly delicious”

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The ’60s star, Sadhana, for whom I hold a deep and abiding affection which continues even after her death, would have turned 77 today (September 2). Unfortunately, she died at the age of 74, three years ago on Christmas day.

Santa snatched away my favourite star! As a film connoisseur, I have always had favourite performances, not favourite stars. But I made an exception for Sadhana. As a child, I saw the beauteous actress as a princess in the costume drama Rajkumar (1964), and I fell in love. I have enjoyed all her films: the good (Love In Simla, Hum Dono, Mere Mehboob, Woh Kaun Thi, Waqt, Mera Saaya) as well as the bad (Amaanat, Vandana, which I caught on YouTube a month ago, and the much-delayed Ulfat, which was released 20 years after her retirement and which I dragged a reluctant friend to see in a ramshackle cinema hall).

Over the years, I have dropped in often at Sadhana’s Khar bungalow, including for one memorable dinner she held for my wife Anita and me, where she reminisced about how she felt her late husband RK Nayyar was still communicating with her.

My last conversation with Sadhana was on the morning after the star had emerged from four decades of Garboesque seclusion (her swan song Geeta Mera Naam was released in 1974) and re-entered public for a good cause – at a 2014 fund raiser for cancer patients, Sadhana walked the ramp while being escorted by Ranbir Kapoor and Shaina NC.

The style icon of her generation, Sadhana sported her famous fringe (the legendary Sadhana cut) on the ramp too; and enjoyed all the adulation she received. She laughed, “Ranbir is a terrific actor; but, more importantly, as a person he is utterly, butterly delicious.” With a euphoric lilt in her famous voice, she continued, “Even at the peak of my career, I never received such a thunderous standing ovation. There were a thousand odd people and they kept applauding from the time I appeared on stage till the time I left.”

Exuding elegance at 70, Sadhana wore a shaded pink chiffon sari with silver embroidery. She said, “I wore a stole with my sari. This was the first time I walked the ramp (though she did participate in an on screen beauty contest in her debut film, Love In Simla) but once I had made up my mind, I was confident.”

What helped was also the warm welcome back she got from fellow celebrities who were also present that day. Backstage, Aditi Rao Hydari and Sakshi Tanwar touched her feet (“I was visibly embarrassed but moved”).

Though this return to the spotlight was heart-warming, Sadhana said firmly, “This is the last time I am making a public appearance, on the ramp or otherwise.”

And once Sadhana had made up her mind, it was well nigh impossible to change it. I recall when the colourised version of Dev Anand’s Hum Dono (in which Sadhana realised the dream of working with her idol), was being given a grand re-release, Dev had remarked, “You are good friends with Sadhana. Why don’t you tell her to come back to films?” I had smiled, “Dev, her constant refrain is that she wants to be remembered as Sadhana of the Arzoo days.”

Sadhana worked with Dev Anand in only three films – Hum Dono (1961), Asli Naqli (1962) and the never-completed Sajan Ki Galiyan but she remembered him with great fondness … even though she would have lost one of her biggest hits, Mere Mehboob, had she listened to his advice! Sadhana had once shared, “When I was shooting with Dev Anand for the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-directed Asli Naqli, I told him that HS Rawail had approached me for his Muslim social, Mere Mehboob. Dev spontaneously shot back, ‘Don’t do the film’, because he had just worked in Rawail’s Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (co-starring Waheeda Rehman) which had flopped. I was undecided but Hrishida intervened and told me, ‘Mere Mehboob has jubilee star Rajendra Kumar as the hero and he is known for his acumen in choosing hit subjects. Just do it!’ The rest is celluloid history.

On Sadhana’s birthday, her magical duet with Dev Anand – ‘Abhi na jao chhod ke, ki dil abhi bhara nahin…’ (in Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle’s voices) plays on my lips. I rue the fact that both Sadhana and Dev Anand, two people who have contributed hugely to my vault of treasured memories, are no more.

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