The ‘Sadhana Cut’
It wasn’t really a face that would launch a thousand ships, but she, indeed had something in her that made her an instant Bollywood star with her very first film opposite a tall, lanky and not very handsome Bengali newcomer, Joy Mukherjee in a film called Love in Simla. The film also had a debutant director, RK Nayyar, an erstwhile assistant to Raj Kapoor. And there began a success story that only time or destiny could interfere with, and did not before very long, but not long enough to obliterate from public memory as showbiz often does. The young migrant Sindhi girl from Karachi essayed the role of a somewhat plain Jane who is converted into an enchantress who goes on to win a beauty contest. Her name was Sadhana Shivdasani, and she was a ripe 19 to play lead in an Indian film. She exploded on the scene as a young adult—her arch rival, though without her physical assets till the time both were pursued by film-makers had been Asha Parekh—working against famous male leads.
Interestingly, another film that she almost simultaneously signed was Parakh with one of the most respected film-makers of the times, Bimal Roy. It saw her in a totally deglamourised role. From rank newcomer Joy Mukherjee she jumped onto the bandwagons of big ones of the times, beginning with the HS Rawail’s Mere Mehboob with Rajendra ‘Jubilee’ Kumar and a love story to swoon about by the young women. When she lifts the veil from her face the natural innocence put into shade Waheeda Rehman’s made-up glamourised look in Chaudhvin Ka Chand. Since there are variants about how the famous hairstyle came about, it is better to quote the yesterday heroine herself: “I had a broad forehead, which showed prominently in photo tests. It would then be covered with a patch of hair. When we were about to start Love in Simla, the director (RK Nayyar, whom she later married) said the patch wouldn’t do. Those days Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday (in which she sports a fringe) had just released. So I was promptly rushed off to a Chinese hairdresser and given a fringe. It became famous as the Sadhana cut.”
Sadhana is also credited with the now-undying tight kurtis and churidars that she had first supported in Mere Mehboob, a Bhanu Athaiya creation, but really became a trendsetter in Waqt. To quote her again: “I wore churidars with conventional kurtis in Mere Mehboob. I then asked Bhanu to create a fusion of the traditional churidar and modern kurti for my personal wardrobe. One day Yashji (Chopra) happened to come home to discuss my costumes in Waqt when I walked in wearing a sleeveless, gold-embroidered kurti, churidar and mojris and a chic hairstyle, he went, ‘Wow! What you’re wearing is exactly what I want for my film.’ The style went on to become a craze.”
She did not possess what is normally known as a ‘classic’ beauty for such women had come and gone having done their bits, nor was she a paragon of innocence with a lusty body in the tradition of Nalini Jaywant, yet the cut gave her the edge that remained with her until she made an unceremonious departure. After Mere Mehboob the next big station for Sadhana was Vijay Anand-ghost-directed cult-classic black and white (now also colourised) Hum Dono opposite Dev Anand with which Sadhana’s hairstyle really first fired the imagination of young women what in today’s jargon might simply be labelled was a “wispy fringe over her forehead” that came to be known as ‘Sadhana Cut’, and in the process earning her the sobriquet “a perfect girl to be a perfect star” from the film stingy hero. Anand again, unconsciously perhaps, propped up yet another trendsetting fashionista, Zeenat Aman with tweezed pencil-thin line eyebrows in Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
Later, she and veteran costume designer Bhanu Athaiya collaborated and went on to create the ‘fusion churidar’ patronised by girls even today. Her stature had risen so high, thanks also to what director Raj Khosla did with her in a series of suspense-mystery films opposite Sunil Dutt and Manoj Kumar that Rawail wanted to cast her opposite thespian Dilip Kumar in Sangarsh and producer Pachhi in Around the World with Raj Kapoor. However, the only consolation could be that she was part of the chorus, Eeechak dana, beechak dana in Shri 420, when barely 5 years old, and later in the flop Dulha Dulhan. But fate cast its dark shadow as a thyroid problem damaged the right side of her face, resulting in her failing to make history because only a few others achieved the enviable position of working with three generation of top stars.
In a career spanning nearing a decade, Sadhana worked in 30 films, 23 of which turned out to be box-office blockbusters, a record unmatched by any other Bollywood leading lady till date. She also created her own swansong when she produced and directed, apart from essaying the title role, Geeta Mera Naam (74) opposite Sunil Dutt and Feroz Khan. But despite make-up man’s best attempts he failed to hide the flaw in her face. It was also a valiant attempt to recreate the magical spell cast by three Raj Khosla-directed unforgettable suspense dramas: Woh Kaun Thi (64), Mera Saaya (66), Anita (67). He had earlier also directed her in Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (62) opposite Joy Mukherjee.
At her peak she even did an Odiya film, Stree, while in the beginning, when just 15, she played second fiddle to Sheela Ramani in a Sindhi film, Abana a publicity photo from which appeared in the broadsheet, Screen that led her to admission in Filmalaya School of Acting, leading to a breakthrough in Love in Simla. The highest paid female actor of her time, together with Vyjayanthimala, during the 1960s she left two films incomplete for unspelt reasons: Picnic with Guru Dutt because of the latter’s untimely death in 1964 and Sajan Ki Galiyan opposite Dev Anand because of differences with Raj Khosla as the director. She now lives the life of a recluse, but finding time with a select band of old actor friends.
By Suresh Kohli