Born on 1st June 1929 Nargis, aka Fatima Rashid, was the daughter of a wealthy Muslim businessman from Rawalpindi. Her mother Jaddanbai was a well known Indian classical dancer and the founder of one the subcontinent’s first production companies Sangeet Films. Unsurprisingly, it was her mother who launched her into the limelight at the tender age of six when she starred in the 1935 movie Talaash e Haq (In Search of Destiny).
Fatima soon adopted the stage name Nargis, Hindi for Daffodil, and took to the stage like a natural. Between 1942 and 1968 Nargis produced 50 movies including Mother India and Raat aur Din (Night and Day). In 1958 she became the first film actress to receive the title of Padmi Shri by the Government of India. It is to this day one of the highest civilian awards.
Fame and recognition were not the only things Nargis found thanks to her role in Mother India. It was through this movie that she eventually found the love of her life Sunil Dutt. Reportedly, Dutt had saved her life from a fire accident on the set of Mother India. The couple married on 11 March 1958 and had three children together: Sanjay, Namrata, and Priya. Sanjay went on to become a successful film actor. Namrata married actor Kumar Gaurav, son of veteran actor Rajendra Kumar who had appeared alongside both Nargis and Sunil Dutt in Mother India. Priya became a politician, and since 2005, has been a member of parliament.
In 1967 Nargis returned to the stage one last time to film her award winning film Raat aur Din (Night and Day). Her performance as a woman who suffers from multiple-personality disorder, was critically acclaimed and won her a National Film Award in 1968. This was the first time the National Film Board had awarded a woman in an acting role and so the category for Best Actress was created specifically for her. Raat aur Din also won her the coveted Filmfare Best Actress award in1969.
Unsatisfied with a life sans arts, Nargis set out on her next big venture. With the help of Sunil, she formed the Ajanta Arts Cultural Troupe which involved several leading actors and singers of the time. The troupe performed at remote frontiers,entertaining Indian soldiers. It was the first troupe to perform in Dhaka, after the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 which resulted in the formation of Bangladesh.
On 7th May 1981 at the premiere of the Bollywood movie Rocky, an empty seat shone in a packed cinema hall. It was reserved for Nargis who had passed on a week before of pancreatic cancer. She never got to see her son Sanjay’s debut into the film world she had loved so dearly.
In 1982, the Nargis Dutt Memorial Cancer Foundation was established in her memory.The award for best feature film on national integration in the annual National Film Awards ceremony is called the Nargis Dutt Award in her honour.