Literature / Review

Darlingji: The True Love Story Of Nargis and Sunil Dutt

Darlingji, the true love story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt by Kishwar Desai reveals many interesting facets of the many lives of Nargis and Sunil Dutt.

In the late nineteenth century, in a small village in northern India, a thirteen-year-old Brahmin widow meets a Muslim sarangi player and elopes with him. Many years later, their daughter Jaddanbai moves to Bombay and becomes a star of the early talkies. Chateau Marine, her home on Marine Drive, is famous for its evening mehfils and for the dreams it nurtures: regular visitors include Dilip Kumar, Mehboob and Kamal Amrohi. It is also the home of Fatima, Jaddanbai’s daughter, who will set the screen ablaze as Nargis, the most accomplished actress of her time.

Far removed from this world of glamour, a young boy named Balraj Dutt spends his teenage years attempting to rehabilitate himself and his family after the trauma of Partition. In 1950, at the age of twenty, he arrives in Bombay. And there his life takes an unexpected turn: he is given the lead role in a new film and is soon on his way to becoming Sunil Dutt, the film star.

The Darlingji Moment

Then comes the moment that transforms both their lives: on 1 March 1957, during the making of Mother India, Nargis is trapped in a circle of flames and Sunil risks his life to save her. They recuperate together and fall in love. Nargis has been in a long but futile relationship with the mercurial Raj Kapoor, and in Sunil, she finally finds an anchor.

Their relationship is stormy and secretive to start with, but it survives every crisis to culminate in a quiet wedding on 11 March 1958. What follows are years of togetherness, including the joys of caring for three children, Sanjay, Namrata and Priya but also days of pain and heartbreak: financial trouble, Nargis’s illness, Sanjay’s addiction to drugs.

Based on the diaries and letters of Nargis, Sunil and their daughter Priya, as well as on conversations and interviews with family and friends, Darlingji – as they often addressed each other – is a probing yet affectionate biography of two extraordinary people and their love for each other. Travelling as it does from the nineteenth century to the present, the book tells the larger story of the evolution of Hindi cinema, and of a society and a nation in the throes of change.

Darlingji Confesses Love

While their relationship began with the fire that broke out on the sets of the 1957 film Mother India, it was while recuperating from the injuries that the two really came close, says author Kishwar Desai in her book Darlingji – the true love story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt.

“If it were not for him, perhaps I would have ended my life before the 8th of March. For I alone know the turmoil that was going through me. ‘I want you to live,’ he said and I felt I had to live. Begin all over again,” Desai quotes Nargis from her personal diary written after the accident.

Sunil was a man who treated her ‘like a normal human being’ and in rescuing her from the accidental flames, was perhaps the first person in a long time to have really done something for her.

“As she sat by his bedside, she realized that his courage in pulling her out of the fire had impressed her. It was a long time since someone had sacrificed anything for her. She was the one who always did things for others, whether it was for her family or Raj…. ” writes the author on what drew Nargis towards the handsome Dutt.

Struggling to come out of a futile relationship and dealing with a family which in her own words considered her a mere ‘money-making machine’, Nargis confided in her newfound love, laying her past thread-bare in front of him.

“She said she was ‘shameless’ in discussing every detail of her life and was not worried because she knew ‘that his shoulders were always there for me to cry on – and I also knew that his garments will absorb my tears and not scatter them out for people to make fun of me’,” the book quotes her diary.

The Love that Couldn’t Pass Agni Pareeksha

Raj Kapoor, with whom Nargis worked in as many as 16 films, six of which were RK banner productions, was undoubtedly the first love of her life.

However, Sunil Dutt, came into her life when her first relationship had run into a cul-de-sac, leaving her shattered, says the book comparing her bonding with the two men.

According to Desai, “Raj had come into her life when she was 19 and ready for a relationship. If it hadn’t been Raj, it would have been someone else; he just happened to be her first boyfriend.”

Nargis later realized she was uselessly clinging to a one-sided relationship and that despite showing an inclination towards her, Raj, who was a married man, would never respond to her.

“She confessed to Sunil that her relations with Raj had been on a ‘razor’s edge’ and that she had been desperately trying to cling to him without any response. She told him that Raj ‘had started making feel disgusting even to myself’ and that before she met Sunil, she had ‘no reason to be living’,” writes Desai.

The book Darlingji gives a parallel track of the lives of the Dutt duo, also gives an insight into the tricky equation Nargis had with Raj Kapoor.

Darlingji Forever

Despite the early passions and trials, the relationship between Sunil Dutt and Nargis bloomed. After marriage, rather than films, Nargis increasingly started devoted her time to social work which ultimately turned into the political aspirations of Sunil Dutt.

Like her all the works, Kishwar Desai is sincere in documenting the lives of Nargis and Sunil Dutt. She is particularly kind to their contemporaries, and rightly so. For we are living in contentious times that where people often try to reevaluate the past and especially celebrities in different lights. Needless to say, it’s a must-read for cinema lovers.

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