She acted in some films until the early 40s and subsequently became a producer, making about 6 films, the last in the 60s.
By the time I came on the scene, she was just my somewhat glamorous and unconventional grandmother who had a cupboard full of wonderful saris and a painted tin box full of internationally acquired handkerchiefs - but more on that cupboard some other time. She played cards each afternoon, and the glowing colours of her plastic counters: pomegranate juice red, emerald green, the yellow of dal barfi, numbers written on them like varq on barfi in fact, seemed to be part of her very kaleidoscopic presence. Other ladies would come to play cards too - producer's wives or mistresses, all in wafting saris, waves of perfume surrounding them like a mysterious force field of adulthood. This was a serious affair, performed every afternoon with ceremony and punctuality.
Perhaps this is why I thought this was my grandmum's work and the counters translated directly into the treasure of loose change that sat on a silver thali in her cupboard (which I freely stole for purposes like buying ber and renting Richie Rich comics from Sarvodya which was in those days just a little lending library on the side of the shop which is today its DVD empire)
It did not occur to me that there may have been another life - why would it? When you are five you don't really question how things are, unless they aren't the way they are in your house! As a result I never asked much about her past and the things she'd done. Now it's not so easy to try and understand what the things she did meant to her precisely, nor to see their context or their impact on the context
I periodically try to find things about her online - searches rarely turn up much. In fact often if I google her name I get tons of hits for my grandfather. She is not known for anything historic - not even for being his wife, as they separated when my mum was 9. Her company Variety Pictures - I wonder whether it's still registered - who owns the rights to the films, where the prints are...was just one of many companies I suppose.
And then tonight, one of those nights when I can't sleep because I have so much to do but feel too paralysed to do it, I did a random search and found a song from a movie Nani produced: Shreeman Funtoosh. Apparently my mum and her cohorts (all kids in the family) would be shown the films on completion as a home grown market research method, to gauge potential audience response - the char anna class as they said. On seeing this supposedly science fiction narrative, they assertively declared that this was jolly good film that was going to be a jolly big hit. It not only bombed, it bankrupted my grandmother and she did not produce a film again.
However one song in the film was a big hit - yeh dard bhara afsana. It came often on Vividh Bharati - especially on Bela ke Phool and Bhoole Bisre Geet type programs. I was shocked to discover some time later that it was ACTUALLY from a film of Nani's. I mean, it seemed too seriously out there in the world, somehow indicating that the ordinary routines of the house - where my grandmother drank whisky and ordered about 8 things to be cooked for each meal, and I lay about reading comics, were not as reassuringly solid, definitely not the only reality there was. As if she could turn around and say "I could have been a contender."
However, this is not what she said. Rather, everytime the song played my grandmother would snort and say - there's that 64,000 rupee song (that was the budget of the film).
The song picturisation itself I believe is quite impressive. To declare heartbreak while all who are around you do the twist, other than showing panache, suddenly highlights the basically stoical nature of this particular dance form. It is worth each one of those 64,000 rupees to me, even if these are only presented to me in jewel coloured card counters.
It won't upload but you can watch it here: