Nargis was a major Indian star during the '40s and '50s recognized for her charisma, tremendous dignity, great intelligence, and ability to play a variety of roles ranging from shy coquettes to westernized women. Her most famous role was that of a courageous peasant woman who defies all in her endeavors to preserve her self-respect -- even to the point of killing her son to protect the honor of the other women in her community -- in Mehboob Khan's 1957 classic Mother India. Nargis was born in northern India, but was raised in Bombay. When she was 14 her mother, a courtesan, forced her to become an actress -- Nargis herself had dreamed of becoming a doctor. After enduring the stigma of being involved with the cinema she became a major star after beginning a personal and professional partnership with filmmaker Raj Kapoor. She and Kapoor worked together on some of India's greatest films including Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955). Their romantic entanglement provided fans with hours of gossipy entertainment as Kapoor was a married man. After marrying actor/producer Sunil Dutt in 1957, Nargis retired from films to raise her children and to volunteer for charitable work. She still remained active in the film industry using her friendship with Indira Ghandi to help lobby for better conditions for filmmakers. In 1980 she became a member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament).
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Nargis, her stage name, is the Persian word for narcissus or daffodil.
- After appearing as a child actress aged six in Talashe Haq (1935), she made her full debut in Tamanna (1942).
- Won the Filmfare Best Actress Award for Mother India (1957) and the National Film Award for Best Actress for Raat Aur Din (1968).
- First actress to be awarded the Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian award, in 1958.
- Formed the "Ajanta Arts Cultural Troupe" with her husband Sunil Dutt, which assembled several famous actors and singers to entertain the Indian troops.
- An enthusiastic charity worker; the first patron of The Spastics Society of India.
- The National Film Awards have instituted the "Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration" in her honour.