Sadhana, a symbol of glamour, romance and ethereal beauty from the cinema of the 1960s, died in Mumbai on December 25. She was 74, and had been battling cancer for several months. The movie star was married to the filmmaker RK Nayyar, who died in 1995. Nayyar directed Sadhana in her first big hit, Love in Simla (1960), opposite Joy Mukherjee.
She was born Sadhana Shivdasani on September 2, 1941, in Karachi in undivided India. Her family moved to Mumbai in 1950 after the Partition. Her uncle, Hari Shivdasani, was a bit-part actor in Hindi films, and one of Sadhana’s early screen appearances was as a back-up dancer in the song Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh from Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 in 1955. A family connection was later forged with the Kapoors when her cousin, Babita, married Raj Kapoor’s son Randhir Kapoor in 1971.
Love in Simla catapulted Sadhana to fame and fortune. She was “a scene-stealer with her naturalness before the camera and became a darling of the teen set”, SP Singh writes in his 2014 tribute Sadhana Enchantingly Enchanting Enchantress of Hindi Cinema . “The craze for her Audrey Hepburn-inspired ‘Sadhana fringe’ (suggested by Nayyar to hide her broad forehead) made her a fashion icon of her age.”
Several high-profile roles in different movies followed, including Bimal Roy’s Parakh (1960), Hum Dono (1961), Asli Naqli (1962) and Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (1962). The hit song O Sajna Barkha Bahaar Aayi from Parakh is among the tunes indelibly associated with Sadhana.
In 1963, Sadhana starred with Rajendra Kumar in one of her biggest successes. HS Rawail’s Muslim social Mere Mehboob was Sadhana’s first movie in colour, and it showcased her fresh-faced looks like few other films had.
Nayyar gave Sadhana her big hit and Rawail enhanced her beauty, but Raj Khosla contributed the most to Sadhana’s screen persona as a mysterious and almost spectral beauty in the ghost-themed Woh Kaun Thi. Khosla also directed Sadhana in Mera Saaya (1966) and Anita (1967).
Sadhana starred in another blockbuster, Ramanand Sagar’s Arzoo, in 1965, and was a part of the ensemble cast of Yash Chopra’s family drama Waqt, made in the same year. She carried off Bhanu Athaiya’s stylish figure-hugging kurtas and churidars with aplomb, cementing her image as a fashion icon.
Sadhana’s most fruitful decade was the ’60s, during which she had “19 releases, 11 of which were huge hits,” SP Singh writes. In 1966, she married Nayyar, and he directed her as an avenging angel in Inteqam in 1969. She suffered for years from thyroid-related health issues, which altered her appearance and effectively put a lid on her career. Inteqam and Ek Phool Do Mali, released in 1969, were her last hits, and she appeared in a few more productions before quitting the profession by the mid-1970s.
Sadhana continued to make news in recent years because of a long drawn-out legal battle with the singer Asha Bhonsle over tenancy rights. Sadhana had rented the ground floor apartment of a bungalow in suburban Mumbai that belonged to Bhonsle and was later sold to a builder.
Apart from acting credits, Sadhana also claimed to have directed Geetaa Mera Naam in 1974 (it is said that her husband made the film but could not be named for legal reasons). She remained out of the public glare, and made a rare appearance at a fashion show in 2014.