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NADIRA (1932 – 2006)


Nadira was a film actor. She was born Farhat Ezekiel (or possibly Florence Ezekiel) on 5 December 1932 into a Baghdadi Jewish family in Nagpada in Mumbai. Her parents divorced when she was four, and she and her brothers were left in the care of her grandmother while her mother worked to support them. Much later in life, when she had become a success, she remembered that they sometimes didn’t have enough to eat, so her grandfather would instruct the pani puri wala to fill the pani puris to the brim with tamarind water so that their bellies would be full.

Farhat was still in her teens when she was spotted by Sardar Akhtar, wife of the great filmmaker Mehboob Khan. Sardar Akhtar took Farhat under her wing, groomed her and renamed her Nadira. Her first movie, directed by Mehboob Khan, was Aan in which she played the fiery princess Rajashree. Her next big success was Shree 420 (1956), where she played the sophisticated yet vulnerable Maya. Her aristocratic good looks, confident manner and elegant carriage fitted her very well to play the ‘vamp’, and she excelled in that role, though she sometimes complained about typecasting. Her career spanned fifty years and over sixty films, including some of Bollywood’s biggest hits such as Waris (1954), Pakeezah (1971), and Amar Akbar Antony (1977). She made two films with Merchant Ivory: Guru in 1969 and Cotton Mary in 1999. She won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for her role as Julie’s mother in Julie (1975). Her last big film was Josh (2000) starring Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. She became one of the best paid Indian actors in her time, and used to drive around Mumbai in a Rolls Royce.

Nadira was first married for a short time to an Urdu poet and filmmaker named Naqshab. This marriage ended unhappily. She then married a man who turned out to be a gold digger, and this lasted only a week. For the latter part of her life, she lived alone in Mumbai, as many of her relatives had moved to Israel. For the last three years of her life, she kept entirely to her flat, where she lived with her housekeeper, Shobha. In Mahesh Bhatt’s Tamanna (1997) she played a fading film star, a role that was perhaps a little too close to the bone. In her last months she suffered a stroke with cardiac complications and died on 9 February 2006.
 
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