'I want to be remembered as the khoobsurat Sadhana'

Farhana Farook
·9-min read

“I want to be remembered as the khoobsurat Sadhana”

The mystique of Sadhana lives on... A tribute to the late actor on her fifth death anniversary today (December 25):

When Shah Rukh Khan, who seemingly has the copyright to romance, lists Sadhana’s ‘Abhi na jaao chhod kar’ as his favourite track, it makes you believe in old-world love once again.

In the same film, Hum Dono, when she lulls a perturbed Dev Anand to sleep with ‘Jahan mein aisa kaun hai, you can’t look away from Sadhana’s beatific face.

With the same enchantment, you cherish lyricist Shakeel Badayuni’s ode to her veiled beauty in ‘Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki kasam...’

Madan Mohan too composed some of his finest melodies for Sadhana, including 'Tu jahan jahan chalega...' in Mera Saaya. In the same film, 'Nainon mein badra chhaye' is a melange of so many sentiments. Mandir, sindoor and the sacredness of love... aesthetically filmed on Sunil Dutt and her by Raj Khosla. In fact, the classical number is a yardstick for talent show contestants today.

'Lag jaa gale...' from Woh Kaun Thi? has outlived the film and its era. The song of yearning, where an impassioned Sadhana urges Manoj Kumar to avail of the evanescent moment… has been part of films Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Bombay Talkies.

Having enjoyed around 144 million views on YouTube, the number has not only kept Sadhana’s memories alive for her fans but has created a legion of new ones…

A look at the life and times of the actress, who quit films prematurely due to a thyroid ailment…


Sadhana Shivdasani was born in Karachi in 1941. After the Partition, her father, a zamindar in Karachi, moved to India with his family. Sadhana first appeared as a chorus girl in the song ‘Mud mud ke na dekh, mud mud ke..’ in Raj Kapoor’s Shri 420 (1955).

She debuted in the Sindhi film Abana (1958). Seeing the film’s ad, filmmaker S Mukerji signed her for Love In Simla (1960) opposite son Joy Mukerji. As the bespectacled girl, who later transforms Cinderella-like into a poised lady, Sadhana charmed audiences.

Her fringe hairstyle inspired by Audrey Hepburn and suggested by the film’s director, RK Nayyar (whom she later married), became a trend.

“I had a broad forehead, which showed in photographs. It had to be covered with a patch of hair. R. K. Nayyar saab (director of Love In Shimla) said the patch wouldn’t do. Those days Audrey Hepburn’s fringe in Roman holiday was much-admired. I was rushed off to a hairdresser and given the same cut,” she traced the genesis of the ‘Sadhana cut’.

Sadhana was sheer simplicity and grace as the postman’s daughter in Bimal Roy’s Parakh (1960). “When I was shooting the song 'O sajna, barkha bahar aayee..', Bimal-da remarked I reminded him of NutaniIji. I too admired her. She was a natural and had such sadness on her face,” once remarked the actor.

In 1962, she had a hat-trick of hits — Hum Dono and Asli Naqli with Dev Anand and Ek Musafir Ek Hasina with Joy. H S Rawail’s Mere Mehboob (1963) was a milestone – her first colour film, which celebrated her fragile beauty and also her chemistry with Rajendra Kumar. K Shankar’s entertainer Rajkumar (1964) cast her as a princess opposite Shammi Kapoor.

Woh Kaun Thi?
Woh Kaun Thi?

The same year Raj Khosla’s thriller 'Woh Kaun Thi?' with Manoj Kumar added to her stardom. As the apparition saying, “Mujhe khoon pasand hai!” to the sensuous beauty singing 'Lag jaa gale… Sadhana’s aura was inscrutable. Madan Mohan’s other compositions, 'Naina barase rimjhim' and 'Jo hamne daastan apni sunaayi' enhanced the sense of mystery and melancholy.

Yash Chopra tapped her glamorous side in Waqt (1965). “One day Yashiji (Chopra) saw me in a sleeveless, gold-embroidered kurti, churidar and mojris and a chic hair style. He said, ‘Wow! That’s exactly what I want for my film’,” she retraced the style that became synonymous with her. In the same year, she was part of the hit Arzoo with Rajendra Kumar.


She had just signed H S Rawail’s Sunghursh, when a thyroid disorder began affecting her face and primarily her eyes.

“I called Mr Rawail and told him to sign another heroine. Mr Rawail dismissed it with, ‘If I could wait so long for you for Mere Mehboob, I can wait for Sunghursh too’. However, five days later, I read a huge ad in a newspaper declaring Vyjayanthimala as the heroine of the film. It hurt. I didn’t talk to Mr H S Rawail thereafter,” she was quoted saying.

She was also dropped from the Raj Kapoor starrer Around The World (1967). But Raj Khosla stood by her. In his Mera Saaya (1966) she played a double role of a devoted wife and her impersonator opposite Sunil Dutt. The dance number ‘Jhumka gira re’ was a chartbuster. The thriller Anita (1967) completed her trinity with Khosla and earned her the title of ‘Mystery Girl’.

Ek Phool Do Mali
Ek Phool Do Mali

An ailing Sadhana underwent treatment for thyroid at the Leigh clinic in Boston for around a year. On return, she threw a party to announce she had healed. She gave two hits in 1969 - R K Nayyar’s Intequam and Devendra Goel’s Ek Phool Do Mali. But the illness had taken a toll on her beautiful eyes and face.

Flops like Ishq Par Zor Nahin, Aap Aye Bahar Aayee and Dil Daulat Duniya in the ’70s hastened her exit. She directed the well-received actioner Geetaa Mera Naam (1974). It somewhere became her swan song.

“Producers had begun shying away from me. I realised what goes up has to come down,” said the actor whose last few releases Amanat and Vandana (both in 1975) and the much-delayed Ulfat Ki Nayi Manzilein (1994) were no-shows.


At 16, Sadhana had lost her heart to her Love In Simla director R K Nayyar. “In those days, we wouldn’t meet so often, so most of the wooing was done over the phone… But I had a family to support. So we parted ways. He continued with his work, I with mine,” she said in an interview.

Her relationship with Nayyar took off again after five years of estrangement. “One day he proposed to me on the telephone. Initially, my parents were against the marriage. But then my father said, Jab miya biwi raazi to kya karega kazi. My mother finally gave in.” They got engaged at R K Nayyar’s Pali Hill residence.

“For my engagement, I wore a mauve Banarasi saree. For my wedding (1966), I wore a pink saree with silver embroidery and diamonds and a magenta stole to complement it,” recalled the actor who was a bride at 22.

Life was an extended honeymoon for Sadhana. “I travelled to Paris, America... the world over, saw movies and enjoyed a normal life. I hadn’t enjoyed a vacation since the age of 15... My husband was a foodie. I learnt all kinds of cuisine — Chinese and European… I could serve some 20 types of dals in a month!” she proudly said.

Life was an extended honeymoon for Sadhana. “I travelled to Paris, America... the world over, saw movies and enjoyed a normal life. I hadn’t enjoyed a vacation since the age of 15... My husband was a foodie. I learnt all kinds of cuisine — Chinese and European… I could serve some 20 types of dals in a month!” she proudly said.

Her marriage however went through its own share of turbulence. “We had a lot of ups and downs. After I got married, Nayyar saab’s Yeh Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai (1966) flopped. Later films like Qatl (1986) and Pati Parmeshwar (1989) also didn’t do well. There were loans to be repaid. People expected me to pay them off,” revealed Sadhana.

“My marriage was a hurricane, there were good and bad moments, but we didn’t part ways. If he felt that I was too dominating, I felt that he brought too many friends home. We decided to give each other space,” she said in another interview. After her husband’s demise in 1995, Sadhana wound up the production business.


Sadhana, who led a reclusive life, enjoyed gardening and playing cards at the club in the afternoon. “I do fear that if something happens to me, no one would be around. But even those who have children can’t depend on them,” said the aging actor who had suffered a miscarriage early in her marriage.

In her later years, Sadhana had adopted (though not officially) a baby when she was five minutes old. 'Her name is Rhea. She and her parents live with me. She gives me so much love. She calls me Nani. I’ve planned for her education and marriage. I believe in karma — hisab chukana hai,' she revealed, a few years before she passed away.

She added, “Greed has no end. I’ve seen everything in my life — clothes, jewellery and money. I don’t need a Mercedes. I’m comfortable with my small car, which I can drive around. I don’t feel lonely at all.”

But in reality, Sadhana was distressed by court cases and public scrutiny during her last years. In 2010, she lodged a complaint against builder Yusuf Lakdawala, alleging that he was forcing her to vacate her residence (Sangeeta bungalow).

In December 2014, Sadhana had to undergo an emergency surgery due to a bleeding oral lesion. A year later, she reportedly died of cancer on Christmas, December 25, 2015, in Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai. She was 74.

Sometime later, a collection of her old photographs and letters were discovered by a scrap dealer. In an irony of fate, Sadhana’s life lay strewn in the rabble… Her fans, however, continue to revere her as the Sadhana of Mere Mehboob, Mera Saaya... “I want to be remembered as the khoobsurat Sadhana,” she’d once said.

At least this wish of hers seems to have been fulfilled.

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