'1st in film school, but lagging in career': Navin Nischol never got the fame he deserved

Farhana Farook
·9-min read
Navin Nischol

He’s the face of the Madan Mohan-Kaifi Azmi melody, Tum jo mil gaye ho, from Hanste Zakhm. The soulful refrain owes much to Navin Nischol’s smooth charm.

Even the numbers from his other hits in the early ’70s, like Kaan mein jhumka (Sawan Bhadon), Raat kali jab khwab mein aayi (Buddha Mil Gaya), Jis din se maine tumko dekha hai (Parwana) … all celebrated his suave sex-appeal – the scarves and jackets adding to his mojo.

The FTII gold-medallist was slated to strike gold had it not been for the phenomenon of Rajesh Khanna, who swept fans off their feet and competition under his.

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Navin had to make do with the tag of ‘poor man’s Rajesh Khanna’, a label he found hard to shake off. Even in Parwana, which had Navin as the hero and Amitabh Bachchan as his nemesis, the latter’s presence loomed large. By 1973, Amitabh’s ‘angry young man’ had changed the cinematic template and Navin, along with many others, was relegated to the fringes.

Survival compelled him to play second lead and later character roles. His stint on television (Dekh Bhai Dekh) was a spark on the horizon albeit short-lived.

The frustrations were amplified by his unhinged personal life. His marriage with Neelu Kapur went kaput, rumours of link-ups with starlets working as the axiomatic ‘fatal flaw’. The macabre twist came when his second wife, Geetanjali, committed suicide alleging him of ‘torture’. From jail to bail was the most treacherous turn in the 60-year-old actor’s life. Five years down the line, just a day before Holi, Navin Nischol too passed away.

“Navin was hurt by the disappearance of his instant stardom and the manner in which it was snatched away... At times, he was bitter, at times philosophical and finally moved away from it all,” reportedly said his Ek Baar Kaho co-star Shabana Azmi at his demise, summing up the reedy contour between stardom and shadows and how the late actor lost himself between them... Read on...

Navin Nischol studied in the Bangalore Military School. Young Navin modelled for the Wills cigarette ad when in college.

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Later, he turned assistant to Mohan Sehgal during Kanyadaan (1968) and Saajan (1969). Given his good-looks, Sehgal advised him to join the FTII and assured him of a break on his return. Navin returned as a gold-medallist and Sehgal honoured his promise by casting the actor in Sawan Bhadon (1970) opposite Rekha.

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Saawan Bhadon celebrated a jubilee run at around 38 centres. The next year, Jyoti Swaroop’s psychological thriller, Parwana and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s comedy thriller, Buddha Mil Gaya amplified his professional strength.

But the jackpot was Brij Sadanah’s Victoria No. 203 (1972), which teamed Navin with Saira Banu. Revolving around a diamond heist, it was a blockbusting success.

Chetan Anand’s Hanste Zakhm (1973) cast him as the cab driver, who falls in love with a sex-worker (Priya Rajvansh). “The song Tum jo mil gaye ho was difficult to lip sync. I asked Chetanji whether he’d take lengthy shots. He replied, ‘If you’re a good actor, you’ll give me lengthy shots. To practise the song, I’d play it in my car while shuttling between studios,” once reminisced Navin (Cineplot).

Chand’s dacoit drama Dharma and B R Chopra’s thriller Dhund, both in '73, flattered his flamboyant image. Mohan Sehgal’s Woh Main Nahin (1974), a doppelganger mystery, had him romance a bevy of beauties Rekha, Padmini Kapila, Asha Sachdev and Nazneen.

His curve plateaued with Barkha Bahaar, Zorro, Paise Ki Gudiya, Ek Se Badhkar Ek, Ek Baar Kaho, The Burning Train and Saboot (between 1973 -1980) doing average business. With the rise of the angst-driven Amitabh Bachchan, Navin’s fade-out was complete.

There were some slips too. He missed playing the character that launched Vinod Khanna in Gulzar’s campus drama Mere Apne (1971). He also regretted turning down Manoj Kumar’s Roti Kapada Aur Makaan (1974) and Yash Chopra’s Deewar (1975), roles which threw open the floodgates for Shashi Kapoor. Later, Navin was prudent enough to do Manmohan Desai’s Desh Premee (1982), after Shatrughan Sinha reportedly declined it.

Once Navin, whose star was on the decline, attended the premiere of a film at Metro theatre in his ritzy Impala. “The moment my car door opened; all cameras went up. But when they saw me emerging, they put their cameras down... It was humiliating because people also witnessed this… One flop and they write you off!” he lamented in the throwback interview (Cineplot).

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To keep pace with the changing times, he started accepting character roles, his first being in the Neelam Kothari starrer Jawani (1984). “Either I sat at home with no work and nursed my ego or I went out and worked. So, what if it was a character role? After all, aren’t you here to act?” he reportedly reasoned.

Teri Baahon Mein, Samunder, Aakrosh, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Hindustaan Ki Kasam and Major Saab (with Amitabh Bachchan), Aastha, Aa Ab Laut Chalein, Khosla ka Ghosla and Break Ke Baad are some notable character roles he played between 1984 – 2010.

Bollywood Calling
Bollywood Calling

Mention must be made of Navin’s performance as an aging film star in Nagesh Kukoonoor’s Bollywood Calling (2001). As Manu Kapoor, a self-obsessed hero, he sports a wig to mask both his receding hairline and glory. Vacillating between phony humility and wonted arrogance, his was a slice-of-life take.

Dekh Bhai Dekh
Dekh Bhai Dekh

His innings on television during the ’90s was eventful with serials like Rishte-Naate, Farmaan, Junoon and Waqt Ki Raftaar. But the most popular was the sitcom Dekh Bhai Dekh (1993), directed by Anand Mahendroo and produced by Jaya Bachchan.


Much like his professional life, Navin’s personal domain was also rocky. He first married Neelu Kapur, an artist and niece of Dev Anand and sister of Shekhar Kapur. They had two daughters, Natasha and Nomita.

Padmini Kapila and Navin Nischol in Tumhari Kasam
Padmini Kapila and Navin Nischol in Tumhari Kasam

Reportedly, his seemingly idyllic marriage came under a cloud when rumours linked Navin with his Woh Main Nahin co-star Padmini Kapila. Navin and Neelu parted ways after seven years. Neelu, it’s said, sought solace in Christianity. His alleged romance with Padmini also came to an end.

Navin tied the knot again with Geetanjali, a divorcee, in 1996. Little was known about their married life, even as Navin faced a dwindling career. In February, 2006, news of Navin and wife Geetanjali allegedly been thrown out of their ‘own’ house by younger brother and producer Pravin Nischol grabbed the headlines.

Geetanjali reportedly told TOI that Pravin Nischol, had ‘thrown out an out-of-work Navin.’ The actor was said to be living in a small house at Mahim, which belonged to his mother-in-law. “Navin hasn’t got any work for the last two years… we’re eating out of the little capital we have,” she purportedly said.

In a bizarre twist, a few months later on April 22, Geetanjali committed suicide by hanging herself in her third-floor apartment in Laxman Nivas, Mahim. Forty-five-year-old Geetanjali left a suicide note holding her husband Navin responsible for her action. “Navin, an alcoholic, is useless and is torturing me… that’s why I am ending my life,” reportedly read the letter. She also blamed Pravin for harassing her by siding with Navin.

Navin was in Pune when the unfortunate incident happened. Both brothers were arrested on charges of ‘cruelty’ and ‘abetting’ the suicide. They were remanded to police custody. In his bail petition, the actor denied harassment to his wife and said he was forced to live separately due to Geetanjali’s extreme ‘mood swings’. Pravin too denied harassing her.

Navin’s lawyer reportedly claimed that Geetanjali suffered from depression and that she herself had a drinking problem. The couple had decided on a divorce through mutual settlement. Eventually, the brothers were granted bail as there was no evidence to hold them responsible for Geetanjali’s tragic act.


Five years later... On March 19, 2011, Navin was supposed to drive with friends producer Gurdeep Singh and actor Randhir Kapoor to Pune to celebrate Holi. But it was not meant to be.

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Gurdeep and Navin left in the car at around 10.30 am. Before Gurdeep and he could pick up Randhir from Chembur, around Sion, Navin apparently requested Gurdeep, ‘to lower the AC’. Then he just slumped.

He’d suffered a massive heart attack. The 65-year-old actor was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead.

“He was my buddy more than my brother,” said the actor’s shocked brother Pravin to Mumbai Mirror adding, “Was it a premonition? For the first time, before he left the house, Navin said goodbye to all of us individually, our mother, my adopted son, even our brother who stays abroad.”

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Producer of Break Ke Baad, Kunal Kohli had only words of praise for the senior actor. He told TOI, “He was a thorough gentleman. I had wonderful conversations with him. I’d listen to him as an enraptured child hearing fairy-tales.”

Undeniably, Navin had endured the extremes of ignominy in his lifetime. But the presence of people at the final farewell proved that he was a man loved by many.

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