Nadira, born Farhat Ezekiel on 5 December 1932, reigned supreme in the 1950s and 1960s and was one of the busiest actresses of her time.
She was born to a Baghdadi Jewish family, and this highlights the important contribution of Jews in Indian cinema.
She was introduced to the film industry at the age of 19 in 1952 by Sardar Akhtar, wife of film director Mehboob Khan, in the film Aan. She rose to cinematic prominence with her role as a Rajput princess in the movie. She had done a bold scene in the movie.
Nadira won a Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress, for her role as Julie’s mother Margaret, ‘Maggie’, in the 1975 film Julie.
Throughout her career, it was the song ‘Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh’ from Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 that followed her everywhere. The song “Ajeeb Daastan Hai Yeh” picturised on the trio of Nadira, Rajkumar and Meena Kumari in ‘Dil Apna Preet Parayi’ is another evergreen favourite.
Her last role was in the film Josh (2000).
In her longtime career, because of her western attire, her character in most of her memorable movies was Christian or Anglo-Indian. One notable exception can be found in the movie Aan, opposite Dilip Kumar, where she played a Rajput princess. Also, in Shree 420 there was no religious affiliation shown explicitly: her character was named Maya, which is not necessarily a Christian name.
The boisterous actress to play the role of vamps was well paid for her efforts and was one of the first Indian actresses to own a Rolls-Royce.
For the last part of her life, she lived alone in Mumbai, as many of her relatives had moved to Israel. On 9 February 2006, Nadira died at the age of 73.
Actor Tom Alter has reminisced, “Nadira has been a woman so much ahead of her time — in fact, she was a woman for all time — beautiful, bold, truthful. What today’s woman strives to be, Nadira was 50 years ago.”