Real Name – Leticia Ferns
Profession – Actress
Active Years – 1940s – 1950s
Nationality – Indian
Religion – Christian
Date of Birth –
Date of Death –
Debut Film – Chini Jadugar (1947)
Last Film –
Significant others in the Film Industry –
Dusky, limpid-eyed Neelam is the only film star of Bombay whose earliest ambition was to become a nun!
Neelam, whose real name is Leticia Ferns, is a devout Roman Catholic and, to her, religion is the sheet-anchor which has given her strength and confidence to face many a difficulty during her struggle for success.
Born in Mangalore, Neelam was brought to Bombay when only one year old, and was educated at the Gloria High School where she did her matric.
Right from her school days, Neelam was a serious and thoughtful girl and never indulged in fancy dreams of becoming a film star. She was happiest when attending her religion classes and she thought she would like to dedicate her life to the service of God,
Her grandmother, however, wouldn’t hear of it. She did not want her pretty, talented grandchild to submit herself to the strict, austere life of a nun and promptly vetoed the idea.
Thereupon Neelam, who loves children and likes nothing better than to be with a roomful of kids, took up a position as a teacher in St. Teresa’s School. A year later, however, she found a better job with the Telephone Company, and quit teaching.
It was here that Neelam, like a few of other filmland colleagues, made contacts which completely changed the placid routine of her everyday life.
She met several film personalities while working with the Telephone Company: Meena Shorey, Mumtaz Shanti, Sheila (who used to appear in Sohrab Modi’s films). Husnbanoo and her mother, Sharifa.
At the time, Neelam was always dressed in a frock, or a skirt, and blouse, but every one noticed her fresh, youthful looks, her trim figure and her charm and vivacity.
One day, Director S.M. Yusuf spotted her and insisted that she play the lead in “Chini Jadugar,” a “semi-stunt” picture.
Photo Caption – Neelam has a gay and carefree outlook on life though she is deeply religious. Her favorite sport is swimming.
At first, Neelam was bewildered by the offer. She had never dreamt of a film career and when the chance to gain fame and make big money was thrust upon her, she didn’t know how to deal with it. She knew that her family would never approve of her taking up this “most dubious” of professions.
But a pretty, young girl cannot always resist a glamorous and luxurious life and the opportunity to be seen and admired by thousands of of people. Neelam decided to take the plunge, come what may.
She had accumulated a lot of leave at the office and, taking advantage of it, she started to work in “Chini Jadugar” without telling her family anything about it.
Neelam completed her role in the picture and then quietly went back to the routine of everyday life. Then the secret was out. A photograph of hers appeared in “The Times of India” and there was commotion in the Ferns family.
By this time, Neelam had finally decided she wanted to remain in films and when her people raised objections she said that she would utilize part of the money she earned to maintain an orphanage.
In the selection of her screen name she was guided by her friend, Meena, who had played the title role in a file called Neelam (1945).
After her role in “Chini Jadugar” she worked in Wali’s “Padmini” and was later asked to dance in Nargis Art Concerns’ “Romeo and Juliet.” But although she did not work in this picture she formed a fruitful association. She met Nargis and her mother, the late Jaddanbai. The latter took a tremendous liking to Neelam and groomed her with loving care. Sadly, Neelam says, “I miss her love and kindness. She was like a mother to me. I can say that I ‘woke up’ in her lap, because it was with her help that I saw life and learnt how to face it.”
For four years, Neelam spent most of her time with Jaddanbai who helped her find roles in “Anjuman,” “Darogaji,” “Pyar ki Baatien” and “Kunba”.
Kept her Word
True to her promise to her family, Neelam spent most of her money in looking after children whom she took from destitute mothers. Her innate love of children made this task a pleasant one for her.
Neelam adopts children of all communities and personally attends to their education and general upbringing. At one time, when she could afford it, she adopted nine children, eight girls and one boy, and looked after them until they grew up and were able to look after themselves or were helped to pursue higher education.
Photo Caption – Neelam is seen with five children of poor parents , whom she has adopted.
As each lot of children passed on from her home, Neelam, even with her slender resources, continued to take in more each time. At present she has five children under her care. She and her brood of happy kids kneel down to prayer every night, a practice which Neelam never misses.
Yet, the religious streak in her does not prevent Neelam from enjoying life to the hilt as most girls of her age do.
She enjoys going to, and giving, parties and loves ballroom dancing. Her main recreation is reading – “novels, mostly” – and her favorite sport is swimming.
Like most members of her sex, she loves to “just sit around and gossip,” although she likes people too much to be malicious about them.
Apart from looking after her own home, and her five little ones, she still takes the responsibility of supporting part of her family – a duty which she feels she owes to them.
Her film career has not been a grand success in terms of fame and wealth, but this has not impaired her gay and carefree outlook on life. (This interview was conducted in October 1954, contributed by Sudarshan Talwar).