The serendiptuous 60s — the decade of all those popular, remunerative musicals. No heroine defined this decade better than the luminously lovely Sadhana. Not only was she a basic talisman for many of these 60s bits of ephemera but what gave Sadhana the edge over contemporaries like Asha Parekh and Saira Banu, was her gift for understatement and her knack for making transparent her innermost feelings even while playing a typical ‘O Daddy’ heroine in a Kashmir confection.
This histrionic proficiency was perhaps a logical outcome as Sadhana Shivdasani spent her early life steeped in film culture. She was even named after the actress Sadhana Bose, her father’s favourite. After the Shivdasani family fled from Karachi during the post-partition riots, they encountered difficult times but their much-indulged daughter was allowed to see as many as two films a week. No wonder then, a teenage Sadhana sidelined her Auxilium Convent and Jai Hind College background and grabbed the chance to play the second lead in India’s first Sindhi film, Abana (’58). She was paid only the token Re 1 for Abana but from there it was a short leap forward when S Mukherji offered her the lead in Love In Simla (’60).
Immediately after Love In Simla’s runaway success, Sadhana became a youth icon. The Audrey Hepburn inspired `Sadhana fringe’ that feathered her broad forehead, caught on like wildfire and made her the fashion weather wane for her age. As Sadhana scored off more hits — Hum Dono (’61), Mere Mehboob (’63), Rajkumar (’64), Waqt (’65) — her style was increasingly imitated. Films, in those days, were still the rack
from which Fashion picked up its ideas and if Sadhana was pioneering muslim-style tight churidar-kurtas in Waqt, she had enough followers to cause a country-wide sartorial revolution.
For a short, giddy span Sadhana was queen of the box- office (of the 19 releases she had in the 60s, 11 were silver jubilees). Author-backed roles, too, made their way to her corner. With that will-o’-the-wisp quality and that heart- stopping air of breathlessness which she projected, she became increasingly identified with mystery suspense chillers. She was consecutively cast in three films that defined the genre — Woh Kaun Thi (’64), Mera Saaya (’66) and Anita (’67).
In 1966, soon after her family finally consented to her marriage to her Love In Simla director, R K Nayyar, her thyroid problems worsened, her eyes bulged unseemingly and her life started unravelling. She was summarily ejected from major films like Around The World (opposite Raj Kapoor) and Sunghursh (opposite Dilip Kumar).
Sadhana bravely underwent treatment at the Leigh clinic in Boston, came back to do films (some of them successful like Inteqam, Ek Phool Do Mali and Geeta Mera Naam), but somehow it was just not the same and Sadhana became one more casualty of the evanescent nature of stardom.
Today, a widow, she lives alone in her sea-facing flat, wilfully shunning all publicity. Her logic is irrefutable: “Let them remember the Sadhana of the Arzoo days.”