Beyond Bygone

Jaddanbai of vision and resilience

In the early talkies era, Jaddanbai played a pioneering role — started off as an actress, became one of the first women producers, directed films and even composed music

For many years it had been said that the Indian Film Industry was male dominated, only with the emerging movement of 'empowering woman', many came into the folds of the industry as mainstream directors, film editors and affiliated professionals. But it is necessary to mention that there were women of substance in the 1930s with the likes of Fatima Begum who directed, gave music in her home production and also gave break to her three daughters including Zubaida; Ishrat Sultana (Bibbo) who gave music in the film Adl-e-Jahangir (1934); Jaddanbai Hussain who launched her banner Sangeet Film Company Bombay (Mumbai) in the 30s and gave music and directed her own home production in 1935; and Saraswati Devi (Khurshid Minchore) who made her debut as music composer in Bombay Talkies' movie in 1936.

Jaddanbai Hussain was born in 1892 in Benares (present-day Varanasi) to Daleepabai, a beauty who became widow soon after her marriage and was thrown out of her house. With no place to go, she wanted to end her life by jumping into a river. Instead, she was kidnapped by group of people. Later she was initiated into music and became 'Tawaif' (courtesan). Daleepabai married Miajaan Hussain and Jaddanbai was born out of this wedlock. Miajaan died when Jaddanbai was barely five year old. Like her mother, she also became 'Tawaif'.

Jaddanbai Hussain was a gifted child and went on to become a singer, dancer, actor, music composer, director as well as producer. Soon she gained popularity as a singer. Jaddanbai was a passionate singer; she had a very soulful voice but according to connoisseurs she needed proper guidance and training. Jaddanbai took formal training from Shrimant Ganpat Rao Sindhia Bhaiya Saheb of Calcutta but due to the untimely death of Bhaiyaji in 1920, she later trained with Ustad Moinuddin Khan, Chaddu Khan and Laab Khan Saheb. She also took training in Thumri from Barkat Ali Khan (younger brother of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan).

With proper training, Jaddanbai had become a trained singer and started getting offers from All India Radio and Columbia Records Company even recorded her Ghazals. One of her record Lagat Karejwa Mein Chot became an iconic song and was hummed all across the country. She also recorded few classical Ragas. One of her records in Raag Shankara, Jai Jai Deva, became very popular. She was a great charmer and became a renowned courtesan of Calcutta. Soon she started getting offers to sing in the mehfils of Royal courts of Rampur, Indore, Gwalior, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Kashmir. Within a short time, she got an offer from producer Abdul Rashid Kardar from Lahore for his film Raja Gopichand, to be directed by BM Shukla starring Jaddanbai, Dev Bala and HC Bali.

Jaddanbai's performance in Raja Gopichand was highly appreciated and in the same year she got an offer from Eastern Arts, Sindh for the film Insaan Ya Saitan (Fath-e-Imman) starting Jaddanbai, Ermeline, Malkani and D Manik. The film was directed by Moti B Gidwani and composed by Chandi Ram. Soon Jaddanbai started getting offers from Bombay Imperial Film Company of Ardesir Irani and Nanubhai Vakil from Bombay and accordingly she left Lahore and came to Bombay.

In 1934, Jaddanbai got an offer from Eastern Art, Bombay for the film Prem Pariksha to be directed by GR Sethy. The cast included Jaddanbai, Mehtab, D Manik, Hari Sivdasani and Gope. Jaddanbai went on to sing four songs out of thirteen — Kaisi Vaah Dhoom Machaai Kanahiya, Range-e-Mehfil Na Raha Aish Ka Saman Na Raha, Kaisi Pyaari Suratiya Tumhari and Charkhe Na Hanzaar Ne Kuchh Is Kadar under the baton of composer Chandi Ram. In the same year, she did a film with Nanubai Vakil, Bazaar-e-Husn, based on legendary novelist Preamchand's noble Seva Sadan. The star cast included the likes of Jaddanbai, Zubaida, Fatima Begum and Shahu Modak and music composed by Dinkar S Bidkar. And Jaddanbai went on to sing five songs in the film — Ina Rakh Do Ki Ghabratahaidil, Teri Shokhi Hai Juda Ghamza, Tum Radhe Bano Shyam Hum Nandlala, Sheeshe Se Na Rakh Matlab Ae Saqi-e-Mastana and Sab Jhootha Hai Sansaar Nahi Koi Kisi Ka Yaar. Jaddanbai's role as the mother of Shahu Modak was highly appreciated.

Seeing the popularity of Jaddanbai, Sagar Movie Tone, Bombay, offered her the film, Nautchwaali, staring opposite to Swrooprani, Yakoob, Mehboob Khan (who later became producer and director), Pecy Patel and Rafiq Ghaznavi. Jaddanbai also sang her own numbers. The film was directed by Ramrik Desai and music was composed by Balram Singh.

Jaddanbai was a colourful personality. She was a much married women. Her first marriage was with Gujarati businessman, Narottam Das Khatri, who embraced Islam and became Bacchhi Babu. They were blessed with a son named Akhtar Hussain. Her second marriage was with her harmonium player Ustad Irshad Meer Khan and together gave birth to their son, Anwar Hussain. And Jaddanbai's third marriage was with Mohanchand Uttamchand Tyagi.

Uttamchand was in Calcutta but was about to move to England to study medicine. While in Calcutta, Uttamchand visited the Kotha of Jaddanbai and listened to her songs; and he instantly fell in love with her and proposed to marry her. Jaddanbai discouraged him as he was four year younger and having experience of two marriages, she was in no mood to get married. She told him, "You go first to your family and tell them about this marriage, that I am a Muslim and Tawaif. If they approve of this I will reconsider your proposal". Uttamchand went back and didn't return for next four years. After four years, he came back and told her, "I have snapped ties with my family and I want to marry you". Thereafter Jaddanbai agreed to marry him. Uttamchand like Bacchi Babu also embraced Islam and became Abdul Rashid. A year later, Jaddanbai gave birth to baby girl and they named her Fatima Rashid who later became star of the 1950s as Nargis.

By the mid 1930s, the film industry was becoming popular amongst respectable families. Shobhna Samarth and Durga Khaote came from affluent families and became actresses.

Jaddanbai was a very ambitious person. She was already renowned as a singer and actress and now wanted to produce and directed her own films. Accordingly, she formed her own banner Sangeet Film Company and produced few films. Its debut film was Talash-e-Haqin (1935). This median production of her was directed by CM Lohar. Jaddanbai herself acted opposite Yakoob and introduced her daughter Fatima (Nargis) as child an artist Baby Rani. Jaddanbai also composed the music of the film and sang four numbers — Ghor Ghor Ghor Ghor Barsaat Miherwa, Dil Mein Jab Se Kisika Thikaana Hua, Jhoolo Jhoolo Mori Pyaari Dulaari and Rashool-e-Khuda O Kamliwaale. One of the song Kaaya Ka Pinjara Dole Re was pictured on Baby Rani. Jaddanbai's next production film was Hridaya Manthan in which she started opposite Ashiq Hussain and Baby Rani. Jaddanbai directed as well as gave music in the film. The film had 13 numbers and it included a Ghazal of Mirza Ghalib, Dil Hi To Hai Na Sango Khisht voiced of Nirmala Devi, Kantabai and Jaddanbai, who also sang five other solos in the film. Later she directed the film Jeevan Sapna and gave music.

In 1936, Jaddanbai produced and directed Madam Fashion, and also gave music and acted in it. Jaddanbai sang six songs — Chum Cha Na Na Na Bichua Baje, Ho Payala Mad Ka Bhara Hua, Pee Ke Hum Tum Jochale Jhoomte Maikhane Se, Kaisi Yeh Dhoom Machati Kanhaiya Gari Mein Dungi, Paphiau Pihu Kare and Bhagwan Teri Maya. She also produced and directed Moti Ka Haar (1937) and composed seven songs for it.

Jaddanbai's name flashed on the screen in the film Anjuman (1948) directed by her son Akhtar Hussain featuring Nargis, Jairaj and Anwar Hussain. Her son, Akhtar directed another film under his banner Nargis Arts Concern, Daroggaji in 1949, starring Nargis and Jairaj, in which Jaddanbai wrote the story of film and the dialogues. That was her last film.

Jaddanbai's all the three children's Akhtar Hussain, Anwar Hussain and Nargis inherited the talents of their mother. Akhtar Hussain was the favourite child of Jaddanbai. She tried her best to make him a hero in the film industry. He later appeared as ManMohan in few films but it didn't work. So he switched off to direction, similarly Anwar Hussain started as hero but later sifted to character roles.

Nargis made her debut in the lead role in Taqdeer produced and directed by Mehboob Khan. Nargis was only 14 years old and 19 years younger than her counterpart, Motilal. She later did her immortal role in Mehboob's Mother India. In 1967, Nargis became producer with the film Raat Aur Din under the banner Aan Films — a name that collectively meant Akhtar, Anwar and Nargis. The film won her National Awards. Nargis had three children with her husband Sunil Dutt, namely Sanjay Dutt, Namrta Dutt and Priya Dutt.

Soon after the release of Daroggaji, Jaddanbai passed away on April 8, 1949. As mark of respect to this pioneer of Indian cinema, shooting of films were cancelled and studios were closed for a day.

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