Tanuja is the younger daughter of actress Shobhna Samarth. Her sister Nutan was a noted actress and like her, Tanuja was touted to be a natural as well. She showed great promise in her initial films but somehow, couldn’t reach the kind of success that was predicted for her. Her talent was never in doubt, though and she was able to shine bright in most films that came her way. She was known for her fiery temperament. In an industry where people are known to be utterly diplomatic, she never failed to call a spade a spade. On the occasion of Tanuja’s birthday today, we present you with a list of some of her best films down the years.
Do Chor (1972)
Cast: Dharmendra, Tanuja, K.N. Singh
The film got noticed for its songs like Kali palak teri gori sung by Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Meri jaan, meri jaan kehna mano, sung by Kishore Kumar, Chahe raho door chahe raho paas, again sung by Kishore and Lata. RD Burman composed some good tunes for this light-hearted romance. Tony (Dharmendra) is a happy-go-lucky thief who assists another thief named ‘Bob’ out of friendship. Bob is actually Sandhya (Tanuja) in drag and is committing robberies to gain back her inheritance. The plot moves forward at a brisk pace and has enough twists and turns to make everyone happy. who makes his living by stealing. Sandhya (Tanuja) is a thief too. Circumstances bring them together and the story moves at a pace that keeps you engaged. Dharmendra looked good as a handsome thief and Tanuja in drag looked almost as handsome as he. They shared crackling chemistry, to say the least, and the songs added to the frothy romantic thriller.
Mere Jeevan Saathi (1972)
Director: Ravikant Nagaich
Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Tanuja, Sujit Kumar, Nazir Hussain
Composer R.D. Burman and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri both outdid themselves in the film. It boasted of evergreen songs like O mere dil ke chain, Chala jata hoon, Kitne sapne kitne armaan, and Deewana leke aaya hai, all sung by Kishore Kumar, Deewana kar ke chhodoge sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, Aao na gale lag jao na, Asha Bhosle. The film revolves around the travails of Prakash (Rajesh Khanna), a painter who falls in love with Jyoti (Tanuja), an eye doctor. A rich girl Kamini (Helen) is besotted by him. He meets with a set of adventures and goes blind. He also becomes indebted to Captain Vinod (Sujit Kumar), who helps him initially but who is madly in love with Jyoti. He does regain his eyesight back with her help. Many twists, and many melodramatic moments, and many memorable songs later, the lovers finally unite. Though the music was a hit, the film didn’t make as much money as expected. Though, even today, it’s revered by die-hard fans of Rajesh Khanna.
Haathi Mere Saathi (1971)
Director: M. A. Thirumugam
Cast: Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja
The story was written by producer Sandow M. M. A. Chinnappa Thevar, who owned the famous Devar Films banner. He also played a small role in the film. It was an adaptation of Sandow’s own Tamil film Deiva Cheyal (1967). Raju (Rajesh Khanna) an orphaned lad grew up with four elephants. Later, he strikes it rich and builds a private zoo for himself, where all kinds of animals, lions, tigers, bears and the four elephants stay together. He meets Tanu (Tanuja) and the duo get married. Tanu is jealous of the animals as she feels Raju loves them more. Concerned for their newborn child’s safety, she asks Raju to choose between her and his animal friends and leaves home when he chooses the animals. Ramu, the eldest elephant, brings about a reconciliation but loses his life in the process.
Director: Basu Bhattacharya
Cast: Sanjeev Kumar, Tanuja, Dinesh Thakur
The film was a case study on marital discord and won the National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film. Both Sanjeev Kumar and Tanuja were much appreciated for their realistic portrayal of a married couple. The film was reportedly shot at Tanuja’s own house. Since it was made on a meagre budget, the artistes used to drop in whenever they had time. It was appreciated for its music and had some of the last songs sung by legendary singer Geeta Dutt. Music director Kanu Roy and lyricist Gulzar produced meaningful songs like Meri jaan mujhe jaan na kaho, Koi chupke se aake and Mera dil jo mera hota and Geeta Dutt them a gravitas through her dulcet voice. Amar (Sanjeev Kumar) and Meeta (Tanuja) are a happily married couple. After six years of marriage, Amar becomes more focussed towards his career. The unexpected entry of Meeta’s ex-lover Shashi (Dinesh Thakur) at this point of time, further strains their relationship. How they overcome the discord forms the crux of the film.
Jeene Ki Raah (1969)
Director: L. V. Prasad
Cast: Jeetendra, Tanuja, Sanjeev Kumar
The film is a remake of Telugu movie Brathuku Theruvu (1953), starring Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Savitri. Mohan (Jeetendra) a village lad just out of college, is married to Shobha (Anjali). He is in the city in search of a job and Radha’s (Tanuja) father gives him work on the condition that he should be single. He lies to get the job. Radha is wheel-chair bound but thanks to Mohan’s company, she soon starts showing signs of improvement and is cured in no time. Even her doctor (Sanjeev Kumar) thinks that Mohan is responsible for her well-being. Radha falls in love with Mohan and he too seemingly reciprocates the feelings. He starts leading a double life. But what would happen when he gets caught. Would Radha go back to being an invalid? It was melodramatic as hell but good, clean fun at the same time, at least by the standards of that era.
Jewel Thief (1967)
Director: Vijay Anand
Cast: Ashok Kumar, Dev Anand, Vyjayanthimala, Tanuja, Anju Mahendru, Helen
The director had a yen for showmanship and in Jewel Thief gave India one of the best heist films. Fabulous locations, outlandish plots and outrageous women are all plot points of such films and Goldie provided them all. He had a bevvy of beauties, consisting of Helen, Anju Mahendru, Tanuja and the female lead Vyjayanthimala hovering around the hero a la Bond films. The female actors were surprisingly modern for the times. Tanuja doesn’t hesitate to shimmer in the song Raat akeli hai in a bid to seduce Dev Anand, Anju Mahendru has no issues ‘sharing’ Jewel Thief with other women. It also starred a rather libidinous hero, who doesn’t tone down the Casanova act despite having a soft spot for the heroine. The director went to the then Sikkim State to picturise some key scenes. One remembers the Hothon pe aisi baat song in particular. SD Burman’s soft romantic tunes like Yeh dil na hota bechara, Aasman ke neeche, Dil pukaare continue to haunt as even now.
Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966)
Director: Shaheed Latif
Cast: Mala Sinha, Dharmendra, Tanuja, and Rehman
Produced by Guru Dutt, the film started with Guru Dutt in the main lead. He was replaced by Dharmendra and the movie re-shot due to Dutt’s untimely death. It turned out to be Guru Dutt’s last offering as a producer. The film is a love triangle which revolves around a rich heiress Amita (Mala Sinha), an idealistic writer Jiten(Dharmendra), and a bubbly girl Sunita (Tanuja). Jiten is an honest and hardworking reporter who writes about the appalling working conditions in a coal-mine. Due to a misunderstanding, he’s fired from the job by Amita. When the misunderstanding clears, she re-hires him on a higher post. She begins to love him but unknown to her, he loves Sunita, her younger sister, whom he had once saved from committing suicide. All are unknown of each other’s affections and much heartache ensues when things come to light. But the film gears towards a happy ending towards the end. The song Aapke haseen rukh, from the film, sung by Mohammed Rafi and composed by OP Nayyar, is still remembered even today.
Chand Aur Suraj (1965)
Director: Dulal Guha
Cast: Dharmendra, Ashok Kumar, Tanuja, Nirupa Roy and Asit Sen
It was a family drama and later got remade in Tamil as Annavin Aasai with K. Balaji, Gemini Ganesan and Savitri in the lead roles. Chandraprakash (Ashok Kumar) is the ideal elder brother who wants his younger brother Suraj (Dharmendra) to excel in his medical studies and even go abroad later. Suraj falls in love with Kiran (Tanuja) and his love is reciprocated. Everything seems to be going well and at this juncture, Chandraprakash is accused of embezzlement. He seemingly commits suicide. Suraj wants to forgo his studies, become rich at any cost and take revenge on those that have wronged his brother. How the mysteries get solved and their life gets back on track forms the crux of the story. Baagh mein kali khili, composed by Sali Chaudhary and sung by Asha Bhosle was the standout song of the film.
Aaj Aur Kal (1963)
Director: Vasant Joglekar
Cast: Sunil Dutt, Nanda, Tanuja, Ashok Kumar, Soodesh Kumar and Deven Verma
The film might look quaint and melodramatic now but at the time of its release dealt with the realities of that era. It was a pro-democracy film which preached against the decadence displayed by the princely states. It was also a treatise on how harsh parenting can actually harm children. A wheel-chair bound princess (Nanda) is cured by the kindly ministrations of a young doctor (Sunil Dutt). She falls in love with the doctor, who reciprocates her love. Emboldened by all this, her younger sister (Tanuja) too makes her feelings known to a young activist (Soodesh Kumar), who defeats their father (Ashok Kumar) in elections. The strict father too comes to realise the error of his ways and gives his blessings to their union and joins them in leading life differently.
Hamari Yaad Aayegi (1961)
Director: Kidar Sharma
Cast: Tanuja, Ashok Sharma, Madhavi, Sujata, Rajinder Dube
It’s said that infuriated by her lack of concentration, director Kidar Sharma lost his cool and slapped her on the sets. The slap acted as a catalyst and made Tanuja behave more responsibly towards her craft. It effectively turned her into an actress. She played a care-free street urchin who is sheltered by an idealistic young man Ashok (Ashok Sharma). She betrays him, however, when his rich friend comes into her life and runs away with the guy for the sake of lucre. Heartbroken, Ashok falls ill and dies of his illness. The film today is known for its hauntingly beautiful song Kabhi tanhaiyon mein yoon hamari yaad aayegi sung by Mubarak Begum and composed by Snehal Bhatkar.