The Chaplinesque Raj Kapoor perfected the role of the naïve simpleton and his lady-love was more often than not played by the graceful, ethereally beautiful Nargis. The duo was the number one romantic couple of their time, worked in 16 films, and gave hit after hit in Andaaz, Barsaat, Awaara, Shree 420, Chori Chori. Rumors of a real life liaison between them were rife and alive even after Nargis married Sunil Dutt. Nargis’ often well-grounded, educated and poised character was the perfect foil for Raj’s tramp and simpleton with a big heart.
Though each would act with many other actors, the Raj Kapoor Nargis magic was unique. Raj Kapoor would go on to be linked romantically with many of his leading ladies like Vyjayantimala and even Zeenat Aman, but never again did he sizzle on screen with any other lady.
At about the same time Yusuf Khan aka. Dilip Kumar was acting in one romantic, emotional or tragic film after another, and his graph was quite different from that of Raj Kapoor. Dilip was paired very successfully with Nargis in Deedar, Mela, Andaz, Jogan, Babul. But unlike Raj Kapoor, who played the man disadvantaged in life but eventually able to triumph over it, Dilip usually played a man who was struck down by fate, a man for whom tragedy always lurked around the corner.
It was no surprise that he was the choice to play the ill-fated Devdas Mukherjee by Bimal Roy, or the star-crossed Salim opposite the enchanting Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam. Madhubala was Dilip’s co-star in several films and romantically linked with him off-screen. In keeping with his tragedy king image, Dilip played the stoic and tragic, whether wooed by a chirpy Madhubala in Amar
Or by a defiant Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam
One other Dilip co-star made waves with him, and that was Vyjayantimala. Be it as the lovers across time itself in Madhumati, or the rich man vs. nautch girl of Sunghursh, the pair locked in a David vs. Goliath struggle in Naya Daur, or the criminal on the run with his girlfriend in Gunga Jumna, the two had a palpable on-screen chemistry.
The legendary Guru Dutt was a tragic hero in a completely different vein. Considered somewhat of a genius in the director’s chair, nevertheless he was also an excellent actor. His on-screen chemistry with Waheeda Rehman in the usually tragic films like Chaudavin ka Chand, Pyaasa, Kagaz ke Phool was fed by speculations of an off-screen liaison. In the recent book by Abrar Alvi, Alvi suggests that it was his paranoid wife Geeta Dutt who was trying to ‘out’ a non-existent romance between the two. Guru’s heroes were railing against societal injustices and went well beyond the tragedies of un-fulfilled romance.
No discussion of romantic heroes of the 50s and 60s would be complete without talking of the evergreen Dev Anand. He romanced leading ladies for decades and could act the charmer even at age 50! He played the suave young man, the petty criminal, the idealist, the tragic hero. and did each role in his own inimitable style. His favorite leading lady of the 50s was Geeta Bali, whom he ended up marrying. In films like Baazi, Jaal, Taxi Driver, the two created magical on-screen chemistry.
My favorite on-screen leading lady for Dev Anand was the inimitable Nutan. Somehow these two just seem to belong together in every film they did, be it Tere Ghar ke Samne, Paying Guest, or Manzil. Watch this romantic interlude that beats most in simplicity and charm!
Dev Saab would romance Waheeda in Solva Saal, Kala Bazaar. But nothing in his entire career came close to his class act with Waheeda in Guide, a romance that ended in betrayal and led the hero on a course of reluctant self-discovery.
Many others would romance, but there were no other legendary on-screen couples in the era that drove the public to movie theaters to watch the magic yet another time. Until we hit the 70s, and then a new style of hero and cinema slowly emerged.
This post first appeared on NG.