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Rediff.com  » News » Neetu Singh: Charming, ebullient, unforgettable

Neetu Singh: Charming, ebullient, unforgettable

April 10, 2003 15:52 IST

Dinesh Raheja

Neetu Singh and Rishi Kapoor were our very own Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1970s. Gifted with golden toes and energy, they shared the symphony of the surf and wind. Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh

There was more to the sprightly Neetu than being half of this winsome twosome. Though she was never allowed to crest histrionic heights, her bags-of-fun personality and naturalness made her (even in multi-starrers like Kabhi Kabhie and Kaala Patthar) one of the quietest yet most effective scene-stealers ever.

Neetu was the seventies' emblem of teenage aspirations. She lived their dreams and spoke their themes at a time when contemporary leading heroines like Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Raakhee and Rekha were well past the spring chicken phase.

Neetu enjoyed a head start over other heroines because she stepped into the studios while still at school. Egged on by an ambitious mother, the Delhi-born Baby Sonia debuted in films with a tiny role as Rajendra Kumar's sister in Suraj (1966). She lent lip sync to the famous beggar song Gareebon ki suno, in Dus Lakh (1967). But it was the huge success of Do Kaliyan that assured her a home and career in Mumbai. Based on The Parent Trap (1961, starring Hayley Mills, Brian Keith, Maureen O'Hara, Joanna Barnes), Do Kaliyan (1968) offered Neetu a dream double role. She played twin sisters who plot a reconciliation between their estranged parents (Mala Sinha and Biswajeet).

Interestingly, five years later, Mala Sinha played a pivotal role, albeit as a character artiste, in Neetu Singh's (Baby Sonia rechristened) first break as leading lady, Rickshawala (1973). A Randhir Kapoor-starrer, the film did not travel far. But the bold young actress' dance in a kerchief-sized mini in 1973's Yaadon Ki Baarat (Lekar hum deewana dil), made her the pin-up du jour.

Neetu Singh's landmark films

 Year

 Film

Costars

 1968

 Do Kaliyan

 Mala Sinha, Biswajeet

 1975

 Khel Khel Mein 

 Rishi Kapoor, Rakesh Roshan

 1976

 Kabhi Kabhie

 Amitabh Bachchan,  Raakhee, Rishi Kapoor,  Shashi Kapoor, Waheeda Rahman

 1977

 Dharamveer

 Jeetendra, Dharmendra,
 Zeenat Aman

 1977

 Amar Akbar Anthony

 Amitabh Bachchan,
 Vinod Khanna,
 Rishi Kapoor,
 Shabana Azmi,
 Parveen Babi

 1977

 Priyatama

 Jeetendra, Rakesh Roshan

 1977

 Doosra Aadmi

 Rishi Kapoor,
 Shashi Kapoor, Raakhee

 1977

 Parvarish

 Amitabh Bachchan,
 Vinod Khanna,
 Shabana Azmi

 1979

 Kaala Patthar

 Shatrughan Sinha, Amitabh Bachchan,
Shashi Kapoor,
Sanjeev Kumar, Raakhee, Parveen Babi

Still a starlet, Neetu's career got a windfall when the new superstar of the day, Rishi Kapoor, found he desperately needed a young actress to pair opposite him after his Bobby costar Dimple Kapadia left films to marry Rajesh Khanna. Neetu effortlessly slid into the slot and signed a slew of films with the hot new Kapoor, though they yet had to have a single release together.

The Rishi-Neetu team lived up to their producers' expectations. And how! When Neetu and Rishi danced to the duet Ek main aur ek tu in the campus caper Khel Khel Mein (1975), they held the audience spellbound as their feet tapped and twirled across the screen.

Neetu, who had never been to college, effortlessly played the peppy collegian in Khel Khel Mein and became a star. The hit pair were further fortified by Rafoo Chakkar, Kabhi Kabhie and Amar Akbar Anthony. During the course of making so many films together, they soon declared on and off-screen Humko tumse ho gaya hai pyar kya kare.

Hugely popular with the public and within the industry, a sweet-tempered Neetu signed many films opposite marquee names like Amitabh Bachchan (Adalat, Parvarish, The Great Gambler, Yaarana), Rajesh Khanna (Chakravyuh), Vinod Khanna (Yuvraj), Randhir Kapoor (Kasme Vaade), Shatrughan Sinha (Kaala Patthar) and Jeetendra (Dharamveer, Priyatama).

If one did not feel the void left by Mumtaz, it was because Neetu proved to be a contemporary, albeit younger and classier, incarnation of the senior actress.

Neetu's biggest asset was her surrender to her role, however inane. Her face never mirrored any anguish she felt at the length of her roles in multi-starrers or at the illogical aspects of her characters. Not surprisingly, she fitted in perfectly with Manmohan Desai's unerring sense of pulp in films like Dharamveer, Amar Akbar Anthony and Parvarish.

Neetu Singh's famous songs

 Song

 Film

Singer

 Bachhe man ke sachhe

 Do Kaliyan

 Lata Mangeshkar

 Keh doon tumhe ya chup

 Deewar

 Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar

 Tumko mere dil ne

 Rafoo Chakkar

 Kanchan, Shailendra

 Ek main aur ek tu

 Khel Khel Mein

 Asha Bhosle,         Kishore Kumar

 Tere chehre se  nazar nahin

 Kabhi Kabhie

 Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar

 O tumse door reh ke

 Adalat

 Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi

 Hum banjaron ki baat

 Dharamveer

 Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar

 Aaiye shauq se kahiye

 Parvarish

 Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar

 Mile jo kadi kadi 

 Kasme Vaade

 Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar

 Jhootha kahin ka

 Jhootha Kahin Ka

 Asha Bhosle

 Tere haathon mein 

 Jaani Dushman

 Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi

 Meri dooron se aaye baraat

 Kaala Patthar

 Lata Mangeshkar

 Jeena kya aji pyar bina

 Dhan Daulat

 Asha Bhosle,        Kishore Kumar

The spanner in the works proved to be the 1970s inclination for hero-dominated multistarrers which, for Neetu, translated into a paucity of roles that covered a spectrum of emotions. But the determined actress snatched moments of glory from the slim pickings offered to her.

Yash Chopra gave her the author-backed role of an abandoned daughter seeking her mother's love in Kabhi Kabhie (1976). Neetu not only revelled in the romantic portions, projecting elation with customary ease but, surprisingly, also brought a lump to your throat with her tangibly expressed angst at being rejected by a loved one.

Neetu followed this with a class act as the suspicious wife in another Yash Chopra production, Doosra Aadmi (1977). Director Ramesh Talwar captured a slice of Rishi-Neetu's offscreen relationship in the film. In a scene where the couple breaks into a fight while in bed, he gave Rishi and Neetu a free hand to make changes at will. After viewing this sequence, it proves difficult to decide who tops whom in the natural acting sweepstakes.

Truly, Rishi and Neetu were amongst the last in the dwindling breed of dream star pairs.

In Basu Chatterjee's Priyatama, about a married couple's struggle with the maladies of stressful city life, Neetu squeezed the role for all it was worth. In Yash Chopra's Kaala Patthar, she stole every scene she was in with her performance as the ebullient but emotionally vulnerable chudiwali who loses her man and has to perforce break her own bangles at the end.
 
On the clout metre, Neetu was always in the top five but never in the top three. She would have nine or 10 releases a year in the late 1970s, almost always playing the sweet heartwarmer.

Neetu's prolonged adolescence onscreen was abruptly interrupted when beau Rishi Kapoor proposed marriage in 1979. Ironically, the early starter hung her boots much before her time had run out.

Neetu Singh was only 21 when she retired.

Dinesh Raheja