Fragrance Of Simplicity:
Vidya Sinha, who passed away on August 15, was among a band of girls-next-door, who appeared in Bollywood around the same time in the Seventies; many of them, like Jaya Bhaduri, Rameshwari, Zarina Wahab, Shabana Azmi emerged from the Film & Television Institute, Pune. Vidya Sinha was not from the FTII, but with her sari-bindi-choti simplicity, she could have fitted right in.
Basu Chatterjee’s Rajnigandha (1974) was her second film, after Raja Kaka, the same year, but it set her image as the pretty, middle-class young woman with ordinary aspirations.
Based on a short story, Yahi Sach Hai, by Mannu Bhandari, it was a sweet little film about Delhi-based Deepa Kapoor, who cannot make up her mind between two men—Sanjay (Amol Palekar), whom she plans to marry, and Naveen (Dinhes Thakur), her ex-boyfriend, for whom she still carries a tiny torch in her heart. The two men are absolute opposites; Sanjay is habitually late, on a date, he leaves her fuming at a café while he goes over to discuss office politics with his buddies. He is such a self-absorbed chatterbox that she can barely get a word in. He is the one who brings a bunch of rajnigandha flowers when he comes to visit, and a copper vase on a corner table always has fresh, fragrant tuberoses.
A job interview takes her to Bombay (now Mumbai), where her friend Ira (Rajita Thakur) reconnects her to Naveen, with whom her parting had been bitter. Naveen is charming and successful. He is punctual, notices what she is wearing, shows her around the city, listens to her instead of jabbering like Sanjay. She is attracted to him all over again, but even though he shows all signs of caring about her, he does not say anything.
The story asks whether a woman’s first love is the only true one, or can she truly move on and share her life with another man? Sanjay knows about Naveen, and even teases her; but she is unable to tell Naveen about her plans to marry Sanjay. Had Naveen proposed, she would probably have dumped Sanjay without a qualm.
What really worked for the film was the fresh cast and the unfussiness of the story-telling; punctuated by two brilliant Yogesh-Salil Chowdhary songs—Rajnigandha phool tumhare and Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai. Vidya Sinha looked gorgeous in handloom saris, but the director could probably not get her to wipe off the stylish eye make-up. Even when she has just woken up, or washed her face, the winged eyeliner and shadow remained intact. Her eyes were undoubtedly her best feature, along with her smile—the kind of radiance seem later in the face of Deepti Naval.
The film had some modern touches that audiences would take for granted today; Deepa’s family does not object to her two relationships. Like many educated young women of the time, it was understood that Deepa would take up a job. By the Seventies, it was not just a matter of woman’s emancipation, two incomes were also necessary for a middle-class family to live comfortably.
Vidya Sinha did not have a very prolific career, but with films like Rajnigandha, Chhoti Si Baat, Mukti and Kitaab, she left behind a precious filmography.