A fan in Durban, South Africa, recently wrote to me: “I was tremendously moved by these lines in your “Leaves From My Diary” in “Filmfare” –

‘Nobody knew her, No one understood her, only I, I knew her, for I am her soul.’

“So I was compelled to write to you”. Those lines which occurred towards the end of the article had apparently moved him so much that in his letter he quoted them to me in verse form!

His letter is only one among the many the stars receive every day, either addressed to their homes or re-directed from the offices of film magazines and newspapers.

There was a time when the film stars life was spent mainly between the studio and home, when he was never seen or met by the people of the outside world, when, if he received fan mail, he usually ignored it, when he was responsible neither to society nor his next-door neighbor for the kind of life he led, or the kind of person he chose to be, or the kind of people he associated with.

So long as he presented a certain personality on the screen and cine-goers were attracted by it, he made a lot of money, and that was the end of it.

He was supposed to be a film star only while he was on the sets. For the rest of the time he could live as he liked or be exactly what he chose, and it did not impair the personality he projected on the screen.

The time when the film star led a demigod-like existence, isolated in his ivory tower, is definitely past.

Today, there is a telephone in the ivory tower and it keeps ringing, and the postman knocks on the door as many times as there are postal deliveries in a day, handling large sheaves of mail from people all over the world.

As a result, the film star can no longer be a star only while he is on the sets. He is a star all the twenty-four hours of the day.

He is no longer merely an idol on a pedestal, but a human being. He is a responsible member of society, responsible to society as well as to his fans, and must see that his life, ways, and behavior do not taint the personality he projects on the screen.

Stars receive all sorts of phone calls, all sorts of letters. Some stars reply to them personally, some do not (many have secretaries to attend to this work).

But we must reply to them. It is an elementary courtesy from one human being to another.

From the wide variety of letters a star receives emerges a single pattern. It is an impressionistic portrait, sketched, as it were, by a million different hands.

It is as though a long queue of fans stood before an easel, each awaiting his turn to put one stroke of paint, just one, on the portrait being painted before them.

After the release of “Mother India”, I had the occasion to look through my files containing my fan letters.

There were many files, and it was with a feeling of nostalgia that I turned their pages, trying to picture from them the different impressions fans had of me.

Without attempting to explain those impressions or synthesize them into a portrait, I present some of the recent letters and leave my readers to complete the portrait themselves.

There were hundreds of letters complimenting me on my performances in my recent films “Miss India” and “Mother India”.

There was the usual crop asking for autographed photographs. There were many fans who wanted me to accept them as sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews. Some have proposed to me.

Here is the reaction of Miss S.H.M. of Bombay, who caught a real-life glimpse of me recently:

“On Tuesday, November 19, 1957, at about 5:45 p.m., you came to see ‘Mother India’ at the Liberty Cinema accompanied by a friend. There was a crowd, so the usher made room for you.

“I was sitting in the row behind yours. I saw you when you came in. I knew that you were Nargis, and I was very excited. I would have liked to talk to you but felt shy.

Before the show was over, you ran away! You must have noticed me humming the songs, for you turned back and looked at me. Now that I have seen you, I am very anxious to meet you… I will preserve your letter till I die.”

Here are some impressions of me from far-off countries like turkey, Russia, and the United States.

“To the excellent, the charming Miss Nargis,” writes Miss I.A. from Moscow. “You are so charming, so nice. You are like a goddess.

The portrait I painted of you when you were here was shown at the exhibition during the Festival.

It was seen by the Indian artist M.R. Achrekar. He may tell you of his opinion of it.

He may tell you had so little time, or I would have done your portrait in oils. When you left, I was so upset that I cried and cried…”

“Towards the end of 1954,” writes Mr. D.S. from Istanbul, Turkey, “I saw the Hindi picture ‘Awaara,’ and I became very interested in its beautiful star, Nargis…

In Turkey, you are now as famous as any Hollywood star. I have also seen you in ‘Aah’, ‘Barsaat,’ ‘Papi,’ ‘Deedar,’ ‘Andaaz’ and ‘Ambar’. As Miss Seton has said, you are ‘a universal beauty.’

“If you exchange your sari and tika for the apparel of western glamour girls like Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, you could outclass them all.

But you must never do that I believe that the sari and the tika give you an unusual and enchanting beauty.

They are your symbols. You are as perfect in character as you are in appearance.

To be simple and unaffected are qualities which can only be found in ideal women.”

From Maryland, U.S.A came another unusual letter. “Here I am again like the proverbial bad penny,” began the writer.

“Isn’t it strange that whenever I am unhappy I feel like talking to you? Of course, I cant actually talk to you, though I do wish I could- so I write…

Do you still consider that western dancing is bad for one? I do not know if you remember, but in your last letter almost two years ago you said you disapproved of dancing. I wonder why?”

“You are wonderful,” writes Miss I.S. from Mauritius. “And so I have made up my mind that one day I shall come to Bombay to meet you.

You are angel. God has given you not only beauty and talent but also a heart of gold….you were born to be a very great person.”

Many have formed definite views of my work. Miss B.G. of Calcutta, for example, said: “I do not know which you think is your best picture, but in my opinion, you have done your best in ‘Mother India’…

You have outgrown the need to play ordinary roles. So now we expect to see you in extraordinary roles.”

“You were not conceited when I visited you,” wrote a fan from East Pakistan. “I still have memories of your kindness and gracious hospitality.

I write to you because I see in you a unique intellect which is more profound than your colleagues think.”

By the way, could anyone explain to me the meaning of this inscrutable fan telegram I received the other morning: “CONGRATULATIONS MISS INDIA SORRY MOTHER INDIA”?

This, then, is a cross-section of the letters I receive every day. The first thought that strikes me is that the writers of those letters are kind, generous, and tolerant.

They paint a glowing picture of me. I realize that in real life I am far from the paragon they take me to be.

I am as much a human being as they are, with a human being’s faults and good qualities.

But their impressions of me make me pause perhaps, they do not think of me as I am, but what they would like me to be.

I shall try my best to live up to their conception of me. And whenever the postman knocks the door of the ivory tower, I know that yet another friend, maybe from another part of the world, has been thinking of me.

It is a good feeling to have. – Filmfare 1958

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