Bollywood fans were united in their mourning today for the death of Irish-Indian actress Leela Naidu who has died in Mumbai after a long illness.
Leela first became a celebrity winning the Miss India beauty contest in 1954 and in the same year was named as one of Vogue’s 10 most beautiful women in the world.
Her debut movie was Anuradha, which competed at the Berlin film festival in 1961, but her most famous and dramatic role was as the adulterous wife in Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke in 1963. It was based on the real-life Nanavati case – a classic love triangle involving a naval officer, his English wife and her lover. When the wife confessed to the affair, the husband set off in a rage and killed the lover. The case gripped the nation in 1959, partly because of the Anglo-Indian mix and the clash of cultures, but also the glamour of the way it circled around the wealth of the military caste, the debate over whether it was a crime of passion and some doubts over whether the wife had manipulated the whole event as a femme fatale. When the husband was found not guilty of murder by a jury, it led to the abolition of jury trials in India, so it was of legal significance too. In the movie, Leela carried off the role of the wife with such aplomb that she became an icon for the independent women’s movement in India.
In her short career, she also starred in the first Merchant Ivory film The Householder. She also featured alongside Ashok Kumar and Joy Mukherjee in Ummeed and in Baghi ,which starred Mumtaz.
Married twice, she once lived in Hong Kong for 10 years with poet Dom Moraes before returning to Mumbai.
She will be missed.