Nadira Babbar is an Indian actor, director, and playwright. She is the first wife of the veteran Indian actor & politician Raj Babbar.
After completing her graduation in arts, she did a diploma in direction at the renowned acting school in India, the National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi in 1971. She then received a scholarship from the Indian government to continue her studies in theatres at ‘Berliner Ensemble, Germany’ a German theatre company established by the German actress Helene Weigel, and her husband, German playwright Bertolt Brecht. The Times of India The Free Press Journal
Height (approx.): 5′ 3″
Eye Colour: Dark Brown
Hair Colour: Dark Brown
Parents & Siblings
Her father, Sayed Sajjad Zaheer, was one of the founders of the Progressive Writer’s Association and Afro-Asian Writer’s Association. He was one of the founding members of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), an association of Indian theatre artists. Late Sayed Zaheer was the founding member of the Communist Party of India, and after the Partition of the India in 1947, he moved to Pakistan and formed the Communist Party of Pakistan in newly formed Pakistan. Apart from this, he was also a renowned Urdu writer. Nadira’s mother, Razia Sajjad Zaheer, was an Urdu writer and teacher at Lucknow University, Uttar Pradesh.
Nadira has two elder sisters, Najma Zaheer & Noor Zaheer, and one younger sister, Naseem Bhatia. Najma Zaheer (who died in 2020) was a Biochemistry professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
Naseem Bhatia worked as a joint secretary of the University Grants Commission, India, and Vice-Chancellor of Jodhpur University. She is married to Prof. Vinod Bhatia.
Husband & Children
While Nadira was in the National School of Drama, she met the veteran Indian actor Raj Babbar, who was a budding theatre artist at that time. While working on the same theatre play, they both met and fell in love with each other. Later, Raj proposed Nadira (four years older to Raj) for marriage, and the couple got married on 21 November 1975.
After almost three years, on 20 July 1979, the couple welcomed their first child, Juhi Babbar, and on 24 May 1981, Nadira gave birth to her son, Arya Babbar. Juhi is working as an actor and theatre artist and is married to the famous TV actor, Anup Soni. Whereas, Arya is also working as an actor and is married to Jasmine Puri.
In an interview, Nadira talked about her initial years after marriage. She said,
Within five months of courtship, we got married. We didn’t have a house, so we lived in the one granted to my mother by the government. Around 1978, Raj came to Mumbai and signed a couple of films. I followed him here. But I didn’t want to work. I had worked hard, travelled far to direct and act in plays for survival. Also, I had a child. Mera figure bhi itna achcha nahin tha. I didn’t have a 24-26 inch waist. Where were married actresses getting good roles then? After Raj became popular, I was not used to that kind of attention. I enjoy doing simple things like going to the market. I enjoy bargaining with the machchiwali. But it would be like, ‘Dekho Raj Babbar ki biwi aloo khareed rahi hai’!”
A Troubled Married Life
All was going well in the married life of Nadira and Raj until Raj met the late Indian actress Smita Patil while shooting for a film. Raj fell in love with Smita, and later, they secretly got married. When rumours of their marriage started, Nadira decided to confront Raj. He confessed his marriage with Smita, and after that, Nadira left Raj and started living separately with her children.
On 28 November 1986, Smita and Raj welcomed their first child, Prateik Babbar, and due to some childbirth complications, Smita Patil passed away on 13 December 1986.
Unexpectedly, Nadira was present at Smita’s funeral along with her children, Juhi and Arya. In an interview, she talked about it. She said,
I was ridiculed for going to her place (after Smita’s demise). Mujhe bahut afsos, bahut taqleef hui thi for her mother, her family, for the child… She (Smita) had her dreams and wishes. It’s sad she couldn’t live those. The grief of her passing away became larger than any other sorrow. It left everyone broken. It broke us all – Raj, Prateik, her parents and somewhere me too… It was a bad time. I have forgiven it all. I have no ill feelings towards anyone. In comparison to all that life has blessed me with, it’s not right to complain. You never know who will no longer be there with you…”
After Smita’s demise, Prateik lived with her maternal grandparents, and Nadira welcomed Raj Babbar back into her life. Various media sources gave her the term ‘Doormat’ at that time, but she ignored it and moved on in her life. She talked about the same in an interview,
Doormat? Rubbish!” I’d like to tell them it’s better to be a doormat if you have children. It’s better to be a doormat and have harmony at home and give your children a father. It’s better to be doormat than to think of only yourself, destroy your home, your family and make your children drug addicts or push them towards alcoholism… God forgive me, I’m not taunting anyone! My children have never touched a cigarette. They have grown up with tradition and values.”
In an interview, when Nadira was asked how she held on to a crumbling marriage? She replied,
Suni thi toh dari thi (when I heard about it happening to someone else, I was scared), padi thi toh sahi thi (but when it fell upon me, I had no choice but to endure it). Time, however good or bad, passes. It was fortunate that I didn’t listen to anyone’s advice ke kisi aur mard ke baare mein sochoon (look towards someone else). Theatre and my children helped me hold myself. I grew protective towards my children, more so towards Aarya who was very young. Juhi had somewhere experienced a beautiful time with us. Being overprotective is harmful. But what made me stay on was the fact that Raj is a beautiful human being, caring and sensitive. He never turned away from his responsibilities – even through difficult times.”
A few years later, Nadira accepted Prateik as well. In an interview, Prateik said,
My mum Nadira always helps and gives me very valuable advice! Generally about life… nothing specific! On Life and work and being an actor. I haven’t asked her about my new passion, theatre acting. But I bet if ever get down to asking for proper professional help or guidance I know there’s so much that I can learn… She, being such a stalwart.”
She started her career as a teacher in New Delhi. In 1981, she started a theatre group ‘Ekjute’ in Mumbai. In an interview, when she was asked what motivated her to form a theatre group. She said,
I tried to work with other groups after moving to Mumbai in 1980 and did not get the right vibrations from them. So, I formed my own group. Also, people who had moved to Mumbai expected me to form a theatre group so that they would get a platform to express themselves. I graduated from the National School of Drama. I was a gold medallist and got a scholarship to study in Germany. I have worked with renowned directors like Grotovisky and Peter Brooks for a few months.”
Nadira has performed in various theatre plays like Yahudi Ki Ladki, Sandhya Chhaya, Look Back in Anger, Ballabpur Ki Roop Katha, and Baat Laat Ki Halaat Ki. She has written and directed many theatre plays like ‘Dayashankar Ki Diary’ (1997), ‘Sakku Bai’ (1999), ‘Suman Aur Sana’ (2008) and ‘Ji Jaisi Aapki Marzi’ (2008).
In an interview, she shared her journey in theatre. She said,
I didn’t have the slightest inclination towards theatre. In fact, in college, I was good for nothing. I was only doing masti, shaitani and was never serious about academics. My two elder sisters were merit listers and their pictures would appear in the newspaper. Naturally, in comparison, my being good for nothing was a sore point and I became the black sheep of the family. In fact, after my BA, in which I fared badly, everyone thought it wasn’t a wise idea for me to pursue an MA. So my parents chose a safe career for me: to become a librarian!”
She further talked about her experience in a theatre group in Germany. She said,
After completing my studies at the National School of Drama (NSD), I was fortunate to receive the Government of India scholarship to study theatre at Berlina Ensemble — The Brechtian Theatre founded by Bertolt Brecht and later, I also won a scholarship for further studies at the National Theatre of Wiemer in East Germany. My studies not only opened up new vistas pertaining to the theatre of Germany but also universal theatre. I was fortunate to work with great theatre personalities like Fritz Benevitz, Groto Vosky, Walsgang Heinz, Ursula Kchimskye and Henry Haward.”
She is one of the first few people who performed at the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. In an interview, she said,
I still remember how my association with Prithvi began. I was living in Delhi in the ’70s, and that’s where I met Shashiji (Kapoor) for a shoot. He told me how he had started a small theatre. Just after that, I shifted to Mumbai and met his wife Jennifer. She is one of the greatest human beings I have met in life. Kitni khoobsurat insaan thi woh. She was so in love with Prithvi, which was just a small jhopda back then. I remember how well she treated me. We performed two plays at Prithvi; Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths and Agha Hashar Kashmiri’s Yahudi Ki Ladki.”
Apart from theatre, she has also acted in a few Hindi films such as ‘Bride and Prejudice’ (2004), ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities’ (2004), ‘Jai Ho’ (2014), and ‘Ghayal Once Again’ (2016).
In 2021, she appeared in the Hindi web series ‘The Married Woman’ starring Ridhi Dogra, Suhaas Ahuja, and Monica Dogra.
Office Address (Ekjute Theatre): Nepathya 20, Gulmohar Rd, JVPD Scheme, Juhu, Mumbai, Maharashtra (400049)
- Author(s): Maxim Gorky, Ernest Hemingway, Roald Dahl
- Actor(s): Tom Hanks, Balraj Sahani, and Jack Lemmons
- Actress(es): Nargis, Madhubala
- At the time of her birth, her father was in jail, and she saw her father for the first time at the age of 8.
- In an interview, when she was asked what would you like to be remembered as? She said,
Importantly as a lovely human being, honest, sincere and a dedicated theatre worker.”
- In 2001, Nadira was honoured with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Theatre – Direction.