Leela Naidu

Leela Naidu
Born 1940[1]
Died 28 July 2009 (aged 69)
Occupation Actor, Model
Years active 1960–1992
Spouse(s) Tilak Raj Oberoi, Dom Moraes

Leela Naidu (Telugu: లీలా నాయుడు) (1940 – 28 July 2009) was an Indian actress who starred in a small number of Hindi and English films, including Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (1963), based on the real-life Nanavati case, and The Householder, Merchant Ivory Productions' first film. She was Femina Miss India in 1954, and was featured in the Vogue along with Maharani Gayatri Devi in the list of 'World's Ten Most Beautiful Women', a list she was continuously listed from the 1950s to the 1960s in prominent fashion magazines worldwide. She is remembered for her stunning classical beauty and subtle acting style.

Early life

Leela Naidu was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Her father, Dr Pattipati Ramaiah Naidu, a well known nuclear physicist , hailed from Madanapalle, Chittoor Dist., Andhra Pradesh, who had worked under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Marie Curie for his doctoral thesis in Paris, running one of her labs and was Scientific Advisor to UNESCO for Southeast Asia, and later, an advisor to the Tata group. Her mother, journalist and Indologist, Dr. Marthe Mange Naidu, was of Swiss-French origin, from Pont d'Avignon, South-France and earned her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne.[2][3][4] She was the only surviving child out of eight pregnancies as Marthe had seven miscarriages.

Naidu enjoyed the advantages of birth and connections of her parents. She grew up in Europe, went to an elite school in Geneva, Switzerland, and, in her teens, took acting lessons from Jean Renoir.

Leela met Salvador Dali in Grand-hotel Opera, Paris where he painted a portrait of her.

Sarojini Naidu, a senior Congress leader and freedom fighter was her aunt.


Leela Naidu was crowned Femina Miss India in 1954, and the same year was featured in Vogue magazine's list of the world's ten most beautiful women.[2][5]

Film career

Naidu made her film debut alongside Balraj Sahni in Anuradha (1960), directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Mukherjee cast Naidu in the role after he happened to see one of her pictures taken by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay.[6] Though it was not successful at the box office, the film went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film, and garnered Naidu critical acclaim. The movie's music, including the songs Haye re woh din kewn na aaye, Jaane kaise sapnon mein kho gayin ankhiyan and Kaise din beete kaisi beeti raatein, were composed by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.[7] Naidu's next film was Nitin Bose's Ummeed (1962), alongside Ashok Kumar and Joy Mukherjee.

She played an offbeat role as an adulterous wife in Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (1963), directed by RK Nayyar.[8] The movie, which co-starred Sunil Dutt and Rehman, was based on the real life case K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra.[2][6] Despite its topical nature and controversial theme, the movie flopped; however, some of its songs, notably Ye Khaamoshiyaan, Ye Tanahaaiyaan, became quite popular.[9]

In 1963, Naidu played the lead role of a rebellious young bride in the first Merchant Ivory film, The Householder, directed by James Ivory. According to Leela in her 2009 semi-biography, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory had approached her about making their first ever feature movie with a story about an archaeologist but this fell through as the backers did not like the film script. She then suggested to Merchant-Ivory, making a movie about a book called The Householder by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala which led to their introduction to Ruth and a fruitful lifelong partnership. Satyajit Ray loaned his crew, got many of the actors he used in his movies to act in this movie, selected the music and musicians, and re-cut and reedited the final version, thus guiding and teaching Merchant-Ivory in movie making technique which they successfully used in their award winning movies and documentaries in the future.

After watching her performance in the The Householder, Satyajit Ray who had actually assisted and guided Merchant-Ivory in their first film venture, planned an English film, The Journey, with Marlon Brando, Shashi Kapoor and Naidu, but sadly the film was never made.[10] She was considered for the role of Rosie in Vijay Anand's Guide (1965), but the role required a trained dancer, and so Naidu lost out to Waheeda Rehman. Her last film in Hindi mainstream cinema was Baghi (1964) a costume extravaganza co-starring Pradeep Kumar, Vijaya Choudhury, and Mumtaz.

Later, Naidu made a guest appearance in the Merchant-Ivory film, The Guru (1969).[11] She returned to cinema in 1985 to play a Goan matriarch in Shyam Benegal's period film, Trikaal.[12] Her appearance in Electric Moon (1992), directed by Pradip Krishen, turned out to be her last cinematic role.

She turned down Raj Kapoor four times when he approached her for casting her in his films. David Lean wanted to cast her as Tonya in Dr Zhivago,Satyajit Ray wanted to make a film with her and Marlon Brando.[13]

Leela Naidu produced a documentary on mentally challenged children, A Certain Childhood, which was Kumar Shahni's first directorial project under the banner of Leela Naidu Films. Later, she registered under Unicorn Films to make another film, Houseless Bombay, which was never made. She briefly held a job as an editor at the Bombay-based magazine Key Notes.

In September 2009, Lila, a documentary on Leela Naidu's life, by Bidisha Roy Das and Priyanjana Dutta was released.[14]

Personal life

In 1956, at the age of 17, she married Tilak Raj Oberoi, son of Mohan Singh Oberoi, the founder of the luxury Oberoi Hotels chain.[15] Tilak Raj, known as "Tikki", was 33 years old at the time.[15][16] Naidu and Oberoi had twin daughters, Maya and Priya. The brief marriage ended in divorce, and Oberoi won custody of the girls. Subsequently, Naidu met philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti while in London, and was deeply attracted to his teachings.[17] In 1969, she was married for the second time, to Mumbai poet Dom Moraes. They lived in Hong Kong, New York City, New Delhi, and Mumbai for about 25 years. After the relationship ended, Naidu led a somewhat reclusive life in Colaba, Mumbai.[18]

Her grandsons are Adam Oberoi Bateman, born in June 1992 in New-Delhi to Maya Oberoi Naidu and John Bateman from London. And the other grandson of Leela is Erwan Shrikant Oberoi Guitton, born 11.2.1993 in New-Delhi to Priya Oberoi Naidu and Yvonnick Guitton De La Verrie, a French man.

Naidu also has a god-daughter of four decades, Oopali Operajita, whom she met at Rishi Valley School, who is a Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, a celebrated classical Odissi dancer, and a Senior Adviser to several of India's prominent leaders in the Lok Sabha.


Leela Naidu's separation from her second husband Moraes was a big blow. She lived alone in a large old flat at Sargent House in the quient bylane of Colaba causeway. Her severe arthritis afflicted her social life. Naidu spent most of the last decade indoors. Financial constraints led her to keep paying guests in the house but she eventually enjoyed their company. She would call her friends and keep in touch with both her daughters and grandsons. Her daughter Priya died of heart attack on February 8, 2008.

Leela Naidu died in Mumbai on 28 July 2009, due to lung failure after a prolonged bout of influenza, at the age of 69.[19][20] Her funeral was held on July 29 in Chandanwadi Crematorium attended by her daughter Maya, grandchildren and friends.






  1. "Leela Naidu: Miss India of 1954 who went on to forge a career as an". 21 September 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 The Times of India (29 July 2009). "Leela Naidu put India on the beauty map". The Times Of India. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  3. Profile Lata Khubchandani, Prevention Today (India Today)."French Mother"
  4. "The Art Of Being Radiant". Outlook. 17 August 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  5. "Actress, beauty queen Leela Naidu dead". Press Trust of India. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  6. 1 2 Dubey, Bharati (29 July 2009). "Leela Naidu personified grace and beauty". The Times of India. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  7. A cineaste in the mainstream cinema Raju Bharatan, Rediff.com 12 September 2000.
  8. 'The gentleman of the industry' Lata Khubchandani, Rediff.com 25 May 2005.
  9. A Leela Naidu film : Ya Raste hain Pyar ke Passion for Cinema, 10 November 2006.
  10. "Satyajit Ray planned film with Leela Naidu, Brando". The Times of India. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  11. 'He was an adorable producer' Lata Khubchandani. Rediff.com 26 May 2005.
  12. "Leela was wonderful: Benegal". The Times of India. 29 July 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  13. Sinha, Suveen K. (16 June 2010). "A lifelong battle against beauty" via Business Standard.
  14. Jerry Pinto (28 August 2009). "Sense and sensitivity: A documentary gives us glimpses of Leela Naidu, the person". Live Mint.
  15. 1 2 "Oberoi Mohan Singh". The Most Famous Hotels in the World. 2009-11-09.
  16. Leela Naidu: An icon of Indian cinema passes away The Daily Star, 1 August 2009
  17. The Philosopher and the Actress Rediff.com 17 February 2001.
  18. One of world’s ‘most beautiful women’ dies Indian Express, 29 July 2009.
  19. "Veteran Hindi film actress Leela Naidu dies". Times of India. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  20. Leela Naidu dead CNN IBN 28 July 2009.

External links

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