Leela Naidu (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 famous 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' and is remembered for her classical beauty and subtle acting style.
Leela Naidu was born in Mumbai to Dr. Pattipati Ramiah Naidu, a well known nuclear physicist from Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, who worked under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Madame Curie for his doctoral thesis in Paris. He was Scientific Advisor to UNESCO for Southeast Asia, and later, an advisor to the Tata group. Her mother, Indologist Dr. Marthe Naidu, was of Swiss-French origin, and earned her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne.
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.
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. Though it was not successful at the box office, the film went on to win the National Award for Best Film, and garnered Naidu critical acclaim. The movie's music, including the songs Jaane kaise sapnon mein kho gayeen ankhiyan and Kaise din beete kaisi beeti ratiyan, were composed by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. 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 Pyar Ke (1963), directed by R. K. Nayyar. The movie, which co-starred Sunil Dutt and Rehman, was based on the real life case K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra.Despite its topical nature and controversial theme, the movie flopped; however, some of its songs, notably "Ye Khaamoshiyaan, Ye Tanahaaiyaan," became quite popular.
In 1963, Naidu played the lead role of a rebellious young bride in the first Merchant Ivory film, The Householder, directed by James Ivory. After watching her performance, Satyajit Ray planned an English film, The Journey, with Marlon Brando, Shashi Kapoor and Naidu, but sadly the film was never made. 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). She returned to cinema in 1985 to play a Goan matriarch in Shyam Benegal's period film, Trikaal. 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.
In September 2009, Lila, a documentary on Leela Naidu's life, by Bidisha Roy Das and Priyanjana Dutta was released.
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. Tilak Raj, known as "Tikki", was 33 years old at the time. 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. In 1969, she was married for the second time, to Mumbai poet Dom Moraes. They lived in Hong Kong, New York, New Delhi, and Mumbai for about 25 years. After the relationship ended, Naidu led a somewhat reclusive life in Colaba, Mumbai.
Her grandsons are Adam, Maya's son, and Erwan, Priya's son. Priya died of a heart attack on February 8, 2008. 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 danseuse, and a Senior Adviser to several of India's prominent leaders in the Lok Sabha.
Leela Naidu died in Mumbai on 28 July 2009, the day before Maharani Gayatri Devi died, due to lung failure after a prolonged bout of influenza, at the age of 69.
Anuradha (1960), aka Love of Anuradha (International: English title) .... Anuradha Roy Ummeed (1962)
Yeh Raste Hain Pyar Ke (1963) .... Neena
The Householder (1963), aka Gharbar ....
Indu Baghi (1964)
The Guru (1969) .... Girl at the Party
Trikaal (Past, Present and Future) (1985) .... Dona Maria Souzasoares
Electric Moon (1992) .... Socks
Man of the World .... Dr. Bahandi (1 episode - "The Frontier" , 1962)
Changing The Face in the Sun (1 episode - "The Young and the Bold" , 1964) .... Anna