The Year Of Lost Stars: Older Women Acting Icons Who Passed Away In 2021

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Older women actor deaths: 2021 was a difficult year for everyone, with the dreadful COVID-19 prowling at our doorsteps, claiming lives untimely. For the film industry and its millions of fans, the year was made more painful with the loss of many acting giants whose skill we would have been richer to have seen more of, had they lived longer.

These women were queens of their art. Some ruled people’s hearts for years, while others only found the recognition they had been seeking all their lives towards the fag end of it. But regardless of the timeline of their fame, it came to them all, and deservingly so. They created magic on screen, as parting gifts one would like to think, before they left us this year.

Remembering Older Women Actors Who Left Us In 2021:

1. Farrukh Jaffar

Though she had been in the Hindi film industry for decades, renown came to Farrukh Jaffar only during her final years. Her breakout role, so to speak, was as Fatto Begum in the 2020 film Gulabo Sitabo, which was in many ways her film, despite starring superstar Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role. She had acting credits for a range of supporting roles in successful films like Umrao Jaan, Swades, Peepli Live, Aligarh and Sultan. 

Jaffar passed away in October this year at the age of 88. Last year, in an interview with SheThePeopleJaffar looked back on her portrayal of Fatto Begum and said every woman should aspire to be as bold as she was. “We must, as women, never back down in the face of trouble. I am like that in real life too,” she said. And when asked who her favourite character from the film was, pat came the reply from a sprightly Jaffar: “My own.”

2. Surekha Sikri 

Surekha Sikri was an acting institution, most predominantly of theatre, but also of film and television where she had become an easily recognisable face. A three-time National Awardee, Sikri was 76 when she died this year in July of a cardiac arrest compounded by other health complications. The small screen audience knew her as the sharp-tongued “dadi sa” from the serial Balika Vadhu.

Like Jaffar, her popularity in mainstream Bollywood peaked only in the last years of her career, with the 2018 social drama Badhaai HoHer early film career too comprised of socially aware film choices that took on daring political commentaries. Among the most known of those is her debut film Kissa Kursi Ka and Shyam Benegal’s Mammo. 

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3. Kozhikode Sharada

A noted Malayalam actor, Kozhikode Sharada passed away at age 75 while under treatment for heart ailments in her native Kozhikode, Kerala. The acting veteran reportedly breathed her last at the hospital where she served as a nursing assistant for approximately three decades.

Not unlike Sikri, Sharada too was a Malayalam theatre titan and amassed wide popularity for her television appearances. Her film legacy stands at a towering count of around 80 credits, having shot to fame in 1996 with the film Sallapam, in which she played the lead hero’s mother. Ennu Ninte Moideen in 2015 was among her last major big screen films.

4. Chithra 

Another notable in the world of Malayalam cinema, actor Chithra passed away aged 56 in August this year following a cardiac arrest. She stepped into films at an early age, beginning as a child actor in the 1975 film Apoorva Raagangal. Popularly known to fans and friends as Nallennai Chithra, she has tens of film credits to her name in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films.

The majority of her film work was in the 1980s-90s period, which is when she became a household name in southern India. During the early millennium, she was seen lesser and lesser of on the big screen, especially after 2005 but returned during what would turn out to be her final year of filmography in 2020 with Tamil films Bell Bottom and En Sangathu Aala Adichavan Evanda.

5. Swatilekha Sengupta

Swatilekha Sengupta, remembered fondly by fans for her impressionable performance as Bimala in Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire, breathed her last in June this year and joined her iconic pair of the late Soumitra Chatterjee, Sandip from the 1984 film and who died last year, in death. Bimala and her beloved Sandip were finally united, fans said. A theatre artist, for which she was honoured with the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Sengupta was active in Kolkata’s thriving cultural scene.

Her last prominent role, when she was still living, was the 2015 Bengali film Bela Seshe, which once again paired her with Chatterjee. The upcoming Bela Shuru, which the makers say is not a sequel to the first film, will also see Sengupta and Chatterjee together for one final time on the screen posthumously.