On her birth anniversary: Lalita Pawar and the art of playing wicked
Born on 18th April 1916, veteran film actress Lalita Pawar would have turned 100 years of age this year, had she been alive. Today, remembering her steadfast and remarkable contribution to Hindi cinema over a space of 6 decades, I pay a tribute to this prolific Indian actress with some interesting anecdotes on her life and times. [Feature Image Credit: indiatoday.in]
Lalita, born Amba Laxman Rao Sagun on 18 April 1916, was the daughter of a wealthy silk merchant. While visiting a film studio, young Lalita requested to be photographed so she could see herself on film. The director was so impressed with her screen presence that he signed her for a role in his next movie.
In 1942, while filming a scene which required her character to be slapped, Lalita was struck way too hard by the upcoming actor Bhagwan Dada across the face. The accident resulted in bursting her left eye vein, damaging the eye and leaving her with a noticeable permanent squint. She was in her early 20’s. The accident forced her to abandon lead roles and switch to character roles which won her immense fame and popularity later in life.
A Career Spanning 6 Decades
Lalita Pawar’s acting career which started as a nine-year-old in the era of silent movies with Raja Harishchandra (1928) matured to build up a repertoire of more than 700 Hindi and Marathi films. She received the Filmfare award for the Best Supporting Actress for her role in Anari, after which she got offered many big films of established directors and banners. She was honoured by the Government of India as the first lady of Indian cinema, in 1961.
Pawar’s first marriage was with Ganpatrao Pawar who had directed many of her silent films and early sound films. The marriage developed cracks when he took a fancy to her younger sister.
Her second marriage with Rajkumar Gupta of Ambika studios, Mumbai, provided her with some much needed companionship.
Mrs. L D’Sa: After switching to character roles Lalita Pawar became synonymous with roles of the dominating matriarch or mother-in-law. Hrishikesh Mukherjee broke the stereotype by casting her as the strict but golden-hearted Mrs. L. D’Sa in the Raj Kapoor-Nutan starrer Anari (1959), a character which the maestro filmmaker repeated in Anand, as the firm but kind matron.
Seeta Devi, Anita’s Aunt: In Guru Dutt’s Mr & Mrs 55, Lalita Pawar plays the dominating, authoritative aunt who is championing the cause of women’s emancipation by forcing her niece to go in for a divorce under the newly enacted Divorce Law.
A Lonely End
Lalita Pawar’s career was thrown out of gear in 1990 when she developed cancer in the jaw. She was forced to undergo treatment of intensive radiation leading to weight loss, drain of energy and memory lapses. It was then that she decided to shift to Pune for treatment. Unfortunately she passed away on 24th February 1998 at 82 years of age, lonely at her residence in Aundh, Pune. Her death went unnoticed. She died alone at her residence as her husband was in Mumbai then recovering from throat operation in a private hospital. It may have been a sad end to a highly talented actress, but her roles will always give the audience something to smile about.
Nilesh Raje is an independent writer and has contributed this piece. Nilesh is solely responsible for the information and opinion in this article.