Indian Parallel cinema’s torch-bearer, dusky-skinned beauty, epitome of versatility and most importantly an amazing human being are the titles Smita Patil has and still proudly carries with utmost grace and elegance. Smita was dark-skinned, had a deep yet enigmatic voice and refused to wear make-up, all of which didn’t pass the commercial-actress checklist. Yet, she was approached for many mainstream films solely because of her talent (i.e.) she literally had offers pour at her doorstep just after 2 years of her debut while already carrying a national award, talk about talent!

Formerly a Marathi newsreader at Doordarshan, Shyam Benegal introduced this gem in the movie ‘Charandas Chor’ and backed his decision by saying “Her focus towards the camera is what attracted me. Even though it was news that she read, it felt like she was talking to me”.  When parallel cinema needed a fresh face, Smita came right away to swoon millions of fans with her virtuosity. Her presence was greatly registered when she starred in Benegal’s film, also India’s first crowd-funded movie (Rs.2 was donated by 5,00,000 Gujarati farmers) ‘Manthan’.   

(Smita in her first national award-winning film Bhumika as the legendary Marathi actress)

The breakthrough actually happened in 1977 when she depicted the character of legendary ‘Hansa Wadkar’ in the movie ‘Bhumika’, which bagged her her first national award at the young age of 22 after which there was no turning back. She stuck to parallel cinema for a long time and did movies like ‘Umbartha (in Marathi and ‘Subah’ in Hindi’), ‘Chakra’, ‘Sadgati’ and ‘Arth’. She won her second national award for the movie Chakra at the age of 26. 

She decided to step into commercial cinema when her phenomenal performance in Arth’as ‘Kavita Sanyal’ a highly insecure and mentally unstable woman, was underrated so much that her co-star and arch-rival at the time Shabana Azmi bagged all the praises and accolades. This broke her deeply. She debuted in commercial cinema with the movie ‘Shakthi’ opposite Amitabh, but her most praised mainstream movie was ‘Namak Halal’. Smita never held herself from voicing her discomfort towards commercial cinema, she also once sadly said that after ‘Namak Halal’ with Bachchan everybody only spoke about it even though she had done better films. Smita was also a good photographer even before she entered films and often grabbed chances to be behind the camera during shootings.

(Smita while photographing and experiencing a scene through the lens)

Smita chose feminism and empowerment in most of her roles as well as her personal life. She was a part of Bombay’s Women’s Centre and would often express her concerns about her encounters with various life stories of the women there with her co-stars. She wasn’t just a mere actress who did movies for fun, she did them for passion, so much that her contribution towards Indian cinema was and is looked upon by thousands till date. Unlike many, she didn’t stop doing art films once she became famous on the other side, her movies ‘Bazaar’ and ‘Mandi’ received high praises and the latter even bagged her a film-fare award. Her career spanned about 12 years during which she gave about 85 movies, she embodied every role like her own and said no to no challenges. She played as an older woman in films like ‘Amrit’ breaking the cliché that actresses lose lead roles if they start playing older roles. She devastatingly died at the young age of 31, just two weeks after her son’s birth, leaving the whole nation in shock.

A year before her death she was honored with the Padma Shri award, and became the youngest to receive this accolade. More than 10 films were released after her demise, ‘Mirch Masala’ being the most epochal among them. She played the feisty Sonbai who revolts against her powerful oppressor and the scene where all the women lead by Sonbai throw mirch masala at the Subedar has been regarded as the most iconic scene depicting feminist ideals and empowerment in the history of Indian cinema.  

Her untimely demise didn’t let people forget her, instead it urged everybody to witness her progressive roles and understand what actual cinema and raw talent looks like. She paved the way for women who did not fit the beauty standards of cinema by breaking all gender and beauty stereotypes. She owned every role she played that none other than herself could’ve replaced, which is something you cannot say of many actors. She spread the magic of her ‘Smita-ness’, a result of finely melded inborn art and the craft she learnt. In honor of her exceptional contribution and work a stamp of Smita was released on 2013 celebrating 100 years of cinema.

(Smita honored with a stamp of her own to celebrate her work and 100 years of Indian cinema)

She gracefully eclipsed every other artist with her remarkable performances and abundant source of talent, so much that every time when New-Wave cinema in India is mentioned, Smita Patil’s name would be written in golden words. Smita set her scale so high that every actor who aspires to reach it aims for the stars. She is celebrated to be one of the finest actors to have graced our screens and I hereby dedicate this blog as a tribute to an intelligent, strong and talented woman who effortlessly broke every existing cliché and fought her own way into a completely male-dominated field, exclusively with her talent and hard work, The late legend Padmashree Smita Patil. As far as cinema exists, Smita and her legacy will always be remembered with maximum admiration and love.

Written By,

Shivali Muthukumar 18BCS068