5 Essential Smita Patil Moments That Prove Why There’s No One Like Her


Among the many nuggets of Smita Patil: A Brief Incandescence by Maithili Rao, one concerns Girish Karnad in Nishant. This 1975 arthouse classic Shyam Benegal set against a feudal backdrop launched Smita Patil on a film career that no one imagined was tragically short and yet legendary in its scope and influence. Karnad, who is paired opposite Shabana Azmi in Nishant, chooses a scene in which Patil is shown performing a tulsi pooja. According to A Brief Incandescence, that’s when he “knew a star was born.” Watching Nishant again, the scene barely registers but Smita Patil, with his raw intensity, smoky presence and natural talent for playing, nevertheless makes a strong impression. There is another escape name in this movie. A rookie Naseeruddin Shah plays her husband. Besides Shah and Patil who both started out as parallel cinema darlings before frolicking around its more glamorous cousin Bollywood, the cast also includes Amrish Puri, Shabana Azmi, Mohan Agashe, Anant Nag and Kulbhushan Kharbanda.

In this repertoire of talent that dominated the landscape of Hindi art cinema, Patil was just a comet. Yet the story of one of India’s most defining cinematic movements is incomplete without the fleeting genius of Patil. The actor died at the age of 31. She left a powerful legacy that we still discuss, debate and unpack more than two decades after her death. Her films have given way to feminist interventions, serving as a model for each generation of actors. From Tabu to Radhika Apte, all of Bollywood’s pissed off radicals have one thing in common: Smita Patilhis fiercely independent voice, his brazen disregard for convention and an unparalleled intensity that crowns each of his performances.

These are surprising accomplishments for an actress who didn’t go to film school, never dreamed of an acting career, and may not even have been cut out for film in the first place considering of its unconventional appearance. That should tell you something about this former Marathi newsreader – she may have liked the camera reluctantly, but the camera loved her instantly. Once under the arclights, she transformed into “an irresistible presence that every actor seeks” and rarely achieves, as her mentor Shyam Benegal remarks in A Brief Incandescence.

(Photo: Express Archive)

Born on October 17, 1955, Patil trained in acting as a teenager in her hometown of Pune. No wonder, you can see the intuitive rhythms and intellectual rigor of the scene in his film acting. When Hindi films beckoned her, she opted for roles that sought to realistically portray a woman’s “inner strength” (watch her wonderful vintage interview in Prasar Bharti, available on YouTube) instead of showcasing it. in black or white, a stereotype much appreciated by the formulas. Bollywood. In a short-lived but highly versatile career full of authentic magic and hypnotic grounding, she played roles that would have been every actor’s dream – the vulnerable but resilient actress of Bhumika, Usha, the incendiary tribe of Jait Re Jait who wears desire on her sleeve, Mirch Masala’s rebel Sonbai, Manthan’s fiery Bindu and her touching, if unspoken, connection to a vet who hopes to bring white revolution to her caste-torn Gujarati village, the Khairun of Gaman who endlessly waits for her migrant husband, Chakra’s hard-hitting portrayal of a young mother in a seedy Bombay slum, Ardh’s sensitive teacher Satya torn between her love for a cop (Om Puri) and her reservations about brutality and police corruption, Sulabha from Umbartha who must overcome her family’s objection to pursuing a career out of wedlock, the haunting Najma from Bazaar and Arth’s other wife, to name a few.

Any writer would be in a dilemma if asked to choose Smita Patil’s ultimate compilation from a filmography filled with such unforgettable roles. But here are five of our favorite Smita Patil cinematic moments that offer a window into her potent combination of unstudied intensity and endearing charm.

Bhumika’s Heyday (1977): Usha’s Daughter Admits She’s Pregnant

bhumika movie smita (Photo: Express Archive)

Smita Patil plays an actress, Usha, whose personal life is a mess. Trying to escape an abusive marriage (“the common man” Amol Palekar in a splendid anti-hero turn), she takes refuge in a series of relationships that end in conflict. Yet there is a bond that needs both healing and closure. In a tragic twist, her daughter returns in the climax to tell her she’s pregnant. Usha’s first instinct is to guess if this is a cruel replay of her own life, but she is soon relieved to find that her baby girl is happily married. All that’s left for Usha to do is deal with her own gnawing loneliness. Unsurprisingly, in her biography, Maithili Rao describes Bhumika’s Usha as “the role of a lifetime”.

‘Kya main pagal lagti hun’ – Arth (1982)

Arthur (1982 (Photo: Express Archive)

It should be obvious to any viewer that Pooja is Arth’s focal point, and the film is nothing but an engaging melodrama designed to showcase Shabana Azmi’s dramatic ebbs and flows. But this fictional Mahesh Bhatt biopic is also an ode to Smita Patil. While a self-serving take on Bhatt’s tumultuous affair with Parveen Babi and his struggle with mental health on the one hand, the film also reflects on Patil’s personal life – his highly publicized marriage to Raj Babbar. Patil’s confrontations with her on-screen rival Shabana Azmi — these two powerhouses were so intertwined in the public consciousness that “I feel like I might as well be Shabana Patil and she Smita Azmi,” Azmi told FirstPost.com — are absolutely captivating to watch.

Urban personality versus rural vocation in Akaler Shandhaney (1982)

Akaler Shandhane (Photo: Express Archive)

In Mrinal Sen’s film-in-a-film, Patil is again cast as an actress – this time, as a poetry-quoting townswoman who lands in a village to shoot a film based on the Great Bengal Famine. The meta-narrative does more than wink at Patil’s status as an arthouse toast. The gap between the urban character of Patil and the rural woman that she must project on the screen is increasingly highlighted. Right from the start, Patil gives a colleague advice that should serve as a lesson to any aspiring actor: “Do good and people will love you.”

The ultimate moment of the sizzling rain song in Namak Halaal (1982)

Namak Halal (1982) (Photo: Express Archive)

While Patil’s name is rightly remembered for her contribution to parallel cinema, she was also an indispensable part of commercial Bollywood, shaking a leg with Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty, among others. Although Namak Halaal is a Big B comic through and through – Bachchan’s phunny English “who can leave Angrez behind” is still hilarious to see after all these decades – Patil’s rain-soaked Aaj rapat jaayein tops the charts. charts in terms of sex appeal. I wonder if the trajectory of 1970s-80s Hindi cinema would have been different if only this goddess in white had acted in more mainstream fare.

That haunting freeze frame at the end of Mirch Masala (1987)

Mirch_Masala smita (Photo: Express Archive)

This masterpiece by Ketan Mehta makes a compelling case for the power of feminist hope. Few can forget the burning face of Sonbai (Patil) in the final moments after she and the women of the village defeat the oppressor armed with nothing but red chili powder. What makes Mirch Masala’s Triumph even sweeter (or chillier) is that it’s the swan song of the great performer. Patil died after a complicated childbirth in 1986. What a pity! The loss is ours.

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