25 years back we lost finest actress of Bollywood Smita Patil (17th October, 1955 – 13th December, 1986). She died due to complications in childbirth at a very young age of 31. Her death was shocking and horrifying as the Indian film industry lost one of its most versatile talents at the peak of her career which was cut short.
How does one ever reconcile to a loss of such colossal talent?” asks Shyam Benegal. “Forget comparisons, I wonder whether there are many who have come close to producing even a fraction of the kind of work she has left behind,” says the director.
Smita was a newscaster for Doordarshan, when the director Shyam Benegal fell for her distinctly Indian looks and casted Smita in her first outing as an actress in Charandas Chor (1975). Audiences were smitten by her earthy looks.
Regarded among the finest stage and film actresses of her times, Patil appeared in over 75 Hindi and Marathi films in a career that spanned just over a decade.During her career, she received two National Film Awards and a Filmfare Award. She was the recipient of the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour in 1985.
Along with peers like Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri, she became one of the biggest stars of the new wave of the art cinema that was exploring fresh territory then. Her fiery work in Manthan (1976), Bhumika (1977), Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai? (1980), Aakrosh (1980), Chakra (1981), Arth (1982), Mandi (1983), Chidambaram (1985) and Mirch Masala (1985) were well acclaimed in the Indian parallel cinema. Smita’s glamorous roles in her more commercial films, such as Shakti and Namak Halaal revealed the permeable boundaries between “serious” cinema and “Hindi cinema” in the Hindi film industry.
Smita was surrounded by criticism when she became romantically involved with married actor Raj Babbar, father of two kids. Raj Babbar left his wife Nadira to marry Smita and hence tagged as second wife and a home breaker by the very feminist organizations she had worked with.
An actress beyond comparisons, Smita has left behind a rich haul of work through her social and intellectual movies. Reality being the soul of Smita’s films and hence, Smita’s art is truly timeless. Her contribution towards Indian parallel cinema was immense and has left the Indian parallel cinema incomplete.