Numerous popular stage performances, more than 80 films in Hindi, Marathi and other regional languages, a torchbearer of the Indian parallel cinema, two National Awards as ‘best actress’, many Filmfare Awards and also the recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri – all that in a career which spanned only over a decade as Smita Patil passed away at the young age of 31!
In the early 70s, Smita Patil used to be a television newscaster for Doordarshan when acclaimed filmmaker Shyam Benegal took notice of her and gave her the first role in his film Charandas Chor (1975). Mr.Benegal who later worked with Smita in numerous other films recalled the first time he met her ‘She had a presence which I felt could be well utilised in cinema’. And indeed so.
Smita patil’s performance in Bhumika (for which she received her first National Award at the age of 21) impressed Jaya Bhaduri so much that she commented ‘makes you sit up and take notice. Her reflexes are uninhibited and she has a face with tremendous mobility’.
A few starting scenes from Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika.
The most expressive eyes ever to have graced the celluloid; her dusky and sensuous looks and the capability to play any character (no matter how challenging) with extreme ease and perfection soon established Smita Patil as one of the most talented actress of Indian Cinema.
In the early years of her career, she concentrated only on art cinema. Along with Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri, Smita Patil formed the four essential pillars of the then popular parallel cinema.
A beautiful song sequence from the film Jait Re Jait (1977) along with Mohan Agashe.
She was probably the first actress who gave the directors enough courage to make films with female lead characters in mind, something refreshingly different from the conventional male-dominated cinema that existed in Bollywood. In films like Bhumika, Umbartha, Bazaar and Mirch Masala Smita Patil’s performances were intensely appreciated both by the critics and the audience.
A scene from Ketan Mehta‘s brilliant film Mirch Masala (1987) with Naseeruddin Shah as the notorious Subedar and Smita Patil as the daredevil Sonbai.
On the occasion of 100 years of the Indian cinema, in honor of Smita Patil a postage stamp bearing her face was released by the Indian government.
Probably the only actress who could do justice to critically acclaimed films like Chakra, Sadgati, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai, Ardh Satya, Mandi, Aakrosh, Chidambaram and on the other hand be equally comfortable with hardcore commercial films like Namak Halaal, Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, Shakti and so on.
In Smita Patil’s own words:
‘I remained committed to small cinema for about five years … I refused all commercial offers. Around 1977-78, the small cinema movement started picking up and they needed names. I was unceremoniously dropped from a couple of projects. This was a very subtle thing but it affected me a lot. I told myself that here I am and I have not bothered to make money. I have turned down big, commercial offers because of my commitment to small cinema and what have I got in return? If they want names I’ll make a name for myself. So I started and took whatever came my way.’