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SMITA PATIL (1955–1986)

Smita Patil was an actor, and a mainstay of alternative Hindi cinema until her tragically early death. While in college, she began working in student films in Pune and as a TV newscaster. From the beginning she had strong views about how she wished to portray women on screen. Her first major film was Shyam Benegal’s Manthan (1975) followed by his 1977 film Bhumika, based on the life of Hamsa Wadkar (q.v.). Many offers came to her after that, she refused any that she felt were exploitative or stereotyped. In the early 1980s she became more open to the idea of accepting mainstream roles. She campaigned for women’s issues, and set up a women’s refuge in Bombay. With her two commercial films, Ardh Satya and Umbartha, she acquired a name. People began to follow her career and were introduced to ideas of alternative cinema. She won fame for Mandi in 1983, and Raowan, 1984. She also played in popular films like Bheegin Palkein, Shakti and Namak-Halaal and Chakra . A powerful portrayal of the ‘other woman’ in Arth also gave her excellent scope to display her skills. One of her last appearances before her death was in Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala. Her style as an actress was unique; understated yet earthy, she was one of the few Bollywood actresses comfortable as well as convincing when playing lower class and lower-caste women as well as conventional roles.

She married film actor Raj Babbar and is survived by her only son Prateik. Smita Patil won the 1977 National Award for Best Actress for her role in the Hindi film Bhumika. She became very popular with coveted directors like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Mrinal Sen.
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