Smita Patil: 5 essential performances of the trailblazing actor | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Smita Patil: 5 essential performances of the trailblazing actor

Oct 17, 2023 11:14 AM IST

On the birth anniversary of Smita Patil, take a look at 5 notable roles of one of the finest and most accomplished actors in the history of Indian cinema.

Smita Patil would have turned 68 today. Rarely has an actor arrived in Indian Cinema quite like her; so full-bodied in her approach to the art of performance. In a span of just 12 years, the actor moulded a truly astonishing oeuvre of work. Here are 5 essential performances of the actor that truly shouldn't be missed. (Also read: When Smita Patil spoke about objectification of women, nudity in films)

Smita Patil in stills from Bhumika, Mirch Masala and Chidambaram
Smita Patil in stills from Bhumika, Mirch Masala and Chidambaram

Chakra: Smita Patil played Amma in Rabindra Dharmaraj's wrenching drama about slum-dwellers in Mumbai. Forced to confront her immediate realities, her Amma clings on to hopes for a better future- dutifully waiting for her husband to arrive once a month, and saving every penny to build a hut for her son. In the hands of Patil, Amma is a complex and mercurial presence- fully aware of the male gaze that surrounds her, yet cannot break her spirit. There's not an iota of sentimentality to her performance, which makes her scenes glow with intrigue and ferocity. That last shot of her face confronting the screen remains unforgettable.

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Available to stream: Prime Video

Chidambaram: Smita Patil's radiant screen presence was on full display in the Malayalam film Chidambaram directed by the great G. Aravindan. As Shivakaami, Smita Patil was emblematic of the purity and divinity of nature, that lies unaware of its position in the unkind world. There are long passages where the actor rarely speaks a word, and yet it somehow feels as if nothing else matters in the world when Shivakaami appears. She merely washes her face, ties her hair and looks at the trees. In one scene, her devotion to smelling the fragrance of a red rose fills the screen with timeless wonder.

Available to stream: YouTube

Mirch Masala: Smita Patil's Sonbai from Mirch Masala is as strikingly poignant now as it was during its release. "Main jaan de dungi, lekin uske paas nahi jaungi," she declares in front of the men commanding her to obey the Subedar. The actor's fierce screen presence shines the brightest here, at once assertive and defiant. The last shot of her face, filled with rage and determination, is indelible.

Available to stream: Prime Video

Manthan: Smita Patil manages to stand out in a supporting turn in Shyam Benegal's Manthan, amid a host of ensemble actors. As the fiesty Bindu, she is a ball of fire: unafraid to talk truth to power. She not only aces the rural Gujarati accent with aplomb, but emerges as the most fully-realized performance in the iconic film by the time it ends. Note the change of tone halfway through her response when Girish Karnad's Dr. Rao asks about her husband. "Kya maalum?" she says nonchalantly. "Pada hoga kahi, sharab peeke!"

Available to stream: YouTube

Bhumika: The crowning achievement of Smita Patil's acting career culminated in the form of Shyam Benegal's Bhumika. In this National Award-winning performance, the actor played Usha, a talented and strong-willed performer, exposed and desired and judged in a predominantly male society. From the youthful wonder of her teens to the steely reserve that arrives with age, the actor gives an incredibly committed performance- capturing a whole life in one sweep. Its a truly astonishing, career-best performance: one that reveals something new every single time.

Available to stream: YouTube

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