5 lesser-known roles played by Nirupa Roy

Long before she played mother to heroes like Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra, actress Nirupa Roy was the heroine of several popular films. On the 12th anniversary of her death today (13 October), we unearth some forgotten roles.

Sonal Pandya

Before she became known as Hindi cinema’s eternal mother, actress Nirupa Roya had a thriving career playing leads in social dramas and mythological films. Nirupa Roy, known as ‘Chibi’ as a child, started out in Gujarati films with the film Ranakdevi (1946). After her marriage to Kamal Balsara, she was known as Kokila Balsara. Nirupa Roy was her screen name.

Like Leela Chitnis, she transitioned on to maternal roles as the years passed. Roy won three Filmfare Awards for Best Supporting Actress for playing the self-sacrificing mother who does everything only for her child in Munimji (1955), Chhaya (1961) and Shehnai (1964) and was immortalised onscreen with Salim-Javed’s dialogue, “Mere paas maa hai” from Deewaar (1975). But her early roles proved that she was much more than just a mother figure.

1. Gundsundari (1948)

Nirupa Roy played the lead as a housewife who wins back her husband in this Gujarati/Hindi bilingual. Manohar Desai was her co-star and the film was directed by Ratibhai Punatar who also directed her in her first film. Gundsundari was a box-office success and had an affiliation with Ranjit Studios. Roy easily transitioned herself into larger roles in the Hindi film industry as well.

2. Sinbad the Sailor (1952)

This successful feature by Nanabhai Bhatt starred Naseem Banu and Nirupa Roy with co-star Ranjan as Sinbad. The actress has a decidedly different look in this fantasy adventure tale which featured music from Chitragupt, who was trying to break into the music industry. Sinbad the Sailor allowed more swashbuckling heroes from Robin Hood to Tarzan to come on the big screen.

3. Do Bigha Zamin (1953)

Nirupa Roy had a pivotal part in the internationally acclaimed film directed by Bimal Roy. She played the role of Parvati, wife to Balraj Sahni’s Shambhu. The poor farming couple is deep in dept to a heartless zamindar who is only interested in constructing a mill over their ancestral land. Back home, the film won both the Filmfare and National Award for best feature.

4. Naag Panchami (1953)

Nirupa Roy was much loved for her work in mythological films opposite Trilok Kapoor where she played several goddesses. Her fans would touch her feet and sing her bhajans to her. In Naag Panchami, Roy played Behula, the wife of the cursed Lakshmendra, who begs the snake queen for her husband’s life. Such was the popularity of the film that audiences went back for repeated viewings.

5. Razia Sultana (1961)

Made a year after Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Roy starred as the title character in Devendra-Praveen’s Razia Sultana. This film was the second version of the controversial historical figure after the 1924 silent film version by Dhiren Ganguly. Razia Sultana featured no romance between her and the slave Yakut and portrayed Razia as an avenger out to secure her kingdom back for her father. The film was shot indoors on films sets and its costumes and music paled against the splendour of Mughal-e-Azam. Unsurprisingly, that same year, she played mother to Asha Parekh in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chhaya.