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When Lalita Pawar was the leading lady in Hindi cinema

On the 19th death anniversary (24 February) of Hindi cinema’s cantankerous old woman with the heart of gold, we take a look at some of Lalita Pawar's early trysts as a leading lady.

Sonal Pandya

Born Ambika Laxman Sagun on 18 April 1916 in Yeola, Maharashtra, Lalita Pawar changed her name in keeping with the prevalent Hindu custom after her marriage to filmmaker Ganpatrao Pawar.

Though Lalita Pawar became well known to generations of Hindi film audiences through her roles as the tough matriarch in films like Mr. & Mrs. 55 (1955), Hum Dono (1961), and Professor (1962), what is not as well known, particularly to later generations, is that she was forced to turn to character roles after an unfortunate on-set slapping incident with the comic actor Bhagwan. An incident that left her with a facial paralysis and a permanently impaired left eye.

But prior to her accident, Lalita Pawar had a thriving career in action films such as Diler Jigar (1931) and Himmat-e-Marda or Lord of the Jungle (1935). In Diler Jigar, she matched the film's hero, Hameer, in action scenes by turning into a masked avenger to save herself from the evil king.

Rajkumari (1938)

Lalita Pawar began her career in the silent era, but made the transition to talkies quite successfully. She started acting in silent films as a teenager and graduated to lead roles in the talkies. In Krishin Movietone's Rajkumari, she played the double role of a princess and a hotel girl with co-stars Nazir, Dar, Gope and Ameena.

Duniya Kya Hai (1938)

Directed by Lalita Pawar’s filmmaker husband Ganpatrao Pawar, Duniya Kya Hai was an ambitious adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection. In her home production, Lalita Pawar played Lalita, a young woman who is promised love and marriage by her young beau, played by Madhav Kale. Instead, she finds herself and her young son cast out. She is forced to turn to prostitution and becomes the prime suspect during a murder at the brothel. Naturally, her former lover ends up being the one to prosecute her case.

Kirti (1942)

Director Gunjal's social drama was the first ever production for Venus Pictures. Here, Lalita Pawar received top billing above co-stars Jairaj, Jagdish, Sunalinidevi and Urmila. Her name was used to draw audiences who had previously enjoyed her performance in Duniya Kya Hai (1938).

Simultaneously, Lalita Pawar was acting in several hit Marathi films like Netaji Palkar (1939) and Gora Kumbhar (1942). With over 300 films and by surviving the silent-to-talkies shift, Lalita Pawar made herself a household name with the characters she essayed on-screen.

Her only major acting award, however, came for Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anari (1959). She won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress playing the good-hearted landlady Mrs D'Sa to Raj Kumar, the character essayed by Raj Kapoor.

Lalita Pawar passed away all alone on 24 February 1998 in Pune, as her family was away in Mumbai attending to her second husband film producer Rajprakash Gupta’s surgery.