Hindi cinema has given us a fair share of colourful antagonists, who add drama and tension to the good-vs-bad morality plays – from Ajit and Amjad Khan to Amrish Puri and Prem Chopra. A few like Pran could straddle both the worlds with equal elan.
But one name that has stuck like none other is Lalita Pawar, whose 103rd birth anniversary was celebrated this week (18 April). Known as the mother of vamps, Lalita Pawar was the quintessential evil woman, usually playing the role of a scheming mother-in-law. But there was an exception in her long career as an antagonist, where she played a positive character.
In 1971’s Anand, starring Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, Lalita Pawar played a hospital matron, Mrs D’Sa, who takes care of an ailing Anand (Khanna).
The minute she enters the scene, you expect her to play the part of a cruel woman, but her signature severe stare and the loud “Shut up!” melts into a smile as Anand, in a fun, light-hearted chatter, asks her not to be so strict.
The scene strikes you, particularly because you are just not used to watching Lalita Pawar play nice and caring on screen. But then again, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand was a striking film.
The film was a landmark in Bollywood for several reasons – Salil Chowdhury’s melodious music, Gulzar’s moving dialogues, and Mukherjee’s unique way of looking at death.
The story, a rather simple one on the face of it, follows a young oncologist, Dr Bhaskar Banerjee (Bachchan), who is a serious and stoic man troubled by the state of healthcare in India. His lonely world is turned upside-down when he is introduced to Anand, a man who is upbeat and optimistic to a fault, and has been diagnosed with an incurable cancer.
The two become fast friends as Anand spends his last few months with Bhaskar, enriching his life with love and laughter. The film’s brilliant screenplay stands out as it strikes a perfect balance between drama and humour.
In the end, when the inevitable happens, everyone is heartbroken, but the larger message that sticks is – Anand lived a full and happy life.
The essence of Anand is encapsulated in a memorable line delivered by the central character: “Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi”.
This line also best describes Lalita Pawar. She was a perfect example of taking what life throws at you and making the most of it. A freak accident on a film set partially damaged her left eye, and put a brake on her career as leading lady in Hindi cinema.
She took up ‘negative’ characters but played them with gumption and became a household name. And, Anand would probably agree that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you live it large.