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HomeThePrint ProfileLalita Pawar — Bollywood’s wicked mother-in-law who we all loved to hate

Lalita Pawar — Bollywood’s wicked mother-in-law who we all loved to hate

Lalita Pawar was 9 when she started acting, and delivered many powerful performances until an incident with a co-actor forced her to take up negative roles. Today, is her 103rd birth anniversary. 

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New Delhi: She was the quintessential evil mother-in-law of Hindi films, who was loathed in every household. Even today, any ‘evil’ mother-in-law is termed Lalita Pawar.

But, Pawar was not always the diabolic, slit-eyed woman that she made so popular on screen. In fact, there was nothing in her early performances that gave any hint at the roles she would take up later in her career and that would catapult her to instant fame.

ThePrint remembers Lalita Pawar, often called the mother of all vamps in Bollywood, on her birthday, 18 April.

Early life

Pawar, who was born as Amba Laxman Rao Sagun on 18 April 1916 in Nashik town, Maharashtra, had her first brush with stardom in 1928. Born in an orthodox family, she was the daughter of Laxman Rao Sagun, a wealthy silk merchant. She was barely nine years old when she acted in Y.D. Sarpotdar directed Raja Harishchandra.

The ease with which Pawar handled herself in front of the screen soon landed her the lead role in Diler Jigar, directed by G.P. Pawar (her first husband).

In an insightful column about Pawar’s expertly executed fencing in the movie, filmmaker Madhuja Mukherjee writes, “Lalita Pawar, and the ease with which she executed sword fights and other action sequences. Diler Jigar, for instance, combines the fantastic costumes and feats of Douglas Fairbanks’ Mask of Zorro (1920) with disparate balletic styles of the Nautanki.”

Pawar would go on to deliver many more stunning performances in Daivi Khazana, where her provocative appearance in a bikini caused much controversy. In Chatur Sundari, she played 17 characters, making a record of sorts.

But rising heroes often experience a downfall, and Pawar’s transition from playing mainstream lead characters to unconventional roles was sudden and tragic.

The ‘evil’ twist of fate

During the shoot of the film, Jung-e-Azaadi (1948), Pawar’s career trajectory changed. Bhagwan Dada, her co-star in the film, slapped her so hard that a vein in her left eye burst. The consequence of the slap was a permanent squint for Pawar and a three-year hiatus from Bollywood.

The squint left little room for Pawar to get mainstream roles. However, she persevered and took up whatever roles came her way.

Soon, Bollywood’s love for stereotypes and Pawar’s love for Bollywood helped her create a niche for herself. Pawar’s natural squint and effortless acting made her synonymous with ‘evil’. And before she knew it, she was cast as the devious mother-in-law — always plotting, scheming and conniving.

She made her first appearance as the ‘evil’ mother-in-law in V. Shantaram’s Dahej in 1950, a movie that gave her much fame and popularity.

“Lalita Pawar rendered the character of an atrocious and cruel mother-in-law with such authenticity that the Indian women always prayed that their daughters should not get a mother-in-law like Lalita Pawar,” Iqbal Rizvi wrote for The National Herald in 2018.

Pawar’s flawless rendition of ‘arrey kalmoohi’ as the domineering matriarch in every other film to ‘Meri chhaati par aakar toh saanp bhi rassi ban jaata hai’ from the 1970 film Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thhi are some of her iconic dialogues.

“Although she never did anything ‘bad’. It was just that she portrayed the character of an evil woman on silver screen with such sincerity and so effectively that she was hated in almost every household of the Hindi belt,” Rizvi wrote.

Pawar’s other memorable films include Shri 420, Anari, Hum Dono, Anand and Naseeb.

Also read: Murder most foul — Remembering actor Priya Rajvansh on her 19th death anniversary

Pawar as ‘Manthara’

Pawar’s performance as Manthara in Ramanand Sagar’s television serial Ramayana is still etched in people’s memory.

Pawar naturally embodied the devious sidekick, lending authenticity and sincerity to her ‘evilness’. She worked the charm of her nefarious schemes on screen, drawing hate and admiration from the audience at the same time.

However, such was her talent that she was able to convince her viewers that she could also be kind and large-hearted.

“Of the six other movies Raj Kapoor and Lalita Pawar teamed up in, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anari is the gold standard. Her Mrs. D’Sa, the austere matriarch with a heart of gold, became a go-to for typical, but endearing Christian characters,” journalist Roshini Nair wrote in 2016.

On Pawar’s 100th birth anniversary, actor Amitabh Bachchan described the actress as “versatile and dynamic” for her “stand out performances”.

In 1961, she was honoured by the government of India for being the first lady of Indian cinema. She died in 1998 after battling mouth cancer.

Also read: Remembering Sridevi, the outsider who ruled Bollywood


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