Shyam Benegal first introduced Smita Patil to me, not in person but in Nishant. Just as a couple of years earlier he had introduced shabana Azmi in Ankur. Over the years, their careers have run parallel, and Benegal himself, I think, is as much known for his introduction of these two fine actresses as anything else.
They were different from the other actresses. Theywere peformers, they did roles and characters, deglamourising themselves, looking and being real persons. Not with the new cinema and the art films, not certainly with Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, but with Shabana and Smita, I think, Indian cinema come of age.
I saw her in all ShaymBenegal films. In Bhumika, with Amol Palekar, a bold and daring role that may have lost some other actress a large body of her fans. And in Mandi, where both the great actresses came together.
I met her only twice, maybe three times, just fleeting view. Once she range me up, very matter of fact, it had something to do with the Women's Centre, an organisation for the protection of exploited women. One of her films was to be premiered in aid of the centre and she wanted a plug for it. She came on the line, said it was Smita Patil and said her piece. It was later that I realised it was the Smita Patil actress.
And once I met her at Bunny Reuben's house. She came late, left early, not because she was a star, but because she had been working and had to get up early in the morning and start working again.
She did not look like a star, the sari casually tucked in, the hair unfussed over, the studio make-up- removed, but not replaced with street make-up.
But the meetings, did not matter. It was her performances on the screen. The studied motions of a housewife, a slum-dweller. The sudden change of pace and the glamour that she could bring to a role. In ten short years she played role. In ten short years she played the whole range of them. She acted free, out of commitiment, for money, she was an artistic and commercial success. When I thought of her I always felt happy for her father, Shivajicao Patil, once of the few Maharashtra ministers whom I liked and admired.
I last saw her at the Navjot of Cine Blitz's Rita Mehta's daughter. She was expecting then and you could see she was glowing with new life within her.
Perhaps, it is in the nature of things that as new life is born, the old is taken away. But sometimes it happens so sudden and it is so unfair.