Mother's Day: These five actresses of Bollywood's Golden Era lent poise, panache and gravitas to their roles of mothers

1. Durga Khote (1905-1991): Hindi cinema’s first superstar mother, known for films like Mughal-E-Azam (1960), Bidaai (1974) and Anand (1971), Durga Khote began as one of the foremost leading ladies of her time. She was active in Hindi and Marathi cinema — and theatres — for over 50 years. Her role as Jodhabai to Dilip Kumar in K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam earned her a nomination for the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress. Her other memorable roles as mother include as Kaikeyi in Vijay Bhatt’s classic Bharat Milap (1942), Charnon Ki Dasi (1941), Mirza Ghalib (1954), The Householder (1963), Bobby (1973) and Bidaai, in which she played mother to Jeetendra. In Subhash Ghai’s 1980 film Karz, an adaptation of the Hollywood movie The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, based on Max Ehrlich’s novel of the same — she played Rani Sahiba, mother to Rishi Kapoor. She played the royal queen in several films, including Parakh, Kajal, Dadi Maa, Do Dil and Raja Jani.

2. Leela Chitnis (1909-2003): One of the defining characteristics of Leela Chitnis’ portrayals of mothers was her ability to convey deep empathy and compassion. Whether she was consoling her on-screen children during times of distress or offering words of wisdom, Chitnis — known for films like Awaara (1951), Ganga Jumna (1961), Sadhna (1958), Hum Dono (1961), and Shaheed (1948) as the long-suffering mother or maternal figure who usually meets a dire end — had a natural maternal instinct that resonated with viewers. Born into a Marathi-speaking Brahmin family in Dharwad, Karnataka, she was active from 1930s to 1980s. Having starred as a romantic lead in her early films, she is best remembered for her later roles in which she played a virtuous and upright mother to leading stars, including Raj Kapoor.

3. Nirupa Roy (1931-2004): Celebrated for her poignant performance in Yash Chopra’s iconic film Deewaar (1975), starring Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor, which gave Hindi cinema its most famous punchline: ‘Mere paas maa hai’. In the film, she played Sumitra Devi, a mother facing immense challenges and moral dilemmas due to her sons’ disparate paths in life, which see them on opposite sides of the law. Roy played the tragic maternal roles in many films spanning from 1946 to 1999; she also Bachchan’s mother in Amar Akbar Anthony and Khoon Pasina (Blood and Sweat — both released in 1977 — amomg others. Roy’s powerful performance etched her as the idolized mother figure — and as the queen of misery — in the collective Indian consciousness.

4. Lalita Pawar (1916-1998): Often referred to as the ‘quintessential evil mother-in-law’ of Hindi cinema, Lalita Pawar earned a reputation for essaying the archetypal scheming mother-in-law in scores of films. She played a tough matriarch who falls in love in Lekh Tandon’s Professor (1962) — centred on a college graduate, who desperately needs money and must disguise himself as an old man to tutor two young women who are under the watchful eye of their strict aunt — and the devious hunchback Manthara (in Ramanand Sagar’s television series Ramayan. In V. Shantaram’s 1952 film Dahej (Dowry), a social family drama film based on the dowry system and set in Lucknow, she played a fiendish mother to Suraj (Karan Dewan), who tortures her daughter-in-law Chanda (Jayshree) so much that a great tragedy befalls the family.

5. Nargis Dutt (1921-1981): One of the bright stars of Indian cinema’s Golden Age, Nargis demonstrated exceptional versatility through her portrayal of maternal roles. While she is better known for her romantic roles, her portrayal of the mother in Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), in which she epitomised the sacrificial mother archetype as Radha, is etched in the nation’s memory. Nargis masterfully depicted Radha’s journey from her youthful optimism to her stoicism as a matriarch navigating poverty, betrayal, and personal loss. Nargis transformed Radha into an enduring symbol of maternal fortitude and the indomitable spirit of motherhood.

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