Smita Patil was one of the most convincing working women in Indian cinema. In movie after movie, she picks up a bag, a basket or a pot and heads out to work, whether it’s running a prison, milking cows, or grinding chilli powder.
One of the most enduring images of Patil is of her character stepping out of the safety of her home and into the Mumbai melee, dressed in a plain cotton sari and clutching a bag by her side.
When Shyam Benegal first spotted her, and figured her as a future talent, she was already working, as a Marathi newsreader on Doordarshan. From there, she went on to star in his Charandas Chor, in which she plays a princess (it involves more than just lounging about on a throne), Bhumika, in which she acts for a living, and Mandi, where she appears as a prostitute. Even in the bank account-lining roles of wife, mother and sister, she is hardly a silent presence, her innate intensity, intelligence and rebellion barely contained by the narrative, forever bursting through and demanding answers and a resolution.