One of the leading ladies of Hindi and Marathi cinema for half a century, Durga Khote acted in more than 200 films and several stage productions. She is perhaps one of the first women from a respectable family to enter films, until then considered a taboo field.
- Born: Durga Khote on January 14, 1905
- Place of birth: Mumbai
- Died: September 22, 1991 (aged 86) at Alibaug, near Mumbai
- Years active: 1931- 1993
Difficult as it seemed then, ultimately she became a pioneer as she broke the traditional shackles of women not going out to work in films, which was then considered to be a low and lewd profession and completely unsafe for women. It is interesting to note that at that time, men played most of the female characters.
Early days—a string of impressive firsts!!
Durga Khote’s film career was launched with a small role in a silent film of 1931, produced by Prabhat Film Company. Titled Farebi Jaal, it was followed by Maya Machhindra (1932). Soon after this, she got the lead role in the bi-lingual Hindi-Marathi film Ayodhyecha Raja (1932), yet another film from Prabhat Film Company. It was also known to be the first Marathi talkie movie and was a big hit of its time in which she played the role of Rani Taramati.
She played royal characters and mythological roles to the hilt, thanks to her regal looks and wonderful dialog delivery. Perhaps, her most memorable film in this genre was the role of Seeta in Debaki Bose’s film of the same name.
With the success of Ayodhyecha Raja, she started yet another trend. Instead of working in the conventional manner of having an exclusive contract with a studio to work in its films on a salary, she started the trend of freelance artistes. Under this new arrangement, she sometimes worked with Kolkata’s New Theatres, and at other times with East India Film Co. and Prakash Pictures.
She was also India’s first female producers with her 1937 film, Saathi, which she also directed. In 1941, she gave an award-winning performance in Charnon Ki Dasi (1941) Bharat Milap (1942), based on Vijay Bhatt’s classic novel where she essayed the role of Kaikey. For both performances, she won the BFJA Best Actress Award for two consecutive years.
Durga Khote also stayed active in the theatre arena for several years, especially Mumbai’s Marathi theatre. She was renowned on the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) circuit, where she acted in several plays for the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh. In 1954, V.V. Shirwadkar adapted Shakespeare’s Macbeth for the Marathi stage in which she enacted the role of Lady Macbeth. It was titled Rajmukut, The Royal Crown, and along with Nanasaheb Phatak. In 1958, she was the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.
Durga Khote played a number of roles over a career spanning several decades, and untainted by gossip and scandal. She served as inspiration for several dedicated artistes for the coming generations, which included veteran Shobhna Samarth, who often spoke of being highly influenced by Durga Khote.
In the latter part of her career, she enacted several character roles, for instance, the mother of the protagonist. No one can forget her performance as Jodhabai, queen of Emperor Akbar, who was torn between her duty towards her husband and her love for her son, in K. Asif’s historical film Mughal-e-Azam (1960). She played this role with dignity and grace and no wonder, her role in this film was widely appreciated.
In 1963, she acted in The Householder, a film made by Merchant Ivory. However, one of her most memorable films will always be Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Bawarchi (1972). In 1973, she acted as the grandmother of the heroine in Raj Kapoor’s Bobby and the aunt of the hero in Abhimaan (1973). In Bidaai (1974), she played the mother so sensitively that it would make any viewer weep. For this film, she received the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award.
Overall, she acted in more than 200 films. Come 1980, she launched into producing short films, ad films and documentaries through her company, Fact Films. Later, she also set up Durga Khote Productions to produce the very popular TV series on Doordarshan, Wagle Ki Duniya.
She also wrote her autobiography in Marathi which was later translated into English under the name, I Durga Khote. She moved out of Mumbai to the nearby beach area of Alibaug, and died on September 22, 1991.
Her first husband, Vijay Mehta, died prematurely, leaving her with two small sons, Bakul and Harin. He was a film director. Later, she married Mohammed Rashid, a marriage which was highly unsuccessful. One of her grandsons, Ravi, is a renowned filmmaker, as is her granddaughter, Anjali Khote. Another grandson, Deven Khote, began his career in TV production, but then ventured out into film production with films such as Jodhaa Akbar and Life in a Metro.
Her brother, the famous Nandu Khote was an actor of the silent movies and a renowned theatre actor in Mumbai. His daughter, Shobha Khote, also acts in Hindi films and TV serials. Her daughter, Bhavna Balsaver, is also a renowned and an award-winning TV star.
In 1968, she won the Padma Shri and in 1970, the Maharashtra State Award: Dhartichi Lekre. In 1983, she was the proud recipient of the national honor from the Indian government, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award as lifetime recognition for her contribution to Hindi cinema.
Durga Khote can never go unremembered in the Hindi filmscape. She will always be remembered for her every role which she rendered with grace, dignity and professionalism.