SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 23 JULY, 2018
Even when one is distanced in terms of time and space from a person one has seen evolve from a small girl to a talented actress, it is a bit difficult to pen an obituary when she passes away at an age when life held so much in store for her. This writer first watched Rita Bhaduri as a girl of say ten or twelve in a stage play portraying the role of a boy.
It was a Bengali play staged by an amateur group at a Pooja function. Her mother, Chandrima Bhaduri had arrived in Mumbai to explore avenues to expand her horizons in films and theatre. They lived in Lucknow and when they came to Mumbai, Rita was quite small. Chandrima had a great screen presence and was a very powerful actress but the Hindi film industry failed to tap her talent and she did not get too many significant roles though she worked in 36 films. Cinebuffs will recall the kindly warden of the women’s ward in Bimal Roy’s Bandini.
She saw that at least one of her three daughters took up acting. Only the youngest, Rita, took it up. The eldest sister is married to cinematographer Barun Mukherjee famous for his work in films like Chakra, Baghban, Babool and some major ad campaigns. The middle sister, Ruma, who passed away some time ago, was a Hindi language journalist.
Rita graduated from the FTII Pune in acting in the third batch when they had specialised diplomas in acting which they no longer do. She was a natural actress, spontaneous and versatile but for some reason or the other, failed to make the grade as leading lady. Rita worked in 71 films and around 30 TV shows in a career spanning 50 years. Her memorable movies are Sawan Ko Aane Do, Raja, Beta Julie and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. She won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Raja.
In the 1990s, she decided to work in television because she was interested in women-centric stories and in her opinion, at that time, cinema was entirely dominated by hero-centric films. Her decision worked because she became a much-in-demand actress for all mother’s roles and even grandmother’s roles. However, it is strange that both cinema and television tend to slot relatively young actresses into old woman roles and the two glaring examples are Reema Lagu and Rita Bhaduri. Both stepped into mother’s roles much before they reached the age to fit into the roles. But the choices seemed to be limited and they did not have any family or other backing to fall back on. The only Hindi film in which Rita played the title role was Phoolan Devi which flopped miserably. Till her passing away, she had worked in at least 130 serials, soaps and more.
We would often meet at IFFI and Filmotsav every year till I stopped going. The interactions revealed how well-informed she was on world cinema. She never missed the retrospectives of great masters and could discuss their films in depth and at length. She had no starry airs and that is why many festival buffs did not recognize her. Those who did, kept away because the felt they would be distant and aloof.
What none of the tributes to Rita Bhaduri mentioned is her significant contribution to the renaissance of Gujarat cinema during the 1980s where she was counted among the top stars with guaranteed box office pickings. Her mother tongue was Bengali but as she spent her early childhood in Lucknow, she was fluent in Hindi and even Urdu. Her education in English invested her with a very good command over the language. But Gujarati cinema taught her a language she had never known- Gujarati. She played leading lady in mythological films, historical films, social melodramas and musical romances. You name it and Rita Bhaduri shone in films like Alakh Niranjan, Nal Damayanti, Jai Ashapura Maa, Santu Rangeelu, Gher Gher Matina Chula, Kunku Nee Keemat, Ma Na Aansoo, Jani, Sherne Saathey Sawaser and many more.
She even built a house there because she had to stay for long spans of shooting. Among her heroes were the best in Gujarati cinema such as Naresh Kanodia and Arvind Trivedi and even a film with Paresh Rawal. Their films raised Gujarati cinema from the doldrums it had fallen into before they entered into the arena. Other Mumbai actresses who also made a foray into Gujarati cinema were – Aruna Irani, Bindu, Jayshree T., Asha Pareksh, Mallika Sarabhai and Snehlata. But Rita reigned supreme for a long time.
She left when Gujarati cinema faced a bad time again. The quality of the films declined due to focus on recovery of finances and profit and due to not adapting to changing times, technology and demographics. Low budget films with compromised quality targeted rural audience while urban audience moved to television and Bollywood films with quality content. But if ever there was a book written in Gujarati cinema, Rita Bhaduri’s name should feature in it eminently. Ironically, Bengali cinema gave her the short shrift and she did only one Bengali film over her long career.
Rita was a single woman, extremely proud of her independence, lived alone in a flat in Mumbai and decided long back that she would never marry. However, within her work field, she had made lots of friends who remember her sadly as one of the friendliest senior friends they had among their peers. Rest in peace Rita, now and forever.