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The Best of Smita Patil

Text: Dinesh Raheja and Jitendra Kothari

Bhumika (1977)

The role that established 22-year-old Smita Patil as an actress of extraordinary merit.

It remains, arguably, her best work.

Director Shyam Benegal scaled this film on a creatively ambitiously level. The talent involved was uniformly megawatt. Girish Karnad and Satyadev Dubey did the screenplay and dialogue and Vijay Tendulkar also collaborated. Govind Nihalani was the cinematographer while Naseeruddin Shah, Amol Palekar, Amrish Puri and Anant Nag played the pivots around whom the life of the protagonist (played by Smita) revolved.

Bhumika proved to be the high point of the art movement in the 1970s.

The film's inspiration was 1940s actress Hansa Wadekar's autobiography. Bhumika's Usha is an actress, whose need to 'find' herself and an illusory contentment encompasses several broken relationships. She finds that men in her life -- whether weak or strong -- seek to commodify her or reduce her to 'role' playing a part in their fantasy.

You may question Usha's choices as she goes hurtling through her turbulent life but you can't hide your fascination as she skids off the rails and then struggles to get back on track again.

Benegal reveals a genuinely complex vision as he captures the neediness, insecurities and creative temperament (her abandoned child looks at her with such mute, indicative eyes) of a woman who struggles as much with the dichotomy inside her (between her liberated and domesticated selves) as she struggles with a male dominated world outside.

This heavily atmospheric film draws you with its magnetism -- the Indian film industry, from 1930 to 1950 serves as a fascinating backdrop, the radio broadcasts capture the changing time periods and the sepia tones for the flashbacks scenes all add immeasurably to setting up the mood.

Smita has perhaps never looked as soul-searingly natural and beautiful as she does here. She completely seems to share her character's psychic space. Yet going beyond the instinctual, she shades her scenes with the right amount of thought and doubt. It's a magnificient performance that's never less than three-dimensional.

Also read: Remembering Smita Patil


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