Film production and sympathy are a rare combination and I remember Smita Talwalkar as an exception, one of the most caring producers. She always cared for her co-actors and crew.
She had approached me with a role in Chaukat Raja (1991), and I was expected to play her husband. The role of her mentally-challenged friend, which I finally played, was to be offered to Paresh Rawal but he opted out for some reason.
Smita, who considered me as one of her best friends, offered me the role. She trusted me without any qualms, and had faith in me as an actor.
I recall that in Chaukat Raja, there is a scene where my mother dies and I walk alone on the road in the rain, in chilly winter. In the scene, I was walking in wet clothes. After every take, she used to come and offer a towel to make sure I am dry and don’t fall sick.
Smita had a special place in her crew for newcomers. Many assistant directors worked under her and she launched art directors, costume designers and script-writers in the film industry.
Her desire for creativity and her search for something new were what differentiated the mediocre from a masterpiece.
I worked in many TV serials with Smita as producer and Sanjay Surkar as director; it was a usual combination. On Doordarshan, we did a serial Saalsood based on SJ Joshi’s book, ‘Yatra’. In her famous serials like Gharkul and Reshim Gathi, I played a part as an actor. She provided me with a huge range of roles helping me grow as an actor.
Smita was a trouble-shooter. The word compromise was not in her dictionary. Whatever the scene demanded, she did without hesitation. She was an inspiration for so many actresses at such a young age. Her choice to enter the field of production, which was primarily male-dominated in Maharashtra, was commendable. Despite that, she bagged national awards for Tu Tithe Mi and ‘Kalat-nakalat’.
A few years ago, when she was diagnosed with cancer, her initial reaction was shock. Later, she took on cancer and almost defeated it with optimism. She also started working on new projects. Her positivity was infectious. I wonder how she managed it.
But for the last one or two months, she had stopped meeting people. She had instructed that no one should come to visit her. I think she knew it. She knew that this time, she won’t be able to win. To be honest, I expected her to come out of this illness like a phoenix. She had done it earlier. But she couldn’t manage it. She lost her battle with cancer.
I have to say that Smita has left a huge void in the film industry. Not just as an actor or producer, but as a trendsetter. She had the capacity and guts to change the direction of winds in Marathi cinema. The loss is hard to fill.
(As told to Aashay Khandekar)