Veteran actor Reema Lagoo, one of Indian cinema’s most popular supporting actors, passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest on Thursday. She was 59 and is survived by daughter Mrunmayee, a theatre actor and film professional.
A versatile actor, Lagoo’s most significant contribution was breaking the Bollywood stereotype of a sacrificing mother. Through the new ’90s, she played an understanding mother to Bollywood A-listers, including Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Sanjay Dutt, Kajol and Juhi Chawla.
Daughter of Pune-based theatre actor Mandakini Bhadbhade, Lagoo was born Nayan Bhadbhade. She adopted the screen name, Reema Lagoo, after her marriage to actor Vivek Lagoo. A child artiste, Lagoo made her film debut in the Jabbar Patel-directed Marathi film Sinhasan (1979), which featured stalwarts such as Sriram Lagoo and Nana Patekar. Even though she featured in critically-acclaimed movies such as Govind Nihalani’s Akrosh (1980) as a lavani dancer, her first meaty role in Hindi cinema was in Shyam Benegal-directed Kalyug (1981) as a submissive wife.
She was noticed as Juhi Chawla’s mother in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and shot to fame as the mother of Prem (Salman Khan) in Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), where she played a friend and confidante to the young lovers — Prem and Suman (Bhagyashree). She continued playing a modern mother in films such as Saajan (1991), Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Hum Saath-Saath Hain (1999) and Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) among others. Just when it seemed like she was being defined only by certain kinds of roles, she impressed critics with Vaastav (1999), where she played a mother who kills her gangster son. To win accolades for this role was a tough act, especially when comparisons with Nargis Dutt in Mother India (1957) were inevitable. Yet, Lagoo managed to make the character of Shanta her own. In one of her last iconic “mother” outings in the Marathi satire, Jaundya Na Balasaheb (2016), Lagoo played an indulgent mother to an eccentric Girish Kulkarni in a rustic setting, which brought out her understated grit.
Though known for playing on-screen mother, Lagoo — an actor with an amazing range — showed her comic timing in long-running television shows such as Shriman Shrimati and Tu Tu Main Main. Sachin Pilgaonkar, the director of Tu Tu Main Main, and Lagoo’s childhood friend, says, “Everyone remembers her as the goody-goody Hindi film mother, but before that, she had done many years of excellent work in theatre. When she began to be labelled as this Hindi film mother, she decided to do something really different – comedy.” Lagoo would return to Marathi theatre and films whenever she could. Her last play was a commercial venture, Ke Dil Abhi Bhara Nahin, a light-hearted comedy, which showed her versatility as an actor. Lagoo pushed her boundaries again with her latest television show Naamkarann in which she played the mean and manipulative Dayavanti Mehta.
Even as there is outpouring appreciation over how Lagoo redefined the Bollywood mother, it is ironic that in the past few years her roles had shrunk and, even, reduced to being caricatures; like the cranky aunty with a fake Punjabi accent in I Love New Year (2015).