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Sometime in the early 1970s, at an auditorium in Pune, an inter-school theatre competition was underway. The team from city-based Huzurpaga High School was enacting the story of Kabuliwala, based on a Bengali short story by Rabindranath Tagore, which revolves around a merchant from Kabul and his friendship with a five-year-old girl called Mini.
By the time the play ended, the impressive performance by the girl playing the role of Kabuliwala had moved the audience to tears. The girl was Nayan Bhadbhade, who later on became famous as Reema Lagoo. Her performance won her school the Best Play award at the inter-school competition that year.
Lagoo joined Huzurpaga School in the academic year 1970-71, in Class VIII. She studied there till Class XI, during which she stayed at the school’s hostel. Headmistress Seema Jogade, who has worked with the teachers who taught Lagoo, said, “She was an all-rounder student, who was good at academics, theatre as well as badminton. She used to participate actively in Hindi and Marathi drama competitions and won many prizes. At Huzurpaga, we have an activity called Natyavachan (play readings). She (Reema) would always participate….”
Jogade mentioned that another student who was popular for her acting skills and performed in plays with Lagoo during those days, was late actor Smita Talwalkar, a renowned name in the Marathi film industry who went on to win two National Awards.
In 1974, when Huzurpaga High School organised Navati, an event to celebrate its 90th anniversary, Lagoo played the lead role in the play Natsamrat, and left the audience mesmerised with her spellbinding performance.
Many retired teachers who taught Lagoo, such as Jayshree Bapat, Sumati Apte, Suman Paranjape and Leela Abhyankar, have shared anecdotes with Jogade that revealed that even after the actress became famous, whenever she saw any of her teachers, she made it a point to stop her car, get down, touch the teacher’s feet and take their blessings. “The best thing about her was that though she became famous… she didn’t forget her roots… she even visited the school… on a few occasions and met everyone with warmth,” said Jogade.
She said that once the school reopens, the management will not only organise a tribute event for the actor, but also put on display her old photographs, as part of the annual Bal Sahitya Sammelan.