“They can barely write a good part for Deepika Padukone, so how are they going to write a good part for me?”
When an actor like Ratna Pathak Shah raises this question, it forces you to sit and think of all the parts she has played in the past and while these may be fewer in number, they have certainly all been quite impactful. Ratna started her career in the movies in 1983 with Mandi but call it her fate or Hindi cinema’s loss, but despite being the talent that she is, she wasn’t given the opportunities she deserved for a lot of years. With popular TV shows like Idhar Udhar and Filmy Chakkar, Ratna became a household name in the early years of television but it wasn’t until Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai that Ratna got the recognition she deserved.
Soon after the stupendous success of Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai, Ratna developed a niche for herself but her search for meaty characters went on. While it can be said that Hindi cinema has come a long way but strong female characters are still a rarity. From Ratna Pathak Shah’s rich collection of characters, here are five women who are relatable, believable and were brought to life by this stellar actor.
1. Lipstick Under My Burkha
This has been one of the best performance by an actor in recent years and will be remembered for ages. Buaji, a woman in her 50s, does not have the right to explore her sexuality. In fact, Buaji is all that is left of her identity. Her life revolves around her business and over the years she has forgotten what she really wants. She dares to live her fantasy but is brought back down to the harsh reality when her little secret is exposed and she is shamed for the same. The film deals with four women but it was Ratna’s story that we had never seen on celluloid before. Women of a certain age are always perceived in stereotypes and it was her stand-out performance as Usha that reminds us that a whole section of society had never been explored in films prior to Lipstick Under My Burkha.
2. Sarabhai vs Sarabhai
Maya Sarabhai has now become a pop culture reference and the credit for the same goes majorly to Ratna’s sassy performance. The upper-middle class woman who views the world through a lens of class and status gave us many laughs with her signature style. She is a socialite who doesn’t see eye to eye with every member of her family and manages to insert her witty remarks that come in just at the right time. Her comic timing, her style and even the way she delivers her dialogues are all key elements of her performance.
3. Kapoor & Sons
Here, Ratna played a woman who is well aware of her husband’s infidelity but years of staying in a troubled marriage has made her a tough woman. Ratna played the mother, the wife, the entrepreneur and the one who also has to maintain the peace of the household (at least between the brothers). With a great ensemble cast where every performer was at their best, Ratna Pathak’s Sunita stands out for being the woman who is believable yet she explores the naked feelings that any mother might go through when she is bombarded with a life-altering news. Her disappointment in herself when the brothers fall out arises from the fact she is looking out for the greater good but has mistakenly done just the opposite. With complex relationship dynamics between the characters, Ratna’s Sunita is the woman who stands her ground for the most part of the film.
4. Nil Battey Sannata
Ratna Pathak Shah did not play the lead role here but her character acts as a catalyst to the protagonist’s journey. Ratna plays an educated woman who encourages her house help to enroll in a school to complete her education. Ratna only had a few scenes in this film yet she managed to make an impact. She portrayed an educated, aware and forward-thinking woman who truly believes that education can solve many problems.
5. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
Here, Ratna Pathak played the mother of a college going boy. While the film is essentially a love story, Ratna’s character created quite an impact at the time of its release. She plays a key role in shaping the protagonist’s ideologies but what really created an impact was her attitude in the film. Hindi cinema has long had quite a stereotypical image of mothers and with this performance, Ratna tried to break that mould. Her scenes with the portrait of Naseeruddin Shah were quite hilarious and were really loved by the audience.