The degree of hatred people had for that woman—it’s difficult to find another example of it to describe it. Although she never did anything ‘bad’. It was just that she portrayed the character of an evil woman on silver screen with such sincerity and so effectively that she was hated in almost every household of the Hindi belt. Lalita Pawar rendered the character of an atrocious and cruel mother-in-law with such authenticity that the Indian women always prayed that their daughters should not get a mother-in-law like Lalita Pawar!
But the fact is that Lalita Pawar had never thought that she will ever be playing negative or villainous roles. It happened by sheer chance. During a shoot, she was slapped so hard that it drastically changed her both life and career.
Amba Lakshman Rao Shagun aka Lalita Pawar was born on April 18, 1916, in Nashik, Maharashtra. She started her film career as a child artist with the film Arya Mahila. In 1935 she rocked the silver screen with her glamorous avatar as a young heroine. In her next, Daivi Khazana, she appeared in a bikini and created quite a stir. After that there was no looking back for Lalita and she gave one hit after another. With the film Chatur Sundari she made a kind of a record by performing 17 roles! But nobody mentions it now and it has quietly receded as a faint memory in the vast folds of Hindi cinema.
When Lalita was at the peak of her career as a heroine, an accident made everything stand still for her. During the shoot of the film Jung-E-Azadi (1948), Bhagwan Dada slapped her so hard that it caused a facial paralysis and burst a vein in her left eye. The shooting was being held in a distant village where she could not get immediate medical assistance. She was brought back to the city after two days and went through medical treatment for three long years but Lalita was left with a defective eye and a peculiar stretch on the face. Thus ended her career as a heroine. But now cinema was an integral part of her life and she could not imagine her life without it. She then decided to do whatever roles come her way. And thus she switched to character roles which she performed with all sincerity and hard work. Due to the tragic incident, her left eye became smaller and it became a typical characteristic of her acting. In 1950, came V Shantaram’s film Dahej. The film gave her an image which became immemorable in the history of Indian cinema.
In Dahej she portrayed the character of a cruel mother-in-law, whose heartless acts shocked the audiences. After that, Lalita Pawar became the unrivalled ‘saas’ of Hindi cinema. Although she performed some positive roles too in between but she remained a favourite choice for the characters of cruel and scheming ‘mother-in-law or sister-in-law.
When Ramanand Sagar launched the iconic serial Ramayan, he found no one as suitable as Lalita to play the role of Manthara, Kaikeyi’s maidservant. Once again, the younger generation had the opportunity to see the excellence of Lalita Pawar’s villainous performance. By 1990, Lalita Pawar had done 600 films in various Indian languages. In 1990, Lalita was diagnosed with the cancer of the jaw. She shifted to Pune for her treatment. Meanwhile, she did some films like Hatyare (1990), Shiv Teri Mahima Nyari (1992) and Muskurahat (1992).
On February 24, 1998, she died when she was alone in the house. It was an irony that the wonderful actress who did not let her ailment force her away from the limelight, passed away in utter loneliness when her family was away, and her death went unnoticed for two days.