4 March 1922 – 11 October 2002 was an Indian actress and director of Gujarati theatre and also a film actor. She also was an activist[clarification needed] and remained the President of the “National Federation of Indian Women” (NIFW).
A doyenne of Hindi and Gujarati films as well as theatre, Dina Pathak acted in over 120 films in a career spanning over six decades. Her production Mena Gurjari in Bhavai folk theatre style, ran successfully for many years, and is now a part of its repertoire.
She is best known for her memorable roles in the Hindi films Gol Maal and Khubsoorat. She was a favourite of the Art Cinema in India where she played powerful roles in films like Koshish, Umrao Jaan, Mirch Masala and Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!.
Her notable Gujarati films were Moti Ba, Malela Jeev and Bhavni Bhavai, while her well-known plays include Dinglegar, Doll’s House, Vijan Sheni and Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana, directed by Satyadev Dubey.
Dina Pathak was born in Amreli, Gujarat on 4 March 1922. She was enamoured of fashion and films, and while a teenager, started acting in plays and won acclaim from critics. She attended and graduated from a college affiliated to the University of Bombay (Mumbai). Rasiklal Parikh trained her in acting while Shanti Bardhan taught her dancing.
At a young age, she joined the Indian National Theatre as an actress. She became known for her student activism, where Bhavai theatre, a folk theatre form from Gujarat, was used extensively to create awareness about the British rule, in the pre-independence era; this led to her close association with Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), along with her elder sister Shanta Gandhi and younger sister Tarla Mehta; while in Mumbai, she had an important hand in reviving the Gujarati theatre there, along with fellow Gujarati actors like Kailash Pandya and Damini Mehta.
She created quite a stir with her plays in Gujarat in the 1940s. The audience queued up to watch her play the lead in Maina Gurjari, which is still one of the most popular Bhavai’s along with sister Shanta Gandhi’s Jasma Odhan. In 1957, when she performed Mena Gurjari in front of then President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi, it became the first and the only Gujarati play to have achieved the feat so far.
Although she made her film debut with a Gujarati film, Kariyawar (1948), she retreated back into theatre after acting in just one film, only to return nearly two decades later. Meanwhile, she continued playing to packed audience in plays by Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and Shanti Bardhan’s Ballet troupe. Later she formed her own theatre group in Ahmedabad called “Natmandal”, even today, she is remembered as a stalwart performer and a theatre activist at IPTA.
At age 44, she made a comeback into films, with Basu Bhattacharya’s Uski Kahani (1966), for which she won the Bengal Journalists Association Award. She made four films in the 1960s, including Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s classic Satyakam (1969), Saat Hindustani (1969), starring Amitabh Bachchan in his debut role and the Merchant Ivory Productions, The Guru (1969). By the 1970s, she had become a favourite of art and commercial films alike, playing powerful motherly and grandmotherly roles. It was in these films that she became recognised as the Grand-Old-Mother of Hindi films.
Films that stand out in this era are Gulzar’s Mausam (1975), Kinara (1977) and Kitaab (1977), and sweet comedies like Basu Chatterjee’s Chitchor (1976), Gharaonda (1977) and also in an art cinema classic, Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika (1977), which saw her standing tall alongside another acting legend, Smita Patil, in her career’s best performance.
Just as the 1970s ended, she was seen in the comedy classic, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Gol Maal (1979), where she essayed the role of Kamala Shrivastava, a middle-aged woman who sportingly plays mother to Amol Palekar, who went on to direct her in his 1985 film, Ankahee. The next decade began with another career best, as a stern disciplinarian matriarch in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Khoobsurat in (1980), closely followed by Bhavni Bhavai (1980). In 1980, she was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. During the 80s, she also appeared on the popular TV series, Malgudi Days. In 1984, she appeared in A Passage to India. Though she had far from given her career’s best, she gave another powerful performance in Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala (1985), Govind Nihalani’s Tamas (1986) and once again she worked with Gulzar in Ijaazat (1987).
Perhaps her career’s best came in another comedy, when in 2002 she appeared in Deepa Mehta’s Bollywood/Hollywood for which she was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role at the 23rd Genie Awards. She was also portraying the role of Badi Maa in the cult show Khichadi (2002).
She married Baldev Pathak and had two daughters, actresses Ratna Pathak (b. 1957), and Supriya Pathak (b. 1961).
She completed her last film, Pinjar (2003), but died before its release, of heart attack, following a prolonged illness, on 11 October 2002 in Bandra, Bombay