Writing is the greatest recompense available to man. To that end, I am committed.
I will take the support of few words here to reiterate the universal frisson of books and the valuable contents of one such biography on a towering figure has to become part and parcel of this conversation. In my previous post, I acknowledged the omnipresence of Nikhat Kazmi, one of the cinematic community’s industrious writers, in the way she brought me to the point of watching a particular film( LEGENDS OF THE FALL) through a loop of memory defined by its final realization on screen. That debt is owed to such tireless practitioners of the written word.
Now I began my blog by writing about the inestimable SMITA PATIL, actor extraordinaire, in her seminal impersonation of an actor in BHUMIKA. Looking back at my post before this one where I had traced the points of influence that led me to watch LEGENDS OF THE FALL in the first place, I have to express my gratitude to another writer who enlightened and educated me about Patil in her book SMITA PATIL: A BRIEF INCANDESCENCE ( published in 2015 by Harper Collins India). That is veteran writer, academic and cinephile Maithili Rao.
In all my descents into reading and research, nothing could have been as fruitful as this book in its honest examination of the performer and individual who eschewed narcissism and was dynamic in her portrayals, taking it as not another duty bound enterprise for fame and money. Few individuals have the singularity she possessed and all this could be absorbed by me through Maithiliji’s delightful wielding of the pen. Rare was the humanity of Patil and all that is conveyed with flair by this kindred as that is what the writer becomes. A good one like Mrs. Rao takes charge as witness to the new age phenomenon Patil was and still is. Each single gesture, turn of the head and eye contact is minutely observed by her and in this way it has a great scholastic value for research students as well.
It is scholarly in its base but comes from the prism of a beloved acolyte first who had been beholden to Smita as an intellectual for changing the landscape of the film actress and imbuing it with a legendary strength of character, robustness and carefully preserved individuality untouched by bullish tempers of the filmmaking fraternity. It is not a conventional biography either since Smitaji is not here with us in the mortal realm to share her piece of the tale vis a vis her personal life and the writer takes that stance herself. Instead, the book is suffused with landmarks of her illustrious career and the golden period of parallel filmmaking that she was an integral purveyor and participant of. This herald of the pioneering movement in film needs to be studied and repeated and I thank the writer for taking this timely approach. The films in themselves, mentioned here, are brilliant.
Personally, her parents’ socialist background and rooted upbringing rubbed off on Smita in ways both noble and far removed from the climate of today. Unimaginable to think of one person who could have a free will like this and I’m talking about not just the cocoon of the film world. This despite the material comforts and prestige the family enjoyed, offsetting their position as very few socially aware citizens do. Charismatic, beautiful beyond conventions, opiniated and with a big heart, the wind of change that she brought to Indian and by extension world cinema was reflected in one exacting performance after another. I am so lucky to have seen more than a dozen of her avatars and all this directly emanates from this book where her ten great roles, her ensemble films of repute, presence in the fluctuating 80s as a trailblazer and the jolt to the system that came from her untimely demise at the age of 31 in 1986 all find a respectful place under the sun and in a pantheon that rediscovers her in these pressing times where cinema is bearing transitions galore in a digital spectrum.
Her betokened forays into regional cinema was the most formidable aspect of her life and times. This was no obligation to a principle of plurality alone but a commitment to expressing the commonality in the vast yarn of a nation like ours. At the end of this complete iteration of the most unique, unassuming personality, I found myself eager to know more and watch her on screen self, something I continue to do.
A BRIEF INCANDESCENCE is an exemplary introduction and extension of the way one woman and individual primarily sculpted her saga of breaking the lock of conventions at every step of the way. It is about her cinematic idiom as also her omnipresent halo. In all its humanity, it illuminates and illustrates the acme of her talents. Thank you Mrs. Rao. I had to owe my gratitude to you.