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An Out of the Ordinary Life

Latika Padgaonkar

Translated by Shanta Gokhale  with an introduction by Gayatri Chatterjee
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 193, Rs. 295.00


A veteran actress with a career that stretched over fifty years, both before and after Independence, Durga Khote (née Laud) lived and worked through some of the momentous phases in India’s artistic history—the zenith of the Marathi theatre, the coming of the talkies and of colour in the cinema among others. In many ways, her life was out of the ordinary. Born into a wealthy, upper-class if socially conservative Saraswat family from Mumbai, she gathered the guts to walk out of the narrow circumference described by the Lauds and the Khotes and step in front of a movie camera, the first woman from a respectable background to do so. She was associated with Prabhat Films and knew Bal Gandharva—the idol of the Marathi stage. Whether out of financial necessity after marriage or her own determination (a bit of both, surely), she carried on acting after her marriage and motherhood, even as she watched her younger son sink into emotional instability. Her second marriage, after the death of her first husband, was with a Muslim. She launched her own Durga Khote Productions at a time when no other actress had dared to do so, and made documentary films. She was part of—and even headed—government delegations to various countries, attended a UNESCO Conference on Women. She acted in some 120 films—some Marathi, but mainly Hindi—often embodying strong characters. Durga Khote was a woman of many hats and many roles – stern, matriarchal, weepy, martial, queenly, compassionate and heroic.     Her autobiography is simple, straightforward, chronological. It begins with her pampered childhood in Bombay’s Kandewadi, surrounded by a large fun-loving joint family (“intelligent, generous, large-hearted, but slothful – infected by the idleness of the wealthy, the extravagant pleasures of the rich and false notions of prestige”) living together in a rambling mansion. Her father owned horses, cars, even a silver Rolls Royce. Her westernized mother imposed English at home, food was served English-style, complete with liveried waiters; yet she inculcated in the children “beliefs, customs and culture of our ancient civilisation” while giving them a modern education and insisting on values of “homework, tidiness, respect for elders, obedience and punctuality.” Khote’s schooling in Cathedral made her “snooty”, and with time alienated her from her cousins.     Perhaps the most endearing childhood note is her passion for theatre, which she inherited from her father. Together they saw umpteen plays, ...

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