Durgabai remembers

Updated: Mar 26 2006, 05:30am hrs
Durga Khote began her acting career at a time when Indian cinema had seen its most significant milestonethe arrival of the talkies. The talkies in fact gave Khote a chance to prove her mettle. She played the lead role of Rani Taramati in Ayodhyecha Raja, the Marathi film industrys first movie. After that, she became a Prabhat Film regular. Khote played a big role in reviving Marathi theatre and produced short and documentary films by setting up Fact Films, and later, Durga Khote Productions.

I, Durga Khote chronicles the life of this woman of substance. Khote turned to movies only after she faced financial problems and had to fend for a living for herself. For Khote, who hailed from an educated family, was instrumental in changing the outlook of society to a working woman in the 40s in a profession dominated by men.

Balancing the home front and work wasnt easy for her. She had no support, was a young widow, had an unsuccessful second marriage and lost her younger son in his prime.

Despite all this, Khote chose to face life with dignity, without wallowing in self-pity. The account of her life is frank and laced with humour. The language is simple, although some of the anecdotes are repetitive. There are no accounts on the latter half of her film career. She goes into details about K Asifs Mughal-e-Azam (where she played Emperor Akbars queen Jodha Bai) and mentions Raj Kapoors Bobby. But some of the roles for which shell be best remembered: Hrishikesh Mukherjees Bawarchi and Abhimaan, dont figure at all. While professionally Khote was a success, her personal life was steeped in tragedies. Khote has the skills of a born storyteller and the style is lively and direct. Shanta Gokahles translation from the Marathi retains the nuances of the original work. In her translators note, Gokhale says the cultural transposition was the main problem.

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If Durgabai, who was well-versed in English, had chosen to write her autobiography in it, it would have probably turned out like this translation. Thats how remarkably well Gokhale has captured the spirit of the original Marathi.

Khote defied tradition and stereotypes when she joined films. I would have found it difficult to fit in with the way films were handled in the Bombay film industry, Khote writes. A 26-year-old woman, a mother of two, a housewife with a home and family to run-such a woman would hardly be considered suitable for the heroines role in Bombay. Luckily for her, she had parental support. Although she was a star, cinema figures only sparingly in her autobiography. It is a gripping personal narrative of a young widow and only breadwinner, who worked hard to fend for a living.

Khote who projected an image of the hard, intimidating woman comes across as a vulnerable, family woman in the book.