Nirupa Roy

Actress specialising in mother roles

Tuesday 02 November 2004 01:00

Kokila Kishorechandra Balsara (Nirupa Roy), actor and singer: born Valsad, India 4 January 1931; married Kamal Roy (two sons); died Bombay 13 October 2004.

Nirupa Roy was the most renowned screen mother in Indian cinema. Her characters were a symbol of sacrifice in a world riven by violence and greed. She brought a new meaning and emotional intensity to the maternal image.

Roy played her first mother in 1955, to the matinée idol Dev Anand in the film Munimji ("Accountant") - at 24, she was seven years younger than her screen son. Almost two decades later, when she worked with the superstar Amitabh Bachchan, many believed she was his real mother.

As the screen "maa", Roy endeared herself to Asian audiences around the world. As a character actor, she had stood her moral ground. But the mother she played was not always a figure of suffering; when occasion demanded, she would blaze with anger at injustices done - especially to her own children. In a career spanning half a century, she appeared in nearly 300 films, and acted the heroine in more than a hundred. Though she was never deemed a glamour queen, she moved from playing goddesses to doing dramatic characters in social films as well as in art cinema.

Born Kokila Kishorechandra Balsara in 1931 at Valsad in Gujarat, she came to Bombay as a newly wed, and made her film début as Nirupa Roy in the Gujarati film Ranakdevi (1946). But it was the Gujarati-Hindi bilingual film Gunsundari ("Queen of Hearts", 1948), in which she played a housewife who wins back her husband, that turned her into a star. She was recognised for her expressive face, sonorous voice and intense eyes; qualities that led her to play the Hindu goddesses Sita, Parvati and Lakshmi and legendary figures such as Meerabai and Savitri.

In 1953 Bimal Roy, one of India's finest film-makers, cast her as the wife of the veteran actor Balraj Sahni in Do Bigha Zameen (Two Acres of Land), and her talent as an artist came movingly alive. As the poor rural housewife who travels to Calcutta, she displayed an intensity of feeling rarely seen on the Indian screen. Roy went on to team up with Sahni in a number of character roles.

She starred in several films with another well-known actor of the 1950s, Bharat Bhushan, including Samrat Chandragupta ("Emperor Chandragupta", 1958), Rani Rupmati ("Queen Rupmati", 1959) and Kavi Kalidas ("Poet Kalidas", 1959). But, in the 1960s, new young actors were emerging and Roy found it harder to be cast as the heroine. She began to appear in maternal roles, portraying with aplomb the mother in Chhaya ("Shadow", 1961) and Mujhe Jeene Do ("Let Me Live", 1963).

In Deewar (The Wall, 1975) she played her most famous mother's role. As a woman caught between the conflicting values of her two sons (Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor), Roy was intensely yet convincingly melodramatic. She again excelled as the blind mother in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). In the years that followed, she played Bachchan's mother in many a box-office hit, including Muqaddar Ka Sikandar ("Master of Destiny", 1978), Mard ("Man", 1985) and Ganga Jamuna Saraswati (1988).

During the 1980s and 1990s, she cut down her work drastically but could not resist returning as Bachchan's mother for the last time in Lal Badshah (King Lal, 1999). Recalling his long association with Roy, Bachchan said, "She played my mother so often that we had actually begun to feel as though we were related."

Apart from her work as an actor, she also had a remarkable singing career and released a number of albums of Indian music.

Jai Kumar

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