Earlier this year Nirupa Roy made a rare public appearance at the Filmfare Awards to receive her award for lifetime achievement -- little did we know that this would be the last time we would see her.
The ultimate cine-ma passed away Wednesday night, unsung, almost lost to the film industry. In the last decade or so Nirupa Roy's screen output had dwindled to zero. Health problems plagued her. And Roy was shunned by most of the industry.
Nirupa Roy came to the film industry as a much-married shy Gujarati woman named Kokila Balsara. The late veteran actor Ashok Kumar, with whom she formed a hugely successful star-team as the ultimate Papa-Mama pair, often spoke fondly of how the shy housewife was teased out of her timidity to emote full-throttle on screen.
Initially Nirupa Roy chose to act only in mythological films. These allowed her to remain within the prescribed parameters of her inhibitions.
She made her debut in 1946 in V.M. Vyas' Gujarati "Ranakdevi", an adaptation of a folk tale, which immediately established her as a candidate for stardom. Two years later, Roy's career was rocking after she played the titled role in "Gunasundari". This was followed by a number of Mother Goddess roles where she was cast as a demure deity.
It was perhaps because of her inbuilt inhibitions that Nirupa Roy failed to make it as an A-grade leading lady in spite of her good looks and competent performances.
In 1955 at the prime of her career, just when she was cast in Rajinder Singh Bedi's "Garam Coat" as Balraj Sahni's wife (Roy and Sahni went on to do several films together as character actors), she switched to mother's roles, playing Dev Anand's mom in Subodh Mukherjee's "Munimji" when she was actually seven years younger than him.
After switching over prematurely to the grey zone, Nirupa Roy never looked back. She was by far the most successful screen mother of Hindi films. In 1975, she played her most famous mother's role in Yash Chopra's "Deewaar". As the woman caught between the moral conflicts of her two sons, Roy was flawlessly melodramatic.
The role won her a Filmfare Award for best supporting actress, a rare occurrence for an actress her age.
Roy went on to play Amitabh Bachchan's mother in a large number of films including "Amar Akbar Anthony", "Suhaag", "Muqaddar Ka Sikandar", "Mard" and "Ganga Jumna Saraswati".
In the 1990s, her career faded away. Younger, more glamorous, actresses like Waheeda Rehman and Raakhee took over the mother's slot. Roy withdrew into anonymity to resurface briefly as Jimmy Shergil's grandmother in "Jahan Tum Le Chalo" in 1998.
Nothing was heard of her thereafter. No one cared.
Amitabh Bachchan recalls his long association with Hindi cinema's most beloved mother with fondness. "Working with Nirupaji was such fun. She was a warm and affectionate lady. She played my mother so often that we had actually begun to feel as though we were related."
Now when the mother figure in Hindi cinema is fast losing its relevance, Nirupa Roy's death seems symbolical.