Bhubaneswar, Jan. 4: One of the most renowned faces of the silver screen, veteran actress Bhanumati Devi, died early this morning.
She breathed her last around 1am at her daughter’s house in Puri. She was suffering from a prolonged illness and had been bed-ridden for a couple of years.
Born on May 15, 1934, Bhanumati Devi had entered into the world of acting at the age of seven, when she started performing at Annapurna Theatre in Puri. Her film career began at the age of 19 in 1953 with Aama Gaan Jhua (see box), that had won appreciation from audience and she had immediately carved a niche for herself as an impactful artiste. While many of her stage plays were extremely popular, she had performed significant roles in 12 films, all of which were hits. However, during a conversation with The Telegraph last year, she had alleged that the film fraternity and the government had almost completely neglected her.
Reminiscing her struggles, the actress had said: “I wish I was not born in Odisha where artistes are the most neglected. My family had shifted from Burma to Aska in Ganjam during the World War II. Though my parents encouraged me to act on stage and then in films, the villagers shunned me and I had to leave for Cuttack since acting was considered a disgraceful profession. I still remember how film-makers and viewers appreciated my work, but sadly they have forgotten me.”
Her daughter Swarnalata, who took care of her, said the pensions from central and state governments did not reach on time and the meagre amount did not suffice for treatment. “My mother was always respected in the film circles. But, she had to struggle before and after marriage to continue working in films, which was her passion. She lost well-wishers among relatives and neighbourhood since they used to criticise her. In her old age, she was alone and I feel that being an actress had led to this,” she said.
Among various awards she had won for her performances in lead and character roles, the most prestigious were a National Award for Mrinal Sen’s film Matira Manisha (1966) and state award — Jayadev Samman — for lifetime achievement came her way in 2003.
As news of her death broke, many artistes paid their tributes to the yesteryear’s versatile actress. The 80-year-old legendary actor, Sarat Pujari, who had acted opposite her in Matira Manisha, said Bhanumati was his guru.
“My contemporaries and I had the luck of watching many stage plays by her. She may not have got much formal education, but she was a born exponent in dance, singing and acting. During her stage career at Annapurna in Puri and Cuttack, she was the biggest name we knew of. In fact, it was not any one’s recommendation but her craft compelled Mrinal Sen to choose her as the lead for Matira Manisha and I feel blessed to have got a chance to work opposite her,” he said. “Of all her works, I feel the blend of comic and negative role opposite the revered Dhira Biswal in Kiye Kahara in which I had also performed,” he reminisced.
Film-maker Prashant Nanda said: “It is sad that we are being asked about the life and impact of a much bigger figure. She was an inspiration for us and the entire Odisha was crazy to see her plays and films. I do not remember of any other female actress of Odisha who could solely captivate the audience for three decades.”