ince this morning when the news of Reema Lagoo’s untimely death was received, obituaries in mainstream and social media alike have been likening her with the forever insufferable character of mother essayed famously by Nirupa Roy. People forget that, not long before she had decided that she would no longer struggle to bag substantive character roles, she was seen for a short while playing a dubious character in the 1990 hit thriller Police Public (whom the investigating officer played by Rajkumar threatens to burn with acid, should she refuse to divulge the truth).
But that was not the genesis either. Reema Lagoo (née Nayan Bhadbhade on 21 June 1958) had begun her career in television serials. The kind of struggle she underwent can be fathomed from the fact that she could hardly earn a name in Hindi films in the 1980s even though she had debuted way back in 1979 with a role in Marathi film Sinhasan and played a dancer in the Hindi film Aakrosh (1980).
One has to belong to the generation of Doordarshan or the epoch of the advent of cable television to remember Lagoo’s roles in the TV series Shriman Shrimati and Tu Tu Main Main.
It is doubtful how many filmgoers recall that she was the mother of Juhi Chawla’s character in the super-hit Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak of 1988, which launched the by-then-forgotten, former child artiste, Aamir Khan, as a protagonist in Hindi cinema. The role did not typecast Lagoo as a mother. In Aruna Raje’s feminist caper Rihaee (1988), she wanted to know, albeit less prominently than Hema Malini, why a woman’s body shouldn’t long for sex with just about anybody in the absence of her regular partner. It was about a year later that she finally sealed her career as the mother of Salman Khan in the blockbuster Maine Pyar Kiya.
She played the brat’s mother again in Saajan (1991). That was when the irony of Bollywood started prevailing on Reema Lagoo who, being born in 1958, was cast as the mother of Sridevi [Gumrah (1993)] who was barely 5 years younger to her. In fact, Salman is 1965 born. The industry would make us believe a girl can be a mother at 7! Worse, she became the mother of Sanjay Dutt, a year younger than her, in Vaastav (1999). Discounting Meena Kumari, whom her estranged husband Kamal Amrohi had cast in Pakeezah under the compulsion of continuity, an actress was doomed to play a bhabhi or a maa — or forget continuing in the trade — at that age before Priyanka Chopra successfully stretched her career up to her 30s.
Reema went on to be Akshay Kumar’s mum in Jai Kishen (1994) and Urmila Matondkar’s in Rangeela (1995). Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), Yeh Dillagi (1994), Dilwale (1994), Rangeela (1995), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) followed.
To be fair to Nirupa Roy, she had been a ‘heroine’ early in her career; it was the repetitive nature of her matriarchy that smacked of a ‘formula’. In contrast, one never saw Reema Lagoo grab a potli and walk in the wilderness after being ousted by her son or daughter-in-law, or by circumstances, from the household. Lagoo made a difference in Yeh Dillagi where she was a mean businesswoman. In Sooraj R Barjatya’s interpretation of the Ramayana, Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999), she played a present-day Kaikeyi who would give in to the plot hatched by modern equivalents of Manthara.
Away from the glare of the Hindi tinsel town, Reema Lagoo also made a mark in Marathi films. She got the Maharashtra State Film Award for Best Actress for her part in the 2002 film Reshamgaath. She also received critical acclaim for Janma (2011). She was also a recipient of the V Shantaram Award instituted by the Government of Maharashtra.