Durga Khote is a legendary actress of Indian cinema who has acted in over 200 films and even numerous theatre productions. The actress was born on January 14, 1905, and is considered to be the foremost leading ladies of her times. Her performances were truly gripping because of the genuineness that she portrayed on the screen. She was also part of the evolutionary process of the art form of Bollywood storytelling silent era to color film era) and was one of the true pioneers of the artistic movement in theater, film and television. For her contribution to Indian film industry, she received the highest award in Indian cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award (1983).
For new generation viewers Durga was known as Dimple Kapadia’s grandmother (Mrs Braganza). After the success of ‘
Bobby’, she essayed mother’s role in ‘Bidaai’ for which she received Filmfare's Best Supporting Actress award. She also acted as Amitabh Bachchan’s aunt in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Abhiman’. Earlier, she also donned the character of Jodhabai in K. Asif's Mughal-e-Azam (1960) which made her very popular with audiences. While, in her early stages of her career, she essayed characters of a queen in many Hindi movies. Later she shifted to character roles in family dramas.
Durga was an inspiration for many actresses in those days; especially Tanuja’s mother late
Shobhna Samarth, who was an ardent fan of her. This actress got her break In films through Prabhat Film Company. This film company made films like
Maya Machindra (1932), and Durga played the heroine. The movie was released in Hindi and Marathi. Her next film was ’Ayodhyecha Raja’, another Prabhat film production. It was a first talkie film in Marathi and was a runaway hit. In these films, she played the role of Rani Taramati. Although she continued acting with Prabhat Company she had her own methodology in working. She did not work on monthly salary contract and became India’s first freelance artist. Thus, she got a chance to act with other production companies too such as New Theatres, East India Film Co and Prakash Pictures.
In 1937, Durga produced and directed a film named ‘Saathi’ and evolved as the first woman filmmaker of our country. In 40’s she also essayed some award-winning performances in films like ‘Bharat Milap (1942) and ‘Charnon Ki Dasi’ ((1941) which fetched her BFJA Best Actress Award for two consecutive years. She also remained active in Marathi Theater for many years and joined Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). She even acted in Merchant Ivory's debut film, ‘The Householder’ (1963) in which she essayed the role of
Shashi Kapoor’s mother. The film had Shashi Kapoor and
Leela Naidu in lead roles. Unable to concentrate on films, she gradually shifted her attention to the production of short films, ad films and even documentaries. She also launched Durga Khote Productions which produced television series for Doordarshan.
Durga was a graduate in those days, and she came from a very influential family before making her debut in films. She was married and became a widow at the age of 26. As a widowed mother who had to bring up her two young sons, she accepted acting as her livelihood. This legendary actress passed away on September 22, 1991, in Mumbai.