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Yeh Chaman Hamara Apna Hai - Sulochna Latkar

23 Mar, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Sulochna. Image Courtesy - Beete Hue Din

Leela Chitnis, Nirupa Roy, Kamini Kaushal, Achla Sachdev! Among these famous screen mothers, was the name of Sulochna who had headed towards Hindi films after making a name for herself in Marathi Cinema with her well received performances.  Sulochna who recently turned 90 in July stays away from the limelight in the Prabhadevi area which is near Mumbai’s famous Siddhi Vinayak Temple. I had met her in the context of my column, Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon for weekly Sahara Samay. On this occasion, she had a conversation with me regarding all aspects of her life. 
Sulochna was born on 30 July 1929 in Khadaklaat village of Belgaum District (Karnataka). This village lies on the Maharashtra border and merely 40 kilometers away from Maharashtra’s Kolhapur town. Sulochna told us, “My father was a Daroga (a police post) in Kolhapur princely state and our family comprised of my parents and my elder brother who was 10 years elder to me. My child-widow maternal aunt (Mausi) also stayed with us. The villagers used to call us ‘Latkar’ after our ancestral village. I studied in village’s primary school though I was not particularly inclined towards studies.”
Sulochna told us that in her village there were two famous DargahsRajebuxar & Balesaab, where annual Urs fairs used to held. During these plays, street acts and film shows used to be organized which she would attend with a lot of enthusiasm without fail. Other than this she also tried to see behind the screen to understand the secret of the moving images! 
Sulochna was merely 12-13 years old when she lost both her parents. In such a situation the siblings had only their aunt to depend upon. There was a plague epidemic at that time due to which the trio left everything and took refuge in her father’s lawyer friend Binadekar in the nearby Chikodi village. Sulochna recalled, “Binadekar received us with open arms but it was improper for us to depend upon him for very long. One day, Binadekar’s acquaintance, well known producer-director Master Vinayak came to meet him. Master Vinayak was the owner of Kolhapur’s Prafulla Pictures film company. When he came to know about our dire circumstances, he invited me to Kolhapur and gave me a job in the company. The year was 1943. Educated actresses like Sumati Gupte and Meenakshi Shirdokar were already working for Prafulla Pictures.    

(Sumati Gupte got married to famous Marathi-hindi film producer-director Vasant Joglekar. In addition to Lata Mangeshkar’s play back debut Aap Ki Seva Mein (1947), Vasant Joglekar also directed hit films like Aanchal (1960), Aaj Aur Kal (1963) and Ek Kali Muskaai (1968). He was also the producer of Aaj aur Kal (1963) and Ek Kali Muskaai (1968). Meera Joglekar, the heroine of Ek Kali Muskayi (1968) was their daughter.  
Meenakshi Shirodkar was a well-known name in Marathi-Hindi cinema in 1930s and 1940s and was Indian cinema's first glamorous actress. She made her debut in the 1938 Marathi-Hindi bilingual Brahmchari and had created a scandal by taking the revolutionary step of wearing a swimsuit in this film in those days! Famous actresses Shilpa and Namrata Shirodkar are her paternal granddaughters. 

Master Vinayak was the father of actress Nanda. He was a well-known producer-director and actor of Marathi-Hindi films. He passed away in 1947 at the early age of 41 years.) 
“Since, I was merely a primary school pass out and didn’t know how to speak Hindi, I was quite apprehensive. In this situation, Lata supported me a lot. Our deep friendship which started at that time is still running strong.”
It was at Prafulla Pictures that Sulochna met her compatriot Lata Mangeshkar. Lata’s family condition was no different from that of Sulochna. Lata had also lost her father and being the eldest among the siblings the responsibility of her family (including widowed mother, one brother and four sisters) was now on her shoulders. As a result, she had also been forced to take up a job in Prafulla Pictures. Sulochna told us, “Since, I was merely a primary school pass out and didn’t know how to speak Hindi, I was quite apprehensive. In this situation, Lata supported me a lot. Our deep friendship which started at that time is still running strong.”
"...I learnt my craft in true spirit under Baba’s guidance where he himself taught me to ride horses, use a laathi and sword etc. I acted in his Hindi films Maharati Karna (1944) and Valmiki (1946). I made my debut as a heroine in the 1947 Marathi film Sasuravaas where Master Vitthal was cast opposite me in the lead role.”
Prafulla Pictures shifted to Mumbai within three months. Afraid of the metro’s name Sulochna preferred to stay back in Kolhapur. She said, “I got a job in Kolhapur's Jayaprabha Studio at a monthly salary of Rs 30. Jayaprabha was a studio that was specially setup to produce Mythological and Historical movies by the famous Bhalji Pendharkar who we used to call Baba. I had already done a small role in Prafulla Picture’s Marathi film Chimukla Sansaar (1943) directed by Vasant Joglekar. However, I learnt my craft in true spirit under Baba’s guidance where he himself taught me to ride horses, use a laathi and sword etc. I acted in his Hindi films Maharati Karna (1944) and Valmiki (1946). I made my debut as a heroine in the 1947 Marathi film Sasuravaas where Master Vitthal was cast opposite me in the lead role.”
 
Sulochna. Image Courtesy - Beete Hue Din


According to Sulochna, Baba used to get rehearsals done for 2-3 months before starting shooting. The actors themselves had to ensure the continuity of their makeup, jewellery and clothes. We used to be taught the details of each aspect of film making like school children. Due to this reason Sulochna considers Baba her Guru. She said, “Baba was a staunch supporter of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. There used to be Sangh’s prayer every morning and evening in his studio and every person associated with the studio had to mandatorily attend them. My real name is Nagabai but I was lovingly called ‘Rangu’. It was Baba who gave me the screen name ‘Sulochna’. I got married at the early age of 15 to Aabasaheb Chavan who belonged to a Zamindar (landlord) family of Kolhapur while I was still working in Jayaprabha Studio” 
“After Jayaprabha Studio shut down I went to Pune from Kolhapur where I played the heroine's role in Mangal Picture's Jeevacha Sakha (1948). Mangal Pictures was setup by some individuals from Kolhapur only. After the success of this 1948 release Jeevacha Sakha, I became totally busy with Marathi films.”
After the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, riots against Brahmins and RSS members spread across Mahrashtra. Many were killed as a result and many properties were set afire including Jayaprabha Studio. Bhalji Pendharkar was even arrested at the time. In this situation, he relieved all the employees of the studio of their duties after giving them two months’ salaries. Sulochna said, “After Jayaprabha Studio shut down I went to Pune from Kolhapur where I played the heroine's role in Mangal Picture's Jeevacha Sakha (1948). Mangal Pictures was setup by some individuals from Kolhapur only. After the success of this 1948 release Jeevacha Sakha, I became totally busy with Marathi films.”
Sulochna’s 1952 Marathi release Stree Janm Tujhi Kahani became a super hit. Ranjeet Movietone’s owner Sardar Chandulal Shah loved it so much that he decided to make its Hindi remake. Sulochna shifted from Pune to Mumbai in 1953 when he signed her for this remake titled Aurat Teri Yahi Kahani (1954). Her hero in Aurat Teri Yahi Kahani (1954) was Bharat Bhushan and it released in 1954. Sulochna said, “I did the movies Mahatma Kabir (1954) opposite Surendra Nath, Sajni (1956) opposite Anoop Kumar and Mukti (1960) opposite Motilal as a heroine but unfortunately none of these could make it at box office. However, the super success of Sati Anusuya (1956) did make me a star of Mythological films.”
Sulochna had to pay the price for this stardom as well. In those days, artists associated with mythological films were considered of the second-third rung due to which she stopped getting offers for social films.
Sulochna had to pay the price for this stardom as well. In those days, artists associated with mythological films were considered of the second-third rung due to which she stopped getting offers for social films. R. K. Film’s musical hit Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1957) was an exception which was directed by Amar Kumar. Dattaram was the composer for this movie. Film Ab Dilli Door Nahin’s famous song Ye Chaman Hamara Apna Hai was picturised on Sulochna and Master Romi. Superhit children song Chun Chun Karti Aayi Chidiya, Daal Ka Daana Laayi Chidiya was also from this movie but Sulochna did not get benefitted by the success of this movie. 
Sulochna said, “One day Bimal Roy invited me to play the mother's role for his film Sujata (1959). Though, I could not decline the offer, I couldn’t help wondering how, I, at merely 30 years of age could play the role of a mother. But on the advice of Durga Khote and Lalita Pawar, I convinced myself mentally to take up character roles also.
Sulochna said, “One day Bimal Roy invited me to play the mother's role for his film Sujata (1959). Though, I could not decline the offer, I couldn’t help wondering how, I, at merely 30 years of age could play the role of a mother. But on the advice of Durga Khote and Lalita Pawar, I convinced myself mentally to take up character roles also. Film Sujata (1959) was extremely successful, and I soon found myself becoming an extremely in-demand character role artist in social films.”
Sujata was a 1959 release. After that, for the next two decades, Sulochna was a very busy character role actress. Dil Deke Dekho (1959), Sunghursh (1968), Aayi Milan Ki Bela (1964), Duniya (1968), Aadmi (1968), Aaye Din Bahar Ke (1966), Nayi Roshni (1967), Johnny Mera Naam (1970), Sajan (1969), Kati Patang (1970), Kasauti (1974), Sanyasi (1975), Prem Nagar (1974), Kora Kaagaz (1974), Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Andha Kanoon (1983) and Kranti (1981) were some of the movies where she portrayed character roles brilliantly. Parallelly, she also made a respectable place for herself in Marathi films. But with time, slowly, her film offers started declining. 
In 1999, She was awarded the Padmashri by the Government of India. She also got the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement award in 2004. She has received over 40 different awards for her excellent performances. 
Sulochna's family consists of her daughter Kanchan and granddaughter Rashmi (Kanchan's daughter). Sulochna said, “Famous Marathi theatre and film actor, Late Dr Kashinath Ghanekar was my son-in-law. He was a star in Marathi films and had also played important roles in Hindi movies like Dadi Maa (1966) and Abhilasha (1968). He passed away more than 30 years ago. A trust in his memory awards noted theatre artists every year. I have been away from films for decades; I have turned 90 years old last July and now all my time gets spent in carrying out all the tasks of the trust.” 

{Note: Famous film historian (Late) Shri B.D. Samant and (Late) Shri Shahabuddin often used to say that Sulochna Latkar was born in a Muslim family and her real name is Sahib Jaan. When I tried to cross check this with Kanchan , she strongly rejected the claim as being totally baseless though some acquaintances of Sulochna ji still continue to maintain the claim of her being born in a Muslim family.}

[Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din blog series]

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