Indumati Lele was a theatre and film actress turned folk artiste, who along with her sister Kumudini was famous in the 50s as the Lele Sisters in both Hindi and Marathi theatre as well as cinema. Born on 18 December, 1927, the family originally hailed from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. Indumati’s father, Girdhar Lele worked as Director of Agriculture, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Both sisters enjoyed acting and dancing from a young age, participating in related activities while in school. It was at one such school function that an impressed Prithviraj Kapoor, considered a pioneer of Indian theatre and the film industry, spoke to their father and hired Indumati and Kumudini as artistes at Prithvi Theatres.
Joining the theatre company in 1946, they played various roles in several Prithvi plays, touring India. Indumati acted in Prithviraj Kapoor’s Shakuntala and other plays. She was one of the key members of Kapoor’s troupe, learning the ropes from founder Prithviraj Kapoor himself as well as contemporaries like Zohra Sehgal.
Indumati Lele also went on to simultaneously act in films such as Mazdoor (1945), Shehnai (1947), Aag (1948) in which she played Raj Kapoor’s mother, Sunahare Din (1949), Gauna (1950), Chaudhwin Ka Chand (1960), Budtameez (1966), and Man Mandir (1971), as well as two English films - The Householder (1963) and Shakespearewallah (1965), both Shashi Kapoor starrers.
In time, Indumati Lele became one of the best known and respected icons of folk dance in India. She revolutionised the reach of folk dance to the masses. She is said to have also introduced the Russian flip into folk dance, giving it an Indian touch. Known as the double jump, that step has become an integral part of folkdance forms today. She was also attached to the Sachin Shankar ballet group, playing the role of Jijamata in a ballet about Shivaji. Her zest to learn various folk dances saw her travel extensively, research and understand cultures of various states of India and learn their dance styles.
Fondly called Didi, she spread and shared her knowledge like a true guru, with her disciples who were students at various prestigious colleges of Bombay like NM College, Mithibai College, Parle College amongst others, teaching and encouraging young talents such asAshutosh Gowariker.
Associated with television, Indumati was known for giving her valuable inputs on dance forms on Mumbai Doordarshan’s programme Tak Dhina Dhin.
Indumati Lele passed away on 11 September, 2013 at the age of 86. She was working as an examiner for the television programme Dum Damadam at the time.