Leela Chitnis

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Leela Chitnis
LeelaChitnis.jpg LeelaChitnis.jpg
BornLeela Nagarkar
(1909-09-09)9 September 1909
Dharwad, Bombay Presidency, British India (present-day Karnataka, India)
💀Died14 July 2003(2003-07-14) (aged 93)[1]
Danbury, Connecticut, U.S.[1]14 July 2003(2003-07-14) (aged 93)[1]
💼 Occupation
Film actor, theatre actor
📆 Years active  1930s-1980s[2]
👩 Spouse(s)Gajanan Yashwant Chitnis

Leela Chitnis (née Nagarkar; 9 September 1909 – 14 July 2003) was an actress in the Indian film industry, active from 1930s to 1980s. In her early years she starred as a romantic lead, but she is best remembered for her later roles playing a virtuous and upright mother to leading stars.[2]

Early life[edit]

She was born in a Marathi-speaking Brahmin family,[3] in Dharwad, Karnataka. Her father was an English literature professor. She was one of the first educated film actresses. After graduation she joined Natyamanwantar (नाट्य मन्वंतर), a progressive theater group that produced plays in her native Marathi language. The group's works were greatly influenced by Ibsen, Shaw and Stanislavsky. With the theatre group, Leela played the lead role in a series of comedies and tragedies and even founded her own repertory.[4]


Chitnis' early stage work included comedy Usna Navra (1934) and with her own film group Udyacha Sansar. She started acting to support her four children. She started as an extra and went on to stunt films.

In Gentleman Daku ("Gentleman Thief") in 1937, Chitnis played a polished crook dressed in male apparel and was publicised in the Times of India as the first graduate society-lady from Maharashtra. By then she had already made her first major mark as an actress on the silver screen. Chitnis worked at Prabhat Pictures, Pune and Ranjit Movietone before going on to be the leading lady in Bombay Talkies.

Specialising in controversial films that challenged accepted societal norms, especially those regarding marriage and the invidious caste system, Bombay Talkies was having limited luck at the box office. But it bounced back with Kangan ("Bangles", 1939), which introduced Chitnis playing the lead role as the adopted daughter of a Hindu priest in love with the son of a local landlord who opposes the relationship and threatens the holy man. Her love, however, stands up to his father's prejudices, an unusual theme for the time, but one that appealed to the public imagination enough to ensure it success at the box office.

With Kangan's success, Leela replaced Bombay Talkies' ravishing leading lady Devika Rani. Leela made a particularly good partner with Devika Rani's leading man Ashok Kumar for a series of box-office hits such as Azad (Free, 1940), Bandhan (Ties, 1940) and Jhoola ("Swing", 1941) that broadly deal with societal issues.. Ashok Kumar was so impressed by her acting abilities that he admitted to having learnt how to speak with his eyes from her. In 1941 Chitnis, at the height of her popularity and glamour, created history of sorts by becoming the first Indian film star to endorse the popular Lux soap brand, a concession then only granted to top Hollywood heroines.

By the mid-1940s her career went downhill as the new leading ladies came in. Leela accepted the reality and in 1948 entered the next, and perhaps most renowned, phase of her career in Shaheed ("Martyr"). Cast as the hero's suffering, ailing mother, she played this role to perfection. For 22 years, Chitnis played the mother of the later leading men including Dilip Kumar, often playing an ailing mother or a mother going through hardships and struggling to bring up her offspring. In fact she created the archetype of the Hindi Film mother, which was continued by later actresses. Leela's maternal histrionics were portrayed in a range of films such as Awaara (The Vagabond, 1951), Ganga Jumna (The Confluence, 1961) and, in 1965, the runaway success Guide, based on the award-winning novel of the same name by R.K. Narayan. She was busy through the 1970s, but cut down her appearances thereafter before taking the final curtain call in Dil Tujhko Diya ("I Give My Heart to You") in 1985. She then emigrated to the United States in the late 1980s to join her children. She died in Danbury, Connecticut at a nursing home, at age 94.

Leela also briefly dabbled in movie-making, producing Kisise Na Kehna ("Don't Tell Anybody", 1942) and directing Aaj ki Baat ("The Talk of Today", 1955). She also wrote and directed a stage adaptation of Somerset Maugham's Sacred Flame and published her autobiography, Chanderi Duniyet, in 1981.[2][4]

Personal life[edit]

Chitnis belonged to the Brahmin caste.[5] However, her father adhered to Brahmo Samaj, a religious movement that rejected caste.

She married a much older man named Dr. Gajanan Yeshwant Chitnis at the age of 15 or 16, and quickly had four children. The couple supported India's struggle for independence from Britain and once risked arrest by harbouring Manabendra Nath Roy, a Marxist freedom fighter. After she divorced her husband, she worked as a school teacher and began acting on stage in melodramas typical of the time. She appeared in several movies, and went through a Bombay university to be hired by a major studio, Bombay Talkies; it hired only college graduates.

She had four sons Manavendra (Meena), Vijaykumar, Ajitkumar and Raj. She lived with her eldest son in Connecticut in United States, until her death. She had three grandchildren then.[6]



  • Dil Tujhko Diya (1987) as Mrs. Sahni
  • Bin Maa Ke Bachche (1980)
  • Satyam Shivam Sundaram: Love Sublime (1978) as Bade Babu's Wife
  • Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein (1977)
  • Mehmaan (1973) as Rajesh's mother
  • Bhai-Bhai (1970)
  • Jeevan Mrityu (1970) as Ashok's Mother
  • Man Ki Aankhen (1970) as Mrs. Dinanath
  • Badi Didi (1969) as Mother
  • Intaquam (1969) as Mrs. Mehra
  • Prince (1969) as Mrs. Shanti Singh
  • Aurat (1967)
  • Dulhan Ek Raat Ki (1967) as Nirmala's mother
  • Gunahon Ka Devta (1967)
  • Majhli Didi (1967) as Kishan's Mother
  • Phool Aur Patthar (1966) as Blind Beggar
  • Waqt (1965) as Mrs. Mittal
  • Johar-Mehmood in Goa (1965) as Pandit's Wife
  • Guide (film) (1965) as Raju's Mother
  • Faraar (1965) as Mrs. Choudhry
  • Mohabbat Isko Kahete Hain (1965) as Leela
  • Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal (1965)
  • Aap Ki Parchhaiyan (1964) as Mrs. Dinanath Chopra
  • Dosti (1964) as Mrs. Gupta
  • Pooja Ke Phool (1964) as Mrs. Singh (Balam's Mother)
  • Punar Milan (1964) as Sonal's mother
  • Shehnai (1964)
  • Suhagan (1964) as Uma & Vijay Kumar's mother
  • Zindagi (1964) as Beena's mother
  • Dil Hi To Hai (1963) as Nanny/Yusuf's foster mother
  • Aashiq (1962)
  • Asli-Naqli (1962) as Renu's mother
  • Man-Mauji (1962) as Bhagwanti
  • Naag Devata (1962)
  • Aas Ka Panchhi (1961) as Mrs. Nihalchand Khanna
  • Batwara (1961)
  • Char Diwari (1961) as Sunil's mother
  • Dharmputra (1961) as Meena's mother
  • Gunga Jumna (1961) as Govindi
  • Hum Dono (1961) as Anand's Mother
  • Kanch Ki Gudiya (1961)
  • Parakh (1960) as Mrs. Nivaran
  • Bewaqoof (1960) as Mrs. Leela Rai Bahadur
  • Ghunghat (1960)
  • Hum Hindustani (1960) as Savitri Nath
  • Kala Bazar (1960)
  • Kohinoor (1960)
  • Maa Baap (1960) as Raju's Mother
  • Barkha (1959) as Mrs. Haridas
  • Dhool Ka Phool (1959) as Gangu Dai
  • Kal Hamara Hai (1959)
  • Main Nashe Mein Hoon (1959) as Mrs. Rajni Khanna
  • Ujala (1959) (as Leela Chitnes) as Ramu's Mother
  • Phil Subha Hogi (1958) (uncredited) as Sohni's Mother
  • Post Box 999 (1958) (as Lila Chitnis) as Mrs. Gangadevi
  • Sadhna (1958) as Mohan's Mother
  • Naya Daur (1957) as Shankar's Mother
  • Aawaz (1956) as Mrs. Bhatnagar
  • Basant Bahar (1956) as Gopal's mother
  • Funtoosh (1956)
  • Aaj Ki Baat (1955)
  • Baadbaan (1954)
  • Hari Darshan (1953)
  • Naya Ghar (1953)
  • Maa (1952) as Bhanu's & Raju's mother
  • Sangdil (1952) as Dhaayi Maa
  • Awaara (1951) as Leela Raghunath
  • Saiyan (1951) as Rani Sahiba
  • Saudamini (1950)
  • Namoona (1949)
  • Shaheed (1948)
  • Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani (1947)
  • Shatranj (1946)
  • Char Aankhen (1944)
  • Rekha (1943)
  • Kisise Na Kehna (1942)
  • Jhoola (1941) as Gata
  • Kanchan (1941)
  • Ardhangi (1940) as Arundhati
  • Azad (1940)
  • Bandhan (1940) as Beena
  • Ghar Ki Rani (1940) as Arundhati
  • Chhotisi Duniya (1939)
  • Kangan (1939) as Radha
  • Sant Tulsidas (1939) as Ratnavali
  • Chhote Sarkar (1938)
  • Jailor (1938) as Kanwal
  • Raja Gopichand (1938)
  • Insaaf (1937)
  • Wahan (1937) as Princess Jayanti
  • Chhaya (1936) as Chhaya
  • Dhuwandhar (1935)
  • Shri Satyanarayan (1935)


  • Aaj ki Baat (1955)


  • Aaj ki Baat (1955)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Leela Chitnis dead". The Hindu. 16 July 2003. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Martin, Douglas (17 July 2003). "Leela Chitnis, 91, an Actress In Scores of Bombay Movies". New York Times. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  3. Meera Kosambi. Gender, Culture, and Performance: Marathi Theatre and Cinema before Independence. Routledge. p. 366. Retrieved 5 July 2017. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Leela Chitnis". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-04-06.
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/17/movies/leela-chitnis-93-an-actress-in-scores-of-bombay-movies.html
  6. "The star next door". India Today. 15 May 1994. Retrieved 29 July 2015.

External links[edit]