Lalita Pawar (18 April 1916–24 February 1998) was a prolific Indian actress, who later became famous as a character actress, appearing in over 700 films in Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati cinema, where she gave hits like, Netaji Palkar (1938), made by Bhalji Pendharkar, New Hana Pictures’ Sant Damaji, Navyug Chitrapat’s Amrit, written by VS Khandekar, and Chhaya Films’ Gora Kumbhar. Her other memorable roles were in film, Anari (1959), Shri 420 and Mr & Mrs 55, and the role of Manthara, in Ramanand Sagar’s television epic serial, Ramayan.
Born Amba Laxman Rao Sagun on 18 April 1916, into an orthodox family in Yeola in Nashik, where her father Laxman Rao Shagun was a rich silk and cotton piecegoods merchant, she started her acting career at age nine in the film, Raja Harishchandra (1928), and later went on to play lead roles in silent era and 1940’s films, in a career that lasted until the end of her life, spanning seven decades.
She co-produced and acted in a silent film, Kailash (1932), and later produced another film, Duniya Kya Hai in 1938, a talkie.
In 1942, as a part of a scene in the movie Jung-E-Azadi, actor Master Bhagwan was to slap her hard. Being a new actor, he accidentally slapped her very hard, which resulted in facial paralysis and a burst left eye vein. Three years of treatment later, she was left with a defective left eye; thus she had to abandon lead roles, and switch to character roles, which won her much of her fame later in life.
She was known particularly for playing maternal figures, especially wicked matriarchs or mothers-in-law. She also notably played the role of the strict but kind Mrs. L. D’Sa in Anari (1959) with Raj Kapoor, under Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s direction, she gave the performance of a lifetime, for which she received Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award; as the tough matriarch who falls in love in Professor (1962), and the devious hunchback Manthara in Ramanand Sagar’s television series Ramayan. She was honored by the Government of India as the first lady of Indian cinema, in 1961.