MUMBAI/KOLHAPUR: Shock and gloom struck the Marathi and Hindi entertainment industry as senior actress and singer Ashalata Wabgaonkar died of Covid-19 on Tuesday.
Ashalata, whose credits seldom feature her surname, was effective in emotional films like ‘Umbartha’ and ‘Apne Paraye’ as well as in comic capers like ‘Shaukeen’ and ‘Woh Saat Din’. She is also remembered for her role in the 1986 sleeper hit ‘Ankush’.
The 79-year-old theatre and cinema veteran was among 22 crew members of the Marathi TV serial ‘Aai Majhi Kalubai’ diagnosed corona-positive last week after they resumed filming in Satara. Ashalata was on ventilator for the past few days. Senior co-artiste Alka Kubal, the producer of the serial, tended to her in hospital.
In its ‘Unlock’ norms of July, the state had imposed a ban on cast and crew members below age 10 and above 65 from resuming work on sets, citing health risks.
Ashalata’s unassuming ways hid powerhouse of talent
However, trade federation IMPPA (Indian Motion Picture Producers Association) challenged the ban in court, arguing that senior artistes would be deprived of earning their livelihood and that story continuity would suffer. On August 7, the Bombay high court overturned the ban, permitting senior actors to resume shooting.
The Goa-born actress started her career with Konkani and Marathi plays and went on to feature in over 100 films. Her songs in Marathi ‘sangeet nataks’ feature regularly on AIR. Her autobiography ‘Gard Sabhowati’ documents her journey.
Ashalata’s peers recalled the ever-smiling, pleasant actress whose unassuming manner hid a powerhouse of talent. Among her notable films were ‘Ahista Ahista’, ‘Namak Halaal’, ‘Yaadon Ki Kasam’. Her Marathi repertoire is led by ‘Umbartha’, ‘Navri Mile Navryala’, ‘Vahinichi Maya’ and ‘Sutradhar’. Ashalata’s plays ‘Guntata Hridaya He’, ‘Varyavarchi Varaat’, ‘Chinna’ (with Smita Patil and Sadashiv Amrapurkar) and ‘Mahananda’ won acclaim.
She was the supportive sister-in-law to Shabana Azmi in ‘Apne Paraye’ and ‘Swami’, and to Smita Patil in ‘Umbartha’, with their children gravitating to her warm persona for bedtime stories and lullabies. Ashalata’s stoic act as grandmother of Neesha Singh, who plays a rape victim in ‘Ankush’, embodied the song ‘Itni shakti hamein dena daata’.
Equally, her broom chase of philandering husband (Ashok Kumar) in ‘Shaukeen’ is etched in memory.
Azmi tweeted, “Deeply saddened. I had the pleasure of working with Ashalataji in Basu Chatterjee’s ‘Apne Paraye’ and she was a delight to work with.”
Neesha Singh told TOI, “I remember being instantly drawn to her gentleness and simplicity. She was, even then, well known in the Marathi theatre world, which I was unaware of because she approached her role with rare humility and almost newcomer-like enthusiasm. She made me feel we were both on par as far as our experience as actors was concerned. It was only later that I discovered she was already known as a stellar performer. She’s left a lasting impression on me.”