An iconic performer, known for predominantly playing maternal figures in popular films, Reema Lagoo was a famous theatre and film actress.
Born as Nayan Bhadbhade in 1958, Reema Lagoo grew up in a theatre-driven household. Her mother Mandakini Bhadbhade, was a Marathi stage actress, inspiring her to follow in her family’s footsteps. Her mother’s career allowed her to explore the magic of the performing arts and she worked as a child artist in several films, notably Masterji in 1964 with Durga Khote, one of the most popular actors of her time. These roles allowed her to develop a comfort with acting, increasing its appeal to her.
Reema Lagoo was noted for her acting prowess when she was a student at Huzurpaga HHCP High School in Pune and started acting professionally onstage after completing her education. Her performance in P.L. Deshpande’s popular play Ti Phularani, based on My Fair Lady, set her apart in Bombay. She soon graduated to bigger roles in Marathi films, gaining recognition while also working at the Union Bank of India from 1979 in Mumbai, for a period of 10 years.
An interview with her former colleague Vishwas Utagi revealed that, “She worked in the Fort branch of Union Bank of India for nearly a decade and simultaneously pursued her passion for acting. She was a prominent representative of the UBI in various inter-bank cultural events and bagged many individual and group prizes.”
Reema Lagoo was recognised steadily while working in Hindi cinema, and played her first iconic role as the mother of the female protagonist in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, at the young age of 31. In the same year, 1988, she also worked in the movie Rihaee, a controversial film, that addresses the promiscuity of migrant men in urban India and the sexuality of the women left in the rural regions. The movie presents the double standards that women face while exploring the nuances of their experiences.
Reema Lagoo shot to fame in 1989 and was nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the male protagonist’s mother, in the blockbuster film Maine Pyar Kiya. Her momentum picked up, and she starred in similar roles in Saajan (1991), action drama and crime thriller Gumrah (1993), Jai Kishen (1994), and Rangeela (1995). These movies were not only a commercial success, but also among the highest grossers in their respective years.
Throughout her career, Reema Lagoo has received several nominations for the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress. She has starred in some of the biggest hits in the Bollywood industry including the Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), Yeh Dillagi (1994), Dilwale (1994), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Hum Saath-Saath Hain and (1999) Vaastav:The Reality (1999).
One of her most memorable roles was in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), where she played a supportive, friendly, and fun mother in the chaos of the film, making the idealised version of an Indian mother more approachable. In one of her more hard-hitting roles for Vaastav: The Reality in 1999, she played a mother conflicted with her love for her son and her opposition to his illegal, and amoral work, eventually leading to his death at her hands.
While Reema Lagoo was known as Bollywood’s favourite mother, she also diversified to other roles and sought to re-invent herself, which included the role of a dancer in Aakrosh in 1980 and a cold-hearted businesswoman in Yeh Dillagi in 1994.
Moreover, she continued with her work in Marathi film and theatre and was felicitated with the V Shantaram Award which recognised her contribution to Marathi cinema. For her performance in the 2002 film Reshamgaath, Reema Lagoo received the Maharashtra State Film Award for Best Actress.
Reema Lagoo was also acclaimed in the television industry, in both Hindi and Marathi languages. She debuted on the silver screen in 1985 in the Hindi television show Khandaan. Her performances in Shriman Shrimati as Kokila Kulkarni and as Devaki Verma in Tu Tu Main Main were her most successful TV sitcoms.
Reema Lagoo’s dynamic work won her the Indian Telly Award for Best Actress in a Comic Role. She was also featured in the Marathi show Maanacha Muzra, which honours Marathi personalities, and made her presence felt in Laakhon Mein Ek (2012) and Naamkaarann (2016).
While Bollywood has typecast her in the role of a mother, far from being one-dimensional, Reema Lagoo brought complexity to her roles with powerful performances. She imbued her work with her dynamism and representation of the shifting perceptions of the Indian mother in cinema and didn’t shy away from roles that questioned the patriarchal systems in society. Moreover, her passion for theatre persisted, which allowed her to constantly improve and improvise, refining her skills.
An interview with Sonali Kulkarni, another Indian actress who worked with Reema Lagoo, mentions her kindness and consideration for others. The actress stated that it was a shame that Bollywood did not move beyond the pigeonholing of her as a mother, as she was a talented performer who could deliver any kind of role with much élan. She had a strong command over her body language to engage with her audience, evident in her theatre performances.
Reema Lagoo had changed her birth name after her marriage to Vivek Lagoo, in 1978, who was an actor and director, and her colleague at the bank she worked. The couple later divorced and have a daughter Mrunmayee, who is also a theatre actor and director.
Reema Lagoo passed away on 18 May 2017 at the age of 58. She left too soon and the world is missing out on her talent. Nevertheless, she is immortalised in her work as well as in our memories, serving as an inspiration to others.