Durga Khote (January 14, 1905− September 22, 1991) was an Indian actress, starting as one of the foremost leading ladies of her times, she remained active in Hindi and Marathi cinema, as well as theatre, for over 50 years, starring in around 200 films and numerous theatre productions.
In 2000, in a millennium issue, India Today, a leading magazine, chose her among 100 people Who Shaped India, as it noted that, "Durga Khote marks the pioneering phase for woman in Indian Cinema." , as she was one of the first women from respectable families to enter the film industry thus breaking a social taboo
She also ranks amongst top ten actresses in mother roles in Hindi , essayed by her in Hindi cinema, most notable among them were, as Jodhabai in K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960), as Kaikey in Vijay Bhatt’s classic, Bharat Milap (1942), her other memorable roles as mother were in Charnon Ki Dasi (1941), Mirza Ghalib , Bobby (1973) and Bidaai(1974). She was awarded, the highest award in Indian cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema, in 1983.
She was born in a traditional Mumbaikar Goud Saraswat Brahmin family (Surname Laud) in present-day Maharashtra. By the age of 26, Durga Khote was a widowed mother with two young sons, Bakul and Harin. She had to seek work in films in order to support her children. In doing so, she became a pioneer of sorts, as she hailed form a traditional family, and since the film industry at that time was regarded as the preserve of the base and the bawdy. Also, most of the female characters were played by men.
Durga Khote debuted in a minor role in an obscure 1931 silent film, Farebi Jaal, by the Prabhat Film Company, followed by Maya Machhindra (1932), but was soon promoted to play heroine in the 1932 double version (Hindi & Marathi) film "Ayodhyecha Raja", another Prabhat film, which was the first-ever Marathi talkie and proved to be a runaway hit, where she essayed the role of Rani Taramati . There was no looking back for the diffident widow from Kolhapur after that. Indeed, she ventured yet another pioneering trend: despite working closely with Prabhat Film Company, she broke away from the "studio system" (exclusive contract with a studio to work in its films on a monthly salary) then in vogue and became one of the first "freelance" artistes of that era by working occasionally with the New Theatres, and East India Film Co. (both at Calcutta), and Prakash Pictures.
In 1937, she produced and directed a film titled Saathi, making her one of the first women to step into this role in Indian cinema. The 40s open for her in a big way, with award winning performances in Charnon Ki Dasi (1941) and Vijay Bhatt's classic, Bharat Milap (1942), both of which got her the BFJA Best Actress Award consecutively for two years.Durga Khote also remained active in theatre circuit for many years, especially the Marathi theatre in Bombay. She was actively associated with the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), and worked in several plays for the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh. In 1954, she famously performed the role of Lady Macbeth, in V.V. Shirwadkar's Marathi adaptations of Macbeth, as Rajmukut, 'The Royal Crown', along with Nanasaheb Phatak.
Durga Khote essayed a wide variety of roles over a career that was not only long but also untouched by scandal. She was the inspiration for several generations of Indian actresses, including veterans like the late Shobhna Samarth, who frequently spoke of how she had been inspired by Durga Khote's example.
During later years, she played several important character roles, such as the mother of the protagonist. Her portrayal of Jodhabai, the queen of Akbar torn between duty towards her husband and love towards her son in the film Mughal-e-Azam (1960) was well received. She went on to play other widely appreciated character roles in later movies such as the role of the grandmother of the heroine in Bobby (1973) and the hero's aunt in Abhimaan (1973) and one more really memorable film Bidaai (1974), where she played a mother, a very sensitive role that can make you cry, and received the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award.
In 1963, she acted in Merchant Ivory's debut film, The Householder (1963) , and her final memorable role was in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's ``Bawarchi (1972). She acted in over 200 films in her career, and by 1980s she successfully diversified into production of short films, Ad films and documentaries by setting up Fact Films, and later, Durga Khote Productions, which produced Doordarshan TV series Wagle Ki Duniya. Later in life she wrote her acclaimed autobiography, in Marathi which was later translated into English as "I Durga Khote" , and moved to Alibaug, beach front near Mumbai, and died on September 22, 1991.
- 1942: BFJA Awards: Best Actress: Charnon Ki Dasi (1941)
- 1943: BFJA Awards: Best Actress: Bharat Milap(1942)
- 1958: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
- 1968: Padma Shri
- 1970: Maharashtra State Award: Dhartichi Lekre
- 1974: Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award: Bidaai
- 1983: Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the lifetime recognition award for films from Government of India