Balika Vadhu, Badhaai Ho, and Tamas are some of the big titles that happen to be a part of Surekha Sikri’s legacy. However, for me, she’d always remain Daksh’s grandma from Tumsa Nahi Dekha, a 2004 film that you might not have watched or heard of. In the film, Surekha played the forbidding grandmother, a role that no one else could portray with the same conviction. I lost my great-grandmother around the same time when the film realised and there was so much about Surekha’s character that reminded me of her. I kept watching it. Even today, my mind goes back to the scene where she feeds puchkas to her grandson while calling him pet names but does not take two seconds to shoo him off when he refuses to give in.
Out of her many talents–her very own brand of tough love (perhaps picked up from a typical Indian middle-class household) is what she brought to the screen. Surekha Sikri is no more and to me, it feels like a personal loss. The three-time national award-winning actress passed away this morning following a cardiac arrest. She was 75 and had been struggling with a prolonged illness. “She was surrounded by family and her caregivers. The family asks for privacy at this time. Om Sai Ram,” shared her manager in an interaction with an online media portal. While Surekha might have left us, her legacy will always live on. To commemorate her incredible talent and contribution to the entertainment industry, we are looking back at her illustrious career today. Read on:
A Hindi theatre veteran, Surekha made her film debut with the 1978 political drama, Kissa Kursi Ka. Post that she went on to play supporting roles in a number of Hindi and Malayalam films and soap operas.
In most of her well-recognised roles, Surekha wielded power and pride that had the audience transfixed. That said, the actress held on to the same pride and power in real life as well. She suffered from a brain stroke in 2018 and had to struggle with her career due to her health. In 2020, she had a brain stroke yet again. This time, friends and fans offered to provide help given the entire pandemic situation and how most actors were out of jobs. However, her manager was made to deny all such assistance. In a media statement, he shared that Surekhaji’s finances were being taken care of by her family and they didn’t seek any help whatsoever.
Later in 2020, she had voiced her disappointment with the COVID-19 restrictions under which those above 65 weren’t allowed on the sets. She said, “I don’t want any wrong impression to be created among people that I am going around begging people for money. I don’t want charity. Yes many have reached out to me, which is very kind of them. I really feel grateful. But I’ve not taken anything from anyone. Give me work and I want to earn respectfully.”
From poetry recitals to playing a detestable character, Surekha could do it all. Here are some of her performances that will always remain in our hearts:
Surekha played the character of Durga Devi Kaushik in Badhaai ho, a role that brought her immense praise and accolades. She won three awards–the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress, Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress and the Screen Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film.
Irrespective of whether you have watched this iconic show or not, you must be aware of the stern, unbending Dadisa from Balika Vadhu. As a theatre artist, Surekha brought a very well-defined arc to her character that smoothly transitioned from a strict, orthodox MIL to the strongest support system that Anandi could have.
In the partition film, Mammo, Surekha played Fayyuzzi who gets reunited with her long-lost sister. The role required an intense spectrum of emotions, agony, and desperation. With her artistic genius, Surekhaji more than aced the role. For those who have watched the film, the scene where Fayyuzzi meets her sister after years still lives fresh in the memory.
If Surekha’s image has been solidified as the strict matriarch in your head, let us brush your memory. Remember the fun and fabulous Ms. Pandit from Just Mohabbat? In the show, she played a school principal, the kind that all of us would have liked to have in our school.
Based on Bhisham Sahni’s partition novel, the film explored the pain of a broken nation. Surekha played Rajo in the television film, a character-driven by the horrors and pains around her. So moving was her portrayal that it got Surekha her very first National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Surekha had a wonderfully commanding and controlled voice, characteristic of typical theatre actors. When she spoke, you couldn’t help but listen and when she recited poetry, you couldn’t help but experience the magic. Her recitation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Mujhse Pehli si Mohabbat is perhaps the best way of bidding her goodbye.
RIP Surekhaji. You were a talent unlike any other.
Featured Image: Instagram