Ashalata Wabgaonkar


The ubiquitous actress (1941 –2020)

Ashalata Wabgaonkar, popular as Ashalata, was a well-known Hindi and Marathi film actress, theatre personality and television actor. Originally from Goa, she spent her life majorly in Mumbai working in the film industry and doing theatre.She studied at the prominent St. Columba Girls High School at Gamdevi, and was a post-graduate in Psychology from the SNDT Women’s University.

Beginning with Konkani and Marathi plays, she acted in more than 100 plays. Her debut in theatre was enacting the role of Revathi in the play Sangeet Sanshaykallol, presented by the Goa Hindu Association. Her Marathi plays such as Guntata Hridhya He, Varyavarchi Varaat, Chinna and Mahananda are evergreen in the minds of theatre goers. The drama Matsyagandha proved to be a milestone in Ashalata’s acting career, in which she also sang the songs Garda Sabbhoti Ran Sajni Tu Tar Chafekali, and Arthashunya Bhase Maja ha Kalaha Jeevanacha.

Ashalata worked in over 100 Hindi and Marathi films in her four decade career. She was introduced to Hindi films by Basu Chatterjee in Apne Paraye for which she was nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress and also bagged the Bengal Critics Award. She later starred in acclaimed Bollywood films such as Loyal Servant, Jhoothi Shaan and Geeta, Ankush, Apne Paraye, Ahista Ahista, Shaukeen, Woh Saat Din, Namak Halal, Zanjeer, Shaukeen, Yaadon Ki Kasam, Police Force: An Inside Story, Azaad Desh Ke Ghulam, etc. in supporting roles.

Some of her best known Marathi films include Maherchi Saadi, Vahinichi Maya, Umbartha, Gammat Jammat, Navri Mile Navryala and Sutradhar and Sunrise. She played the role of Rajmata Shakuntala, King Dushyant’s wife in Doodarshan’s 1998 ‘Mahabharata’, among other serials. She was conferred with a Lifetime award for her contribution to Marathi theatre and cinema at the Goa Marathi Film Festival in 2014. Trained in classical music under Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, she was a fine Marathi Natyasangeet singer. She also sang Konkani songs broadcast over the Mumbai station of the All India Radio. Besides she was also a playwright. She documented her memories and journey in the film industry as an author with Gard Sabhowati, published by Lotus Publications, Mumbai.

Ashalata had been shooting in a Satara village for a month for the Marathi mythological serial in which she was playing the lead role, Aai Majhi Kalubai, produced by actress Alka Kubal. In the course of the shoot she and 22 other crew members tested positive for Covid despite taking all precautions. While the others got away with home quarantine, Ashalata had to be hospitalised and put on ventilator because of her advanced age. Ironically, she had undergone Covid test in Mumbai prior to joining the shoot. In fact, Ashalata had resumed shooting days after the Bombay High Court quashed the state government’s directive that prevented cast/crew members above 65 at sets. She succumbed although showing signs of recovery initially. She was 79.

To Alka, Ashalata was like a mother figure having worked together for 35 years including in the 1991 super hit Maherchi Sadi. It was she who performed the last rites, honouring Ashalata’s wish as Ashalata’s family refused to accept her body. She is survived by her son. A truly talented actress, Ashalata was all-loving and warm,extremely kind, sensitive and a great artiste, a delight to work with who inspired generations to come, with her splendid performances in theatre and films.She essayed her part beautifully. She had an infectious smile and had friendly disposition. She had a lovely sing-song speaking voice. She used to personally distribute sweets on the film sets.

Who knew that Aai Mazi Kalubai was going to be her last? Covid- 19 took away a very beautiful life. Ashalata Tai has merged into infinity.

A Radhakrishnan

A Radhakrishnan is a Pune based journalist, poet and short story writer.