From playing the adorable sister in Masoom to portraying the girl with a dream in Rangeela, Urmila Matondkar spent over two decades as one of the industry’s most loved stars.
However, what truly sets her apart is her versatility as an actor. The roles she chose redefined what it meant to be a leading lady in Bollywood, and here’s a look at some of her finest performances:
Mili was the girl-next-door we could actually see ourselves in – because she was a girl with a dream. Sharing screen space with the ultimate perfectionist Aamir Khan, and nation’s heartthrob at the time, Jackie Shroff, Urmila still completely owned her character, making us fall in love with, and relate to, Mili’s journey of love, friendship, and ambitions. Also what style!
As the nameless serial killer, Urmila served a brand of horror so far removed from Bollywood’s house or macabre horrors, that you were hooked to this edge-of-the-seat thriller from the first scene itself. Her transition from the victim to the killer is not just one of the finest climaxes in a thriller, but also a testament to her talent.
Urmila’s portrayal of the shy, talented singer Vidhya, unknowingly embroiled in a world of crime, was not only a far cry from the innocent but vivacious Mili (Rangeela) but also showed Bollywood that leading ladies didn’t have to be loud to make a mark. For cinema of the 90s, that was quite the revelation. Just watch her in the song Badalon se!
Supernatural horrors tend to be more predictable than petrifying in Indian cinema but not Bhoot. And Urmila nailed the role of a possessed housewife with such finesse, that even in the truly horrifying scenes, she had us peeking from behind the hands we’d clapped over our eyes.
5. Ek Hasina Thi
Urmila truly exploded on-screen, in her role of a woman forced to transition from a naive romantic to a hardened survivor, exacting revenge on her enemies. Ek Hasina Thi is a lesson in what wonders can be achieved when a well-written role and a brilliant actor come together.
6. Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya
If you want to see Urmila display a gamut of emotions, then Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya is your answer. From a ‘vile seductress’ to an ‘obsessed ex-lover’, Urmila dons many hats in the film and yet, evokes sympathy from the audience – if that isn’t an example of her acting prowess, then what it?
An adaptation of Amrita Pritam’s immensely emotional and evocative novel, Pinjar again brought together Manoj Bajpayee and Urmila. Urmila’s performance was a joy to watch, as she brought to life the scars of partition that many of our grandparents, to date, carry in their hearts. But it was the vulnerability, and later, the stoic acceptance of her fate that made Puro such a memorable character.
You only have to glance at Urmila’s filmography to realize that she was one of the few actors to successfully bridge the gap between mainstream and indie cinema that was quite evident in the 90s. Judaai proved that she was an actor who could hold her own, even against seasoned performers like Sridevi and Anil Kapoor.
9. Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara
A critically acclaimed film that failed to make a mark at the Box Office, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Mara showcases one of Anupam Kher’s finest performances since Saransh. However, it’s the father-daughter moments between Kher and Matondkar that are a glaring example of the latter’s range as an actor.
Despite the fact that the media never wanted to rebrand her from being the ‘sex symbol’ of the 90s, Urmila chose to go against the tide. With her unconventional role choices and phenomenal performances, she was one of the earliest actors to bring in the trend of female-led films in Bollywood.
To put it simply, in Bollywood’s monochromatic world of melodramas, action thrillers, and sub-standard comedies, she was the unexpected but much-needed color.