Actor Surekha Sikri, whose career spanned theatre, cinema and television, died on Friday in Mumbai. She was 75.
Sikri suffered a cardiac arrest early on Friday morning, her manager told The Indian Express. “She had been suffering from complications arising from a second brain stroke. She was surrounded by family and her caregivers,” the manager said.
Sikri is survived by her son, Rahul. Her husband, Hemant Rege, died in 2009.
Sikri’s ’s performance in the 2018 comedy Badhaai Ho won her the National Film Award for best supporting actress. She played a crotchety mother-in-law whose bark is worse than her bite. Her last appearance was in the Netflix anthology film Ghost Stories, in the episode directed by Zoya Akhtar.
Sikri had previously won National Film Awards for her intense and layered performances in Tamas (1986) and Mammo (1995). Her career in the movies began relatively late, in 1978, with Amrit Nahata’s Kissa Kursi Ka. The political satire about corruption in Indira Gandhi’s government was banned in 1975 and all existing prints were destroyed. The film was remade in 1978. Sikri played Meera Devi, one of a group of schemers.
“I was pretty green regarding film work,” Sikri told Scroll.in in a previous interview. “I recall when I saw the film eventually that they hadn’t kept track of continuity – scenes would start in one place and end in another.”
Sikri was born on April 19, 1945, in Almora. She spent close to two decades at the National School of Drama in Delhi, first as a student and then as a member of the famed institution’s repertory. Her contemporaries included Uttara Baokar, Om Puri, Raghuvir Yadav and Manohar Singh, she told television host Irrfan for the Rajya Sabha show Guftagoo in 2015. Sikri described herself as a “blank canvas” in her early years at the drama school, unsure of her abilities but hungry for understanding the bottomless possibilities of stagecraft.
After Kissa Kursi Ka, Sikri moved to Mumbai and left behind the stage for the shooting floor. She acted in arthouse dramas, including Govind Nihalani’s Tamas (1986), Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989) and Naseem (1995), and Mani Kaul’s Nazar (1990). She was in Shyam Benegal’s Mammo (1994) and Sardari Begum (1996), Hari-Bhari (2000) and Zubeidaa (2001). She was frequently cast as a kindly, wise and occasionally tyrannical maternal figure in films.
The character type continued in Sikri’s television projects, which include Banegi Apni Baat and Just Mohabbat in the 1990s. In Banegi Apni Baat, her character led with fortitude a brood of daughters through a storm of challenges.
Among Sikri’s best-loved roles is in Balika Vadhu (2018-2016), in which she played the matriarch Kalyanidevi, better known as Dadisa. “Nothing is boring in television,” SIkri told Irrfan for the Guftagoo show.
Sikri was briefly related by marriage to the actor Naseeruddin Shah. His first wife, Parveen Murad, was Sikri’s sister. Shah’s daughter with Murad, the actor Heeba Shah, is Sikri’s niece.
Her comeback role in Amit Sharma’s comedy Badhaai Ho in 2018 earned her renewed attention and newfound popularity. However, her health was affected by a stroke caused by clots in the brain in 2018. Despite her condition, she starred in Zoya Akhtar’s film in the Netflix anthology Ghost Stories as an invalid woman awaiting a visit from her son. “I am still trying to find myself,” she told Filmfare in an interview in March. “I’m getting there dheere dheere,” slowly slowly.