Wednesday, Jul 16, 2003
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DANBURY (Connecticut) July 15. Leela Chitnis, a pioneer of early Indian cinema who used her roles to challenge the caste system, is dead. She was 93.
An early star in Bollywood, Chitnis moved to the United States in the 1980s.She had lived for years at a Danbury nursing home, where she died of complications from a fall, her son said.
Chitnis faced social disapproval when she took up acting in the 1930s to support her four children, her eldest surviving son, Manavendra Chitnis, told The News-Times of Danbury.
``She was a feminist before the word was popular.'' With her trademark, arched eyebrows, Chitnis rose to fame in the movies produced by Bombay Talkies, one of the country's earliest Hollywood-style film studios.
Many of the films were controversial, challenging various aspects of Indian society.``She was less a glamour actress than an intellectual one,'' said Jyotirmoy Datta, arts editor for the New York-based News-India Times.
In the 1930s and early 1940s, Chitnis co-starred in a series of films with Ashok Kumar.
The two became so popular that when their train passed through what is now Pakistan, police had to be summoned to control the crowd, her son said.
In 1951, Chitnis appeared in ``Awaara.''Later, she became a sought-after character actress. In 1965, she played the leading man's mother in ``The Guide,'' the first English-language film made in India, Mr. Datta said.
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