Shobhna Samarth (Marathi: शोभना समर्थ) (c. 1915 – 9 February 2000) was a Marathi actress who began her career in the early days of talkie movies in the Indian film industry, and continued in lead roles into the 1950s. She started in Marathi cinema. Her first Hindi film, Nigahen Nafrat was released in 1935. She is best remembered for her portrayal of Sita in Ram Rajya (1943).
She later produced and directed a pair of movies that launched the careers of her daughters, Nutan and Tanuja.
Samarth was born on 7 November 1916 in Bombay, British India. An only child, her father P. S. Shilotri was stated to be a “pioneer banker” having started the Shilotri Bank in Bombay. Her mother was Rattan Bai, who in 1936, acted in one film called Frontiers Of Freedom in Marathi (Swarajyachya Seemewar). Shobhna studied initially in Cathedral School, Bombay, for one year. In 1928, Her father suffered financial losses and the business went into liquidation. The family then shifted to Bangalore in 1931, where Shobhana attended Baldwin High School. To earn a living, her father gave private tuitions while her mother taught in a Marathi school. In December 1931, her father died of a heart attack and the mother and daughter returned to Bombay to stay with her maternal uncle. She studied in a convent school but was unable to complete her matriculation as she had joined films by then. Her uncle was opposed to her joining films, and she and her mother moved out of his home (ironically his daughter and Shobhna’s cousin Nalini Jaywant herself became an actress). She met her future husband Kumar Sen Samarth, who had just returned from Germany and was keen on directing films. They got engaged and she started work on her first film
Shobana’s first film was “Orphans Of Society” (1935) also called Nigahe Nafrat or Vilasi Ishwar for Kolhapur Cinetone, directed by Vinayak and starred Vinayak and Baburao Pendharkar. The film was not a success but Shobna was critically acclaimed for her role. The film was a bilingual made in Urdu and Marathi. Shobhna claims in an interview that she did not know any Urdu at that time of filming, speaking the dialogues by rote and it was only later that she picked up the language.She was with Kolhapur Cinetone for thirteen months but acted in one film.
She left Kolhapur Cinetone and joned Sagar Movietone (Sagar Film Company), she acted in one film called Kokila (1937) directed by Sarvottam Badami, starring Motilal, Sabita Devi and Sitara Devi. The other film for Sagar was Do Diwane (1936), directed by C. M. Luhar and co-starring Motilal, Yakub and Aruna Devi.
By the end of 1937, Shobhana left Sagar and joined General Films, acting in Industrial India (Nirala Hindustan) directed by Mohan Sinha with Prem Adib and Wasti. The second film for them was Pati Patni (1939) directed by V. M. Gunjal with co-stars Yakub, Sitara Devi and Wasti.
By 1939 she had joined Hindustan Cinetone making four films with them, which included Kaun Kisi ka (1939) and Saubhagya (1940) by C. M. Luhar, Apni Nagariya (1940) by V. M. Gunjal. She then worked for a film directed by her husband, Kumar Sen Samarth called Ghar Javai (1941) where she was cast with Damuanna Malvankar.
In 1942 came her career-defining film Bharat Milap, directed by Vijay Bhatt and starring Durga Khote as Kaikeyi, Shobhana as Seeta and Prem Adib as Ram. Following this was Ram Rajya in 1943, and Shobhana became identified as Seeta, leading to several other films where they recreated the roles. Shobhana as Sita and Prem Adib as Rama became extremely popular and were accepted by the audiences and had them featuring as Rama and Sita on calendars
She was married to director and cinematographer Kumarsen Samarth from Vile Parle(E), Mumbai. They had three daughters and a son. Eventually the couple parted amicably and Shobhana became linked to actor Motilal.Two of her daughters, Nutan and Tanuja, also became actresses. Shobhana produced their debut films. Another daughter, Chatura, is an artist, and her daughter Reshma, who is married, currently lives in St. Louis, MO. Chatura never acted in films neither her daughter Reshma. Nutan’s son Mohnish Behl is also an actor as are Tanuja’s daughters Kajol & Tanisha Mukherjee. Kajol is married to actor Ajay Devgan. Other members of the dynasty include Shomu Mukherjee who married Tanuja. (See Mukherjee-Samarth family (film)).
She and daughter Nutan were estranged for more than two decades but reconciled in the year 1983 before Nutan’s death from cancer in February 1991. At her own death from cancer in 2000, Shobhna had seven granddaughters, one grandson, three great-granddaughters, and two great-grandsons.
Samarth won a Filmfare Special Award in 1996.