Dina Pathak was born as Dina Gandhi on 4th March 1922 in Bhavnagar, Gujarat in a very conservative family. Despite her orthodox background she was always attracted to films and media and hence started acting in plays while she was a teenager. These plays won her rare reviews from the critics and encouraged her more towards celluloid. At a young age she joined the Indian National Theatre and later moved to Mumbai for her college studies where she came into close association with the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA).
She debuted on celluloid with a Gujarati film Kariyawar in 1948. After this she went back to doing theatre and took a break from work after marriage, to look after her family. She returned to acting with her first Hindi film titled Uski Kahani in 1966 by Basu Bhattacharya for which she received the Bengali Journalists Association award. This was followed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Satyakam the same year. This film received a lot of critical acclaim.
By the 70’s era she started to be recognized as the grandmother of Hindi films due to the characters that she portrayed. She became an assured member of Gulzar’s starcast for his films like Mausam (1975), Kinaara & Kitaab (1977) She was noticed in Basu Chatterjee’s Chitchor (1976) and in an art film Bhumika (1977) where she shared screen with a seasoned actress like Smita Patil. Towards the end of the 70’s, she gave her career best performance with Golmaal (1979) where she played the endearing mother who was so true to real life. Her character of Kamla Srivastava will remain etched in the minds of audiences forever. She started the 80’s with another memorable performance in Khoobsurat, where she played a stern disciplinarian mother who turns soft due to the events that unfold. Her scenes with Rekha are the most endearing and a pleasure to watch. Another strong performance was in Bhavni Bhavai based on a folk tale which furthermore strengthened her position as an actress of substance. She did appearances for TV too, most notable being Malgudi days which was very popular those days and Govind Nihalani’s Tamas (1986).
She continued doing character roles through the 80’s. Some of her notable films during this time were Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho (1984), Holi (1984) and Ek Pal, an award winning film which starred Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah, who is also her son-in-law. She was very deft in playing roles which had an endearing quality attached to it as much as playing an elderly character with negative shades to it. Her portrayal of Daadi in Aankhen (1993) is remembered even today and so are her performances in Devdas & Bollywood Hollywood (2002). Of the last few films that she did before her death on 11th October 2002, Pinjar that released after her death in 2003 got a lot of critical acclaim. This Chandra Prakash Dwivedi film was set in the pre-independence period.
She was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role at the Genie Awards in 2002. In 1980 she was awarded the Sangeet Natak Academi award.
She was married to Baldev Pathak and has two daughters, Supriya and Ratna , both of whom are married to established actors, Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur respectively.