Smita Patil’s best-known screen role features her as Sulabha, the wife of the progressive lawyer Subhash (Karnad). Upset by her husband’s willingness to blacken the name of a rape victim in order to benefit his client, accused of committing the rape, Sulabha decides to take charge of a Mahilashram (women’s home). There she has to contend with the gross corruption and greed which further exploits and victimises the women in her care. The governors of the institution eventually make life so difficult for Sulabha that she has to resign. When she returns home, her husband informs her that he has taken a mistress and intends to keep her. Sulabha leaves her home determined to make a life for herself. Based on an autobiographical work by Shanta Nisal, the film was given a feminist value by Smita Patil’s performance and by her use of the film in campaigns for women’s rights. The feminist historian Susie Tharu expressed reservations about the film’s presentation of the lead character: ‘The filmic focus, emphasised by several close-ups of Sulabha sitting, toying with her glasses, looking up, walking, sitting again [e]stablishes her as the central character as well as the problem (the disruption, the enigma) the film will explore and resolve. In Umbartha it is clear that to search herself is, for a woman, a tragic enterprise. An enterprise in which she is doomed to fail, but can fail bravely and heroically. Such a perspective [i]nevitably poses the problem in such a way that the solutions come from the individual, more specifically from the individual’s personality or character. We sense a vague structural similarity [b]etween Sulabha’s own predicament and that of the destitute or abandoned women in the Home. But the parallel is never clear because while one motif is explored psychologically the other is given a rather crude sociological interpretation’ (1986).