Rattan Bai (Marathi: रत्तन बाई) was an Indian film actress and singer, and the ancestress of several Bollywood film stars. she was the mother of actress Shobhna Samarth and thus the grandmother of actresses Nutan and Tanuja.
She was born into a family of bureaucrats. She was a very beautiful woman who had ankle-length hair. She married Dr. Prabhakar Shilotri, who was 16 years older than her. They had a daughter named Saroj Shilotri, who after she married was known as Shobhana Samarth. Prabhakar Shilotri studied at Cornell University, where he earned his doctorate in Economics. On his return to India he founded the Shilotri Bank in Maharashtra. It had six branches, in Mumbai, Kalyan and Pune and his ancestral taluka Manor in Thane district. He was the first person in the district to own a car. He was anti-British and funded the underground movement for India's Independence. He was a very intelligent and arrogant man who just could not stand the British. He once slapped the Collector of Pune for not issuing him a gun licence which he needed for protection as he always ferried cash between his bank's offices. He was targeted by the British who were keen to destroy him. The British finally nailed him on a technicality. The Shilotri's fell from being a family of riches to rags - literally overnight. He was imprisoned for two years and died soon afterwards of galloping consumption a short while later at his ancestral home in Kuthal, near Manor. His ancestral home still exists.
After the first Indian "talkie" film was released in 1931, the ability to sing became a major qualification when selecting actors for movies. In this era, the women were apprehensive of appearing on stage or in films. Thus, women who were willing and able to work in films were a rarity.
Rattan Bai was a fairly talented singer who wrote bhajans, composed and sang them as well. She published the lyrics of her Bhajans to distribute among friends who would sing with her during Mahashivratri celebrations at her home in Chembur, Mumbai. Ratanbai acted in only one Marathi film called Swarajyachya seemewar, as Shivaji's mother.
(She is not to be confused with another Rattanbai who acted in the films Yahudi ki ladki, bharat ki beti, and sang "Tere poojan ko bhagwan".)
Rattan Bai was already in her thirties when she made her film debut in 1933. Her teenage daughter Shobhna Samarth became interested in films and made her own debut in 1935. In 1941, Rattan Bai's brother's daughter Nalini Jaywant also made her film debut. Later, both of Shobhna married director Kumarsen Samarth and the couple had two daughters, Nutan and Tanuja, became celebrated actresses, and Tanuja married Shomu Mukherjee, a writer & film producer. In the next generation, Nutan's son Mohnish Behl and Tanuja's daughters, Kajol and Tanisha became film stars, and Kajol is married to the film star Ajay Devgan.