Leela Mishra (1908 – January 17, 1988) was an Indian film actress, who worked as a character actor in over 200 Hindi films for five decades, eventually playing stock characters like aunts (Chachi or Mausi). She is most known for her role of mausi in blockbuster Sholay (1975), Dil Se Mile Dil (1978), Batao Batao Mein (1979), Rajesh Khanna films like Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein, Aanchal, Mehbooba, Amar Prem and Rajshri Productions hits like Geet Gaata Chal (1975), Nadiya Ke Paar (1982) and Abodh (1984).
Leela Mishra was married to Ram Prasad Mishra who was a character artist, then working in silent films. She got married at the very young age of 12. By the time she was 17 she had two daughters. She hailed from Varanasi, and she and her husband were from zamindar (landowners) families.
Leela Mishra was discovered by a man called Mama Shinde who was working for Dadasaheb Phalke’s Nasik Cinetone. He persuaded her husband to make her work in films. During those days there was a severe scarcity of women actors in films; this was evident in the paychecks that the Mishras received when they went to Nasik for the shooting. While Ram Prasad Mishra was hired on a salary of Rs. 150 per month, Leela Mishra was offered Rs. 500 per month. However, as they fared poorly in front of the camera, their contracts were cancelled.
The next opportunity that came their way was an offer to work in the movie Bhikarin which was being produced by a company owned by the Maharaja of Kolhapur. However, Leela Mishra lost out on this opportunity too as the role required her to put her arms round the actor (who was not her husband) while delivering a dialogue, which she point-blank refused to do.
She faced a similar problem while working in another film titled Honhaar. She was cast opposite Shahu Modak as a heroine and was supposed to hug and embrace him, which she again refused steadfastly. Since the company was legally in a weak position, they couldn’t turn her out of the film, which proved to be a blessing in disguise for her. She was offered Modak’s mother’s role in the film and it clicked instantly. This opened the doors for her to play mother roles at the young age of 18.
Early on in her career she acted in notable films like musical hit Anmol Ghadi (1948), Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951) and Nargis-Balraj Sahni starrer Lajwanti (1958) which nominated for the Palme d’Or for Best Film at 1959 Cannes Film Festival.
She acted in the first Bhojpuri film, Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo (1962), which also starred Kumkum, Helen and Nasir Hussain.
Her roles varied from mothers, benign or evil aunts, to comic roles.