Kamini Kaushal’s sweet voice is famous,
writes DINESH RAHEJA.
Years ago, Trilok
Jetley, who adopted Premchand’s famous story Godaan on screen,
put his film on hold while Kamini was pregnant because he wanted
to capitalize on the mithas (sweetness) in her voice.
That was the
confidence that a seasoned director had in an actress of her
Kamini did not
disappoint him and gave an outstanding performance as the woman
who has a sharp tongue and a fiery temper.
Today, that mithas
is still evident in her seventh decade as is her lust for life.
Kamini Kaushal in a still from a film.
She said in an
interview about whether she wanted to be an actress in her
childhood: “I come from a very intellectual family. Growing up,
our family concen-trated more on knowledge, but my father never
deterred us from doing anything we wanted as long as it was
Though she had no
dreams of joining the film industry while being in college, she
was a fan of actor Ashok Kumar.
Once she said in an
interview: “We were to perform for the war relief fund in
college. Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitins were the chief guests.
“After the show we
went to meet him. I thought of having some fun. As he stood
talking to the students, I pulled his hair from behind.”
original name is Uma Sood, says that she was “bullied” into the
world of cinema.
Kamini was one of
the first well educated heroines in Hindi cinema.
A graduate with
English honours, she was engrossed in studies, radio plays and
acting on stage in Lahore, where her family lived before
partition, when director Chetan Anand offered her Neecha Nagar.
“I was studying at
Lahore’s Kinnaird College for Women then, and my first reaction
“I had heard from
somewhere that the film industry was not a good place for
girls,” she recalls.
Her elder brother,
who was a friend of Anand, asked her to reconsider her decision.
Thus she debuted
with Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946), one of the earliest art
films to be made in India, which won the 1946 Palme d’Or (Golden
Palm) at Cannes Film Festival.
She played a
sympathetic role which castigated class differences and won an
award at the Montreal Film Festival.
came her way only when Filmistan’s Do Bhai (1947) proved a
sleeper success, aided by Geeta Roy’s impassioned singing of
songs like Mera sundar sapna, which, incidentally, was shot in a
Kamini was a
freelancer, but Filmistan was lucky for her - she followed Do
Bhai with successes like Shaheed, Nadiya Ke Paar and Shabnam.
She quoted in an
interview, talking about her teenage days: “I had no time to
fool. I didn’t have any crush, I was busy swimming, riding,
skating and doing radio plays on Akashwani, for which I was paid
hen her elder sister
died in a car accident, leaving behind two daughters, Kaushal
decided to marry her brother-in-law, B. S. Sood, in 1948 and she
set up home in Bombay where her husband was a chief engineer in
the Bombay Port Trust.
Kamini, a slip of a
girl with striking facial bone structure and cropped hair,
proved apt for playing the sophisticate in a newly independent
She won notice in a
spate of early but important films for the emerging triumvirate
of Hindi films: Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar.
In Raj Kapoor’s
directorial debut Aag (1948), she did a cameo as one of his
three heroines (Nargis and Nigar were the other two) whose
relationship with the hero doesn’t fructify. The pair also
starred together in Jail Yatra.
opposite Dev Anand in his very first success, Bombay Talkies’
Ziddi (1948), a light romance.
She was the first
lead heroine for whom Lata Mangeshkar ever sang for and it was
for the film Ziddi.
Kamini quoted in an
interview: “Lata sang for me in Ziddi for the first time. That
was the first time she sang for the leading lady in a film.
“Before that, she
sang for actresses in supporting roles. Shamshad Begum and
Surinder Kaur - whose voices had more bass - used to sing my
Raj Kapoor and Kamini Kaushal in Jail Yatra (1947).
“On the music
credits on the record, Lata’s name was not mentioned. Instead,
it was mentioned that Asha sang the songs - Asha was my screen
name (in the film Ziddi).
“That’s why people
thought I had sung it.
Dev Anand and Kamini
followed this up with Namoona.
Kamini played the
third angle to the Dev-Suraiya pair in Shayar.
“Dev was shy and
quiet. He was serious at work whereas I’d talk, talk, talk...”
She was also witness
to his ill-fated love affair with Suraiya.
“Suraiya wanted me
to pass on her letters to Dev. ‘Will you give it to him?’ she
asked. I said, ‘Of course’! I felt sorry for them. Their
togetherness didn’t work out.”
She was most
successful as a romantic heroine with Dilip Kumar.
Shaheed (1948) was a
smash hit. The audience loved the star-crossed lovers.
Quick on its heels
came the tragic Nadiya Ke Paar where Kamini looked fetching as a
Shabnam (1949) was also a success with Kamini carrying off her
male disguise with panache.
Their last film
together was the brooding, Wuthering Heights-inspired Aarzoo
Her pairing with
Dilip Kumar was much talked about in the late 1940s.
Dilip Kumar, in his
biography, has admitted his attraction to her while they acted
in films together, but Kamini rejected his proposal as she was
already married to her elder sister’s widower and was taking
care of her elder sister’s kids.
Dilip said that she
was his first love.
Taking about Dilip
Kumar in an interview she said: “He liked to work on his
character. I was spontaneous; I joked around. He’d say, ‘Tu
bahut shor machati hai’ (You are a noisemaker).” she states.
When reminded of
their relationship that was not meant to be and the veteran’s
reported confession in his biography that he was ‘shattered’
with the parting, she says with quiet dignity,
“We were both
shattered. We were very happy with each other. We shared a great
rapport. But what to do? That’s life. I can’t dump people and
say ‘Enough now, I’m going!’
“I had taken on the
girls. I wouldn’t be able to show my face to my sister. My
husband, a fine human being, understood why it happened.
Everyone falls in love.”
Her husband was
broad minded enough to allow her to continue in the movies.
Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal in a still from the
film Shaheed (1948).
Kamini never worked
with Dilip Kumar thereafter.
Kamini and Saira Banu were shooting for Aadmi Aur Insaan in
1969, the vibes between them were cold.
Kamini happened to
meet Dilip Kumar at the late actor Pran’s chautha.
brought him down. They put another chair next to mine and made
him sit. But he didn’t recognise me.
“I was heartbroken.
It broke my heart to see him give me a blank look. He looked at
me and I looked at him.
“Actually, he finds
it hard to recognise anyone. I felt sad and walked away. What an
era we have been through!” she sighs. “I hope he stays well.”
Along with Nargis
and Suraiya, she was one of the reigning queens of the day.
achieved success after marriage.
The fact that she
intermittently interrupted her career and skipped doing films
for her family’s sake had an adverse effect on her career.
wrested some fine roles for herself.
In every film
starring her as lead heroine, except when opposite Ashok Kumar,
in the period 1947 to 1955, her name used to appear first in the
credits before the leading hero’s name appeared.
She won Filmfare’s
Best Actress award for Bimal Roy’s Biraj Bahu (1954), where she
played a determined village wife Biraj, who tries to keep her
family together through troubled times.
Roy made Kamini read
Sarat Chandra’s novel 20 times. She gave a wonderfully
internalised performance, several notches above her regular
With that lilt in
her voice, she did try her hand at light roles like in Chalis
Baba Ek Chor (1954), but she had a flair for finely tuned
emotional drama evident in Aas, Ansoo and Jailor.
In the Sohrab Modi-directed
Jailor (1958), Kamini gave a goose pimple raising performance as
Modi’s wife who is pushed towards adultery by his ruthless
heart-wrenching Godaan (1963), Kamini is utterly convincing as a
farmer’s wife battling abject poverty.
Raaj Kumar and Kamini Kaushal as Hori and Dhaniya in Godaan
towards character roles after she was offered a strong role as
Bhagat Singh’s mother in the Manoj Kumar starrer Shaheed (1965).
She played Manoj’s
mother once again in Upkaar (1967).
The appreciation she
received ensured that Kamini became a fixture as the mother
figure in a string of 1970s Manoj Kumar starrers like Purab Aur
Paschim, Shor, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Sanyasi and Dus Numbri.
Gamely willing to
experiment, Kamini alternated her typically self-sacrificing
roles a la Do Raaste (as Balraj Sahni’s eternally supportive
wife), with an Anhonee (1973), where she stunned audiences by
playing a mercenary vamp with aplomb.
From the 1980s on,
Kamini Kaushal has largely concentrated on her family, acting
occasionally (in the prestigious Jewel In The Crown series for
instance) and throwing herself into activities revolving around
her lifelong passion, children.
The famous 1940s and
1950s star and character artiste of the 1970s continues to act
in the odd film (Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega, Chori Chori), making
her the oldest major actress still working.
Her last appearance
was in a five-second appearance in Shahrukh Khan’s Chennai
In 2015 she received
the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award.
This livewire also
dabbles in television serials and actively pursues other
passions like writing and doll-making.
Kamini, with the trademark flower in her hair, never misses
attending a film festival in Mumbai.
From spending her
childhood in the lanes of Lahore to starting her journey as a
radio artiste, Kamini Kaushal has a very special place in her
heart for the cultural capital of Pakistan.
The veteran actor,
91, recalled the time she spent in Lahore before partition.
“I have fond
memories of acting in the lovely amphitheatre in Lahore’s Simla
“Or on Lahore’s
local radio. That was my land! But, in the same breath, I also
know that if I was to go back to work I would need to feel
secure doing it,” she said.
She said in an
interview: “I, along with only few Indian heroines like Saroja
Devi, Bhanumathi Ramakrishna, Sowcar Janaki, Mala Sinha,
Moushumi Chatterjee, Vyjanthimala, Padmini and Sharmila Tagore
were the few who got married early and had success in the film
industry even after our marriages as well as led a happy married
She continues to get
offers but has not been tempted to put the greasepaint again.