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Kamini Kaushal – An Epitome Of Grace

Coastweek -- 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 caliber.

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.


Coastweek -- 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 positive.”

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.”

Kaushal, whose 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 was ‘no’.

“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.

Commercial success 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 single take.

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 Rupees 10.”

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 India.

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.

Kamini paired 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 songs.


Coastweek -- 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 fisherwoman.

The swashbuckling 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 (1950).

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.


Coastweek -- Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal  in a still from the film Shaheed (1948).

Kamini never worked with Dilip Kumar thereafter.

Reportedly, when 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.

“Saira (Banu) 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.

Remarkably, she 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.

Fortunately, she 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 romantic roles.

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 tyranny.

In the heart-wrenching Godaan (1963), Kamini is utterly convincing as a farmer’s wife battling abject poverty.


Coastweek -- Raaj Kumar and Kamini Kaushal as Hori and Dhaniya in Godaan 1963.

Kamini segued 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 Express.

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.

The enthusiastic 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 Hill.

“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 life.”

She continues to get offers but has not been tempted to put the greasepaint again.

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