Kajal Kiran – Interview
Remember the girl who “discoed” her way to a short- lived fame in “Hum Kisise Kum Nahin”? She came — and then dropped out of sight in the space of a blink as transient as the strobe lights she jerked to.
She’s rising again, not like a phoenix from the ashes, for her end was far from spectacular. More properly, she is emerging from career oblivion into a new phase that we hope will be longer-lived than the last one.
Kajal Kiran is typical of the new breed of actresses (or stars or starlets), living in two bedroom flats in Pali Hill or Juhu or Bandra (near the bus-stop). Very middle-class, with showcases in the drawing room, artificial flowers in glass vases, furniture looking as if it was bought on impulse from places like Beautiful Home.
When we arrived at her home and rang the bell, a maid-servant popped out and we asked “Kajalji hai ?”and she went to find out while we continued waiting, our nostrils assailed by the odour of rice cooking for lunch. In the passage, a school bag and a red water bottle leaned against the wall, packed and ready. The drawing room looked uneasy, with straight-backed padded chairs lined up against a wall, divans lining the large windows at one end. Dolls and a sitar in the wall unit and lots of well-thumbed books, none of them highbrow.
And then she invited us to sit in her room, because it would be more comfortable. It was, and the only thing that made me uncomfortable was the fact that I was facing a huge diamond-shaped mirror.
“What’s been happening,” we asked. “Is it true you’ve been signed up for eight or nine movies suddenly?” She smiled and said it was more like 26 or 27!
Among them are “Zabardast” with Raj Kiran, “Naya Johny”, a Navketan film with Sajid Khan, “Saboot” with Navin Nischal as her hero, another film with him in which he plays her father, “Pagal Premi” with Prem Krishen, seven or eight films with Mittun, the list goes on and the opportunities are ample for Kajal to prove she has a right to her own little place in the sun.
Why the sudden activity on the career front? She explained that two years ago, when she did “Hum Kisise,” Nasir Husain (she kept saying something that sounded like “Nasaab”) felt that she shouldn’t sign any other films before the release of his venture. After the film was released people still thought she was under a contract and didn’t come forward with offers.
Or rather there were a few offers—odd ones, parts in stunt movies, C grade films. She didn’t take them because she wanted to work with “good directors.”
And because of the misunderstanding about the nature of her contract, she lost some good roles, in “Aankhiyon ke Jharokhon se”, “Ballika Badhu”. She was free for nearly a year.
She signed up for “Pagal Premi” because the story is “beautiful”, about two crazy teenagers and their antics. And there are no regrets about her lost year, for she wouldn’t have touched those particular offers with a barge-pole.
Perhaps it is just as well that events took the course they did. They enabled her to slip from school-girl obscurity into the high-pressure world of the silver screen with scarcely a trauma.
For, two years ago, Kajal was a tenth-standard student at a convent in Colaba. She got the role in the film when she went to meet Nasir Husain on the recommendation of a relative who worked with him. “I took a holiday from school and I remember that I wore a maxi”. She had physics, chemistry, biology and maths in school because she wanted to do medicine.
And just as many a film career dies because of premature overexposure, perhaps Kajal’s fizzled out because she received very little publicity and most people wondered who she was when she burst on screen.
The low-pressure publicity was deliberate. Because she was in school and it would disturb the other students. Her first picture appeared in a film magazine on the last day of her board examination. It was all carefully planned to ease her way into stardom rather than make a splash. But as quietly as she appeared, she also disappeared.
She has done a year of college but “I’ve given up as I cannot cope with the studying and the shooting schedules”.- And no, she has no regrets about that either, for it wouldn’t have helped her anyway.
She is fresh, young, very pretty, but even those qualities will not take her far on their own in a world where the premiums on beauty are low because the commodity is easily available. What will mark her out from the rest of the crowd is that certain something that distinguishes an actress from a star. And Kajal still has to prove herself.
At least she has a basic honesty that is very refreshing. For when I asked whether she was aiming to be an actress rather than a star, she said “I’d rather be a star first. The actress bit can come later.”
She’s young enough to want the glamour of being a star right now. And honest enough to admit it. The “serious stuff”, the “Meena Kumari” bit is still in the background for she hasn’t matured sufficiently for the in-depth role.
“Anyway, I have no right to expect meaty roles yet, though I also believe that these will come my way. The chance comes to everyone!’
She still remembers her first shooting session, this veteran of a single film who as yet has not got over the awkwardness of being photographed. Not for her the blase approach, the flip attitude.
“My first experience of real shooting was at Srinagar. There were crowds watching and I was so nervous. Later, they wanted my autograph and I was so confused that I started crying.”
There is a note of wonder in her voice as she talks about her fan mail. “Mostly from boys and you wouldn’t believe the things they write. Some say they want to marry me.” We believe, we believe.
She is young enough to enjoy answering her fan mail herself, old enough to know that her world is pure fantasy, young enough to sigh over the fact that Vinod Khanna has retired from films, “He’s so handsome and talented, I would have loved working with him.”
She is old enough to be the support of her mother and a small brother (the owner of the bag and the red water bottle), young enough to be hurt over the gossip in film magazines, though she stoutly denies it. “It upsets my mother, not me.”
And will she be doing any more films with Rishi Kapoor? She is oddly reticent. It’s difficult to get anything out of her on that score.
She won’t run anyone down, even though it would make fun reading. Passes over the topic when we ask whether it is true he was piqued when she refused to respond to his flirtatious ways.
What was she doing during the long year when no film offers came her way, when her career seemed grounded almost before it had taken off? Well, she took dancing lessons as she had no background in classical dancing. She painted (in water-colours) her efforts framed against the wall of her drawing-room—’Laila Majnu’, signed `Sunita’. Maybe she dreams of a romance that has not come her way yet. “I have boyfriends but none serious. Navin (Nischal) teases me about it. Says I should have had ten affairs by now.”
But you can see that the thought of affairs (or even relationships) is far from her mind. She is too excited about her roles and the work she will have to put into them. About the people that she is working with too. Like Vinod Mehra described as (you guessed it) ‘a perfect gentleman.’
After some time the conversation petered out and we asked whether her hair was really brown and she said it was. And then it was time to leave, to the sound of a pressure cooker in the kitchen and the smell of curry replacing the earlier rice smell. Kajal walked us to the door and instead of waiting for our thanks (for granting us her precious time), she thanked us simply for coming. Perhaps she knows that star “nakhras” are out and the girl- next-door image is in. Somehow, I got the impression that it was genuine. (As told to Carol D’Souza in 1979).