Kalpana Mohan – Interview
Chacha Nehru was her ideal: “You know he is real. He is like Lord Krishna. So full of love — love in its purest and finest sense. Whenever I looked at him, I experienced an inner joy and ecstasy. Around him was that something, aura.”
Archana, who became Kalpana, remembers that memorable day when she sat on the lap of Panditji at the AICC session in Nasik in the fifties.
“I was seven years then. He fondly kissed me. I found it rough and in order to find out from where this roughness came, I stroked his cheeks.”
Kalpana, who starred in Professor with Shammi Kapoor, happened to grow up in the Nehru family, as her father was a member of the Congress. He went to jail during the freedom movement and suffered greatly. Later, her father left the Congress, which put an end to her “flirting” with Nehru.
“You know I used to admire him so much, that I wanted to be like him, in the sense that I wanted to be popular also, but as a dancer. We moved from Delhi to Ambala due to financial circumstances. I came from a middle class family. There was not much to go around. My dream collapsed, as I had to give up dancing lessons. I was a disciple of Shri Daya Shanker, a well-known master in Delhi.
I used to dance four-five hours a day. No music, no instruments, but I kept practicing what my guruji taught me.”
That means you did not go to college?
“I did, to the Gandhi Memorial National College. I gave up after two years. Dancing was my forte. Luckily I got a stipend of Rs. 75 a month from the Bharathi Kala Kendra. My joy knew no bounds. I persuaded my mother to let me go to Delhi. She did.
“You know I was always fond of make-up, but I did not have the money, to pay for it. So when my friends came to wish me goodbye, they gave me a make-up set, each of them buying one piece.”
Back in Delhi, Kalpana kept on slogging at Kathak, but after the day’s grueling practice, coming home was not a pleasure, for her granny never liked her dancing. She treated the kid roughly.
“But what to do? With Rs. 75 I could not live on my own. Luckily, Amjad Khan, then a little boy in his teens, now the famous sarod player, and I were friends. He offered to help me. I told him I could not afford to pay any brokerage. He said, don’t worry and true to his word, he brought in a broker and showed me a place which I liked.”
That was another phase of Kalpana’s growing up years of vicissitude. She must have been around thirteen-fourteen then. She made good progress in Kathak and became the cynosure of critics and connoisseurs and wolves.
“I found that girls less gifted than me were getting better attention from the masters. You know how some of them are! But I couldn’t do that. That was a revelation to me. It was during this that a gentleman named Krishnan saw me dance and spoke to Col. Gupte, who was in charge of the Cultural Wing at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“Soon after, our troupe was invited to perform at an outstation. I was so thrilled. This was the first time I was getting a chance to go outside to dance. Besides, it was like a picnic. I borrowed bits and pieces from people I knew, because I couldn’t afford a dancing kit. When I reached the destination, from where the whole group had to leave, I came to know I was not to dance, as the chance was given to the daughter of the Administrator. I cried and I cried.
God had always come to my rescue. A liveried chauffeur and a uniformed man, came in a big car. I was asked to go for dancing practice at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“After the final rehearsal, I was selected. My selectors were watching the faces of Panditji and Indira Gandhi to see the reaction on their faces, because I was supposed to dance before President Tito. After it was over, I came out and stood behind, with the others in the corridor Panditji came out, took my hands in both his and held them for a while, touched my head, ‘You dance very well. Don’t give it up.’ ”
It was around this time Kalpana happened to meet a noted Urdu writer, who persuaded her to join films. Her father refused saying, “It is a dirty line and I will break her legs,” but when the writer said, “If she worked in my picture and if I treated her like my own daughter, then will you let her?”
To that the father had no answer and that was how Kalpana came to Bombay, the Hollywood of India. Although she starred in Teen Deviyan opposite Dev Anand, and a couple of others, Professor was a run-away hit. Then came total, oblivion. It has never happened to any other heroine.
How is it that with Shammi Kapoor as your hero and the picture a bumper hit, you did not get any offers again?
“There were plenty. But Shammi Kapoor cut me out from the pictures. And he refused to work with me. `She is a nut, cranky’. Now how can I tell you the reasons? Two prominent producers confirmed it, but took a promise from me not to tell him, as they were afraid of not getting dates from him for their underproduction films.
Kalpana watched the subsequent post—Professor years go by, while other less gifted heroines took her place. “I couldn’t flirt with heroes or directors like some other heroines did. I never tried to break anybody’s home. They came up, made money, earned fame and popularity, while I slithered into oblivion. Is this the price I have to pay for being nice? I don’t blame anyone.”
Out from top banner films and that too with Shammi Kapoor those days, meant a big thing as the news spread. “Maybe she is cranky, something must be wrong with her,” they said, and gradually heroes stopped telephoning her and producers stopped coming home with cheque books and contracts.
Frustration overtook her, but just before this, while she kept mulling over what her rivals did to latch themselves on to heroes, a man came into her life. A well-known writer.
It was no match, as ideal matches go, for the simple reason that Kalpana was full of life, outgoing, with voluptuous physical features, that even a Shammi of those days couldn’t tame, and Sachin, as I knew him then, quiet, introvert, a contrast.
However, they got married. It did not last long. There was nothing to hold them together, as physically and mentally, they were as different as chalk is from cheese!
As the first marriage was declared null and void, she married a Naval officer. He was not earning much. Probably, he married her for the glamorous girl Kalpana looked in those days. There again, he and she were no match either. Probably he thought Kalpana would earn big. That did not happen. That marriage too went on the rocks. Besides, by then she had lost the potential to make a comeback.
“What is the use? Imagine my own father-in-law threatening me, won’t drink a glass of water, if you don’t transfer the bungalow in my son’s name.’ ”
Kalpana didn’t. The only property she wisely bought and kept to herself. She is living off it, by keeping a tenant. By the way, there is a daughter from the marriage to the Naval officer.
After a battle royal for the custody of the child, Kalpana is now free, a divorcee. The daughter is eight years old and is schooling in Panchgani.
“I miss her and I spend sleepless nights and visit her often. The school principal scolds me, ‘I haven’t seen a mad mother like you. If you can’t do without her, why did you put her in boarding school?’ Perhaps she does not know how a mother, who is brought up the way I am, feels!
Want to make a comeback?
After the divorce Kalpana told her husband : “I have no bitterness for you. If we can’t be a goocl husband and wife, let’s be friends. Will you come and see your daughter on her birthdays at least ?”
Are you getting any alimony?
“I don’t expect even four annas from him. I won’t take it. Why should I take anything from a man, who could not understand me! After the daughter is eighteen, I’ll leave it to her, what she wants to do.”
Today, still looking charming but her figure a thing of the past, Kalpana lives in her unkempt weeds- scarred bungalow.
“I call my tin shed terrace house Shantiniketan and feel at peace here. I am alone and for the first time in my life I feel my life belongs to me and me only. I am at peace.” – ( Kalpana interviewed by Krishna in 1977. )