Kamini Kaushal

Kamini Kaushal – Memories

Forty-four years has been a long time isn’t it? But it’s also been great fun and very adventurous. Which is why today, I get annoyed, even a little hurt, when industrywallas think I’ve stopped working in films altogether. For me however, it’s been the case of not wanting to be overworked. Even at my peak, I refused to work in too many films at one time. I’d rather tell people, ‘Sorry, I’m not available’, than stuff myself with too much to do. And anyway, I’ve never liked to appear available or go abegging for a cheap rate. I’d rather occupy myself making dolls or working on my serials. To me, these are equally fulfilling avenues of self expression.

I know people and friends grumble, ‘What a fool she is, wasting her energies on doing this rubbish’. But everything is not measured in rupees and poise. Creating a doll out of waste material, allowing innocent minds to express themselves in front of a camera, gives me far greater joy than just doing films.

I’ve channelized my energies towards children because of my upbringing. There was a norm in my family — nothing is more important than the kids. There were six of us, but my eldest brother expired at a very early age. And I was the youngest. My father was not only a great man but a great educationalist as well. He used to categorize our library into different segments. For the various age groups there were different sets of books. Not that the youngsters were disallowed from reading above their age. We were just told that our time would also come, and were requested (by him) to try and not grow up too soon.

The short seven years I knew of my father, were glorious. When he passed away and I was able to understand more, I was so proud of his achievements in botany. But what made me prouder still, was that he had passed through Cambridge… And that his name, S.R. Kashyap, still appears in the Registrar of Deans.

My mother was just the opposite. She possessed no educational qualities, but was a very fine, gracious lady. She married my father when she was very young. And I was told, that every time he took his botany class outdoors, they’d run to her whenever they were in a fix… And she’d specify exactly the family type of the plant! To her, kindness and consideration were foremost. I even remember telling myself (when I grew), that if I could be half as good as her, I’d have achieved something great.

I was brought up in a warm home, full of flora of every kind. We had our own dramatic and elocution society. And we were encouraged in whatever we wished to do. Do you know something — when I got married I brought away so many books to my new home! It was always an integral part of me… Like the flowers and fruits. Of course, all over our lawns there were big placards, with ‘DO NOT PLUCK’ next to each flower or fruit bearing tree.

What really caught my fancy however, is when my father got me a pair of skates. I valued them so. Right through my B.A. Honors, I exercised with lots of swimming, cycling, etc. It’s so ironical that today, rich kids don’t even value a brand new car.

Talking about swimming, I remember the time I used to do Radio programmes and earn a living. One day, while walking back from work, I saw this new, frilly, polka-dotted elastic swim suit. I wanted it so badly, that I prayed desperately for a call asking me to lend my voice. I can never forget the feeling inside me when I handed the money across the counter and received my suit in return. That ecstasy, that joy, I have never felt even when I went on to make so much money, with which I could buy just about anything.

Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis had come to Lahore for a programme on the War Relief Fund. I was very young then and was doing a dance item. When I finished, some people walked up to my mother and me, and offered me my first film role. They were shocked to realize that I was far below the proper age, that I was a mere baby trying to look and dance in a grown-up fashion!

Chetan Anand, a good friend of the family, lured me to Hindi films. He had heard me on the Radio and insisted I do his Neecha Nagar, I did it for a lark. The film went on to win the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival. But all I remember, is hating to put on that horrible Max Factor make-up! It gave me a headache. I can never forget when I first saw a still photograph of mine — I looked so glamorous and special. It came as a big shock. So Neecha Nagar over, I rushed back home.

In ’47, I got married and came back to Bombay. This time, with absolutely no yen to work in films. After all, I’d seen hardly five films, of which, I had enjoyed watching only Ram Shastri. Actually, it was the director of this film who offered me Jail Yatra opposite Raj Kapoor. My second movie and Raj’s first. Raj, however, pulled quite a fast one on me. ‘I’m a tharra in the field, an old hand at the acting game. Do you know how many films I’ve done?’ Being new and gullible, I believed whatever he told me. It was only later that I found he did have a lot of experience — but ONLY as an assistant. But Raj was always a showman a great guy, who naturally became a fabulous maker.’

Ziddi with Dev was great fun. But then I treated my work like a lot of fun. We were all one big group who grew up together actually — Nargis, Raj, Suraiya, Dev, Dilip and myself. Great friends all of us. I mean if one of us were to acquire a new car, it was WOW! Everyone borrowed it. After all, it was much better than travelling to the studios by train.

Dev was very quiet and shy. One could hardly get any conversation out of him. He would very rarely lift his head to talk. Pretty unbelievable now, when you meet the super confident Mr. Dev Anand!

Dev brings to mind Suraiya. And a funny thing I recall, is the film we starred in together — Shaayar. Suraiya always had her granny beside her. And it was quite amusing really, because Nani always kept such a strict eye on her. So much so, that Suraiya could hardly open her purse in front of me, lest Nani misconstrue that she was passing a message to Dev through me!

Dilip Kumar was a very intense, deep and serious human being. My first film with him was Shaheed. At that time, I had the constant companionship of my sister’s two little daughters. This amused Dilip to no extent. He was always joking around about working with a mother of two children. We went on to doing quite a few films together. And Dilip always held it against me, that I was not serious enough about my work. He could never understand the fact that unless I was having fun, I couldn’t do something. I probably understood him years later, when I saw him in Sagina, which is according to me, his best performance.

We six (Nargis, Raj, Suraiya, Dev, Dilip and myself), actually brought in the star system. Before that, stars were owned by studios and were ordinary salaried people. We changed that. But still, we were treated like school children. Today, if stars don’t want to go to work on a particular day, they just don’t. I remember, during Nadiya Ke Paar, begging director Kishore Sahu and producer S. Mukherjee to let me go home. I was running a fever. They looked at me and explained that the look they wanted, was exactly that — feverish. So I shot the song in one day — in four shots. And they were right.

Speaking of songs, they take four days to complete one today! But do you know that the superhit song, ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya’ was done in one take! That was the kind of commitment we had towards our work. We didn’t have to rely on exposing and wet sarees to get where we did. There was a caring behind each shot. Today, the soul has disappeared from our films. And I thank God, I wasn’t trying to make it in the films today. I would’ve been a reject. After all, I don’t possess the ‘assets’ they require today. A skinny girl with no great proportions like me, wouldn’t have stood a chance. And I’m sure they’re not looking for naturalness — which is perhaps my single most contribution to Indian cinema.

Films was not my everything. I was married, so I was a housewife who did a lot of entertaining as well. Unlike my contemporaries, I didn’t live most of my life in a studio or attend only film parties. I didn’t run into film people constantly. And then there were my three children to look after. Life was pretty full for me.

What did I enjoy doing? Well there was Biraj Bahu with Bimalda. Jhanjhar, Shaheed — the old and new where I played Manoj Kumar’s mother. I liked the role, because unlike what is normally required of film mothers, there was no banging one’s chest and wailing. The pain and sorrow were all in the woman’s eyes. But my favoritest (that’s how I feel!) has been Meri Pari which I directed for Films Division. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I brought together animation along with a real life character. Very satisfying, though not as sophisticated as the Hollywood hit.

Scandal is part of any star’s life, because we are public people. I’ve had my share of link-ups too. But why talk about it today? We film people do not live normal lives, feel normal emotions, so how on earth could most of us feel like normal human beings? It’s just that, at that time, one happened to be in a particular frame of mind, so one did exactly that. But as one grows older and children begin to grow up, it gets uncomfortable talking about those scandals. People have even asked me to pen my autobiography, which I’ve refused to do. So much water has flowed under the bridge, people are happy today, why spoil it? And anyway, I’ve always believed that an honest assessment of a relationship, is impossible to put down on paper.

Working in films, you live so many lives in one life. I’ve done that. Creating a doll, making a serial, going abroad to visit my sons — that is my fun today. But looking back, it’s been a very enriching experience. There have been pleasant times, turmoiled situations, intense joys and sadness. Still, all are unforgettable. Most of all, my childhood. I cannot thank my mother and my brother enough, for making my childhood something I’ll cherish forever. (As told to Patrick Biswas)