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Kamini Kaushal, legend

By Dinesh Raheja
February 18, 2003 14:35 IST
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Dinesh Raheja

Kamini Kaushal's plummy, little girl voice is famous. Kamini Kaushal

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 capitalise on the mithas in her voice.

Today, that mithas is still evident in her seventh decade as is her lust for life.

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.
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. In her 55-year-long career, she has obviously learned a lot about her art.

Kamini was one of the first well educated heroines (BA in English) in Hindi cinema. The Lahore-bred Punjabi girl entered films with Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar (1946), one of the earliest art films to be made in India. 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.

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 Kaushal's trademark films
 Year  Film  Costar
 1946  Neecha Nagar Rafiq  Anwar
 1948  Shaheed  Dilip Kumar
 1948  Aag  Raj Kapoor
 1948  Ziddi  Dev Anand
 1949  Shabnam  Dilip Kumar
 1950  Arzoo  Dilip Kumar
 1954  Biraj Bahu  Abhi Bhattacharya
 1958  Jailor  Sohrab Modi
 1963  Godaan  Raaj Kumar
 1965  Shaheed  

Kamini paired opposite Dev Anand in his very first success, Bombay Talkies' Ziddi (1948), a light romance. The pair followed this up with Namoona. Kamini played the third angle to the Dev-Suraiya pair in Shayar.

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 team with Dilip Kumar was much talked about in the late 1940s. Along with Nargis and Suraiya, she was one of the reigning queens of the day.

Remarkably, she achieved success after marriage. She married her sister's widower and cared for his two children.

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.

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. Biraj's problems escalate when a lecherous villain (Pran) sets his beady eyes on her, and her husband (Abhi Bhattacharya) starts suspecting her motives. Roy made Kamini read Sarat Chandra's novel 20 times. She gave a wonderfully internalised performance, several notches above her regular romantic roles.
Famous songs of Kamini Kaushal
 Song  Film  Singer
 Mera sundar sapna beet gaya  Do Bhai  Geeta Roy
 Yaad karoge yaad karoge  Do Bhai  Geeta Roy
 Badnaam na ho jaaye  Shaheed  Surinder Kaur,  Uma Devi
 More raja ho, le chal   Nadiya Ke Paar  Lalita Deulkar, Mohammed Rafi
 Chanda re ja re ja  Ziddi  Lata Mangeshkar
 Papihe se kaho  Arzoo  Lata Mangeshkar
 Chanda ki chaandni mein jhoome  Poonam  Lata Mangeshkar

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.
Pandit Ravi Shankar composed the score for her first (Neecha Nagar) and last (Godaan) films as a heroine.

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. She has written stories for them, made television serials for them and her doll-making abilities are legend.

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Dinesh Raheja