Kamini Kaushal has spent 75 years in showbiz. Profiling the veteran on her 94th birthday.
Life happened to her in a dramatic hurry. On the one hand, she won an award at the Montreal Film Festival for her debut in 1946’s Neecha Nagar. In 1948, the barely 21 Kamini Kaushal was married off to her departed sister’s husband to step in as mother to her nieces. Her talent, too obvious to disregard, she continued doing films with Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand and enjoyed top billing.
The child woman came at the crossroads once again when she fell in love with co-star Dilip Kumar, who reciprocated with equal ardor. Sadly, the deeply-in-love duo had to part ways given family pressure and the diktat of conscience and commitment. Though ‘shattered’, Kamini put her mind and heart to starting a family with ‘understanding’ husband B.S.Sood.
After giving impressive performances in Biraj Bahu, Jailor and Godan, she gracefully went on to play the winsome matriarch in films including Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim, Shor and Uphaar. Writing, hosting shows and acting in them were her other creative engagements. More recently, at 93, she impressed critics with her act as the grandmother with gravitas in Kabir Singh.
Having spent 75 years in showbiz, her silver tresses flaunt the stardust of a million moonlit nights…
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THE REEL STORY
Uma Kashyap (Kamini Kaushal’s original name) was born to celebrated botanist Professor SR Kashyap in 1927. She was the youngest among two brothers and three sisters. The gifted Uma did radio plays on Akashwani while studying at Kinnaird College in Lahore.
Filmmaker Chetan Anand, who heard her on radio, offered her Neecha Nagar (1946). He gave her the screen name Kamini because his wife was also Uma (Anand) and was part of the film. Neecha Nagar won the Grand Prix Award. Kamini Kaushal won an award at the Montreal Film Festival for her debut.
— Kaustubh (@KcPingle) April 30, 2018
In 1948, Kamini, just in her 20s, was urged by her family to marry her brother-in-law Braham S Sood (chief engineer at the Bombay Port Trust) after her older sister, Usha, died in a tragic car accident leaving behind two little girls Kumkum and Kavita.
After marriage, Kamini was seen in Jail Yatra (1947) and Aag (1948). “Raj was like an imp always thick on pranks. He’d say, ‘I am desi tharra (country liquor), you’re just a kid’,” she recalled in an interview.
Kamini did films with Ashok Kumar including Poonam (1952) and Night Club (1958). She worked with Dev Anand in Ziddi (1948) and Shair (1954). “Suraiya wanted me to pass on her letters to Dev. Their togetherness didn’t work out. Her aunt would always be around. I felt sorry for them,” Kamini reminisced the ill-fated Dev-Suraiya affair.
With Dilip Kumar, Kamini gave hits including Shaheed, Pugree, Nadiya Ke Paar, Shabnam and Arzoo ( between 1948 -1950). Her career soared further with Filmistan’s Do Bhai (1947), enhanced by Geeta Roy’s track Mera sundar sapna.
(1954) Kamini Kaushal & Abhi Bhattacharya in a still from Bimal Roy's 'Biraj Bahu'. It received Certificate of Merit at National film awards pic.twitter.com/ocXCBbN4r3
— Film History Pics (@FilmHistoryPic) August 31, 2017
A highpoint was Bimal Roy’s Biraj Bahu (1954) based on Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s novel. Her portrayal of a steadfast wife won her the Filmfare Award.
“I broke down several times while enacting the role. My character had a sense of righteousness. She was confident that her husband (Abhi Bhattacharya) would never dismiss her as unfaithful,” Kamini said in an interview. Biraj Bahu won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.
(1956) Kamini Kaushal receives the Filmfare Best Actress Award for film ‘Biraj Bahu’ from Morarji Desai, then chief minister of Bombay state. pic.twitter.com/c8PgIYCPzb
— Film History Pics (@FilmHistoryPic) December 29, 2019
Her fan base was colossal. Reportedly, in the late 1950s, when the team of Poonam was travelling to Kolkata by train, a fan gatecrashed into her cubicle, stole her pillow and left a note saying, “Agar aap ko takiyeki chori mein koi romance dikhai deta hai, to main aap ka chor premi hoon!”
Her last film as heroine was Godaan (1963). After this she began playing character roles with Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed (1965). “Initially, I protested because I was only 40 and so tiny in front of Manoj. But he made such a beautiful film!” said the actor, who later played mother in all his films from Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim, Sanyasi, Shor, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Dus Numbari to Santosh.
Her portrayal as Jaya Bhaduri’s severe yet sensitive mother-in-law in Uphaar (1971) was engaging.
In the recent years, she was seen in Yash Raj Films’ Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (2007), Chennai Express (2013) and Kabir Singh (2019). As a grandmother, who understands the protagonist’s mercurial disposition in Kabir Singh, her seminal dialogue, “Suffering is very personal. Let him suffer!” was a flashpoint.
— Filmfare (@filmfare) February 9, 2015
Apart from films, Kamini wrote stories for the children’s magazine Paraag. In the late ’70s, she chaired the Children Film Society. She did a number of TV shows including Khel Khilone and puppet shows like Chand Sitare, Chaat Pani and Chandamama, under her banner Gudia Ghar Productions (1989 to 1991).
“I had a ball with my puppet shows. I used to give a voiceover for all my puppets… I made them good, bad, wicked… Puppets have a soul,” maintained the soft-spoken Kamini.
THE REAL STORY
A compelling chapter of Kamini’s life remains her marriage to brother-in-law B S Sood. Sood was first married to Kamini’s older sister Usha, who died in a car accident. Young Kamini took on the responsibility of her nieces Kumkum and Kavita who were toddlers. Later Kamini and Sood had three sons Rahul, Vidur and Shravan. However, not before her marriage going through turbulence...
— J (@jiteshpillaai) May 18, 2016
According to Trinetra Bajpai and Anshula Bajpai’s book, Dilip Kumar: Peerless Icon Inspiring Generations, Kamini was reportedly ‘Dilip Kumar’s first flame and also his first serious heartbreak’.
Naturally, being a married woman, she had to face censure.
“That was probably the biggest sacrifice mom made in her life; to marry for duty, not love. And the commitment stayed; even when India’s heartthrob Dilip Kumar came a-knocking. She went through a turbulent time. But eventually, she chose Papa and his daughters over Dilip saab,” shared son Rahul Sood in an interview
He added, “In fact, one poignant memory of mom is of her slipping a framed photo of her deceased sister Usha under Papa’s pillow as he took his last breaths in a hospital.”
Dilip Kumar too mentioned in his biography that he was ‘shattered’ when his romance with Kamini failed. “We were both shattered. We were very happy with each other. We shared a great rapport. But that’s life. I couldn’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,” revealed Kamini in an interview.
A few years ago Kamini happened to meet Dilip Kumar at an event. But the aging thespian failed to recognize her. “I was heartbroken. It broke my heart to see him give me a blank look. Actually, he finds it hard to recognise anyone. I felt sad and walked away. What an era we have been through!” shared Kamini.
— Sheharyar Rizwan (@sheharyarizwan) March 1, 2015
Coming back to the present, at 90 plus, Kamini may be frail in form but is formidable in spirit. “She continues to get acting offers. But it’s just too much effort. Her memory is fading. And she gets tired easily. Thank God she’s still in fairly good health,” said son Rahul.
Kamini kaushal is 93 today as we sit and hear songs and talk about films... pic.twitter.com/MEHsxHLjhk
— Shivendra Singh Dungarpur (@shividungarpur) February 25, 2020
Her plush penthouse is her world now. A porch swathed with jasmine and bougainvillea with birds homing in, her cat Minnie-Mow matching her slow steps as she walks every evening to see the sundown… Kamini Kaushal radiates the afterglow of a life lived with dignity and honesty.