“Why not Kamini Kaushal?” It was a chance remark I made. An advertising filmmaker friend of mine, Shivendra (Shivi), was looking for someone to play a grandmother in a washing soap commercial. Immediately his office put through a call to her; she told his assistant to come right away to her flat to take the test. A look at the ‘audition’ and she was on.
The next step for me was obvious. Being a filmmaker and an ardent follower of Hindi cinema and particularly a great admirer of the films of the 1950s and 60s, possibly Hindi cinema’s golden age, I wanted Shivi to fix up a meeting with Kamini. After all, she was an integral part of Hindi cinema during this period, a top heroine in from the late 1940s to the end 50s before settling into mother roles. My repeated pestering finally worked and Shivi fixed up the meeting, I suspect, just to get me off his back.Since both Shivi and me are currently working together on a project that has involved extensive research on Hindi cinema from the mid 1940s to mid 60s, we have met and interviewed a host of yesteryear stars and technicians of the era – Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman, Shammi Kapoor, Shyama, Shakila, Tanuja, Kum Kum, VK Murthy, Lekh Tandon, Ravi, Abrar Alvi etc, all of whom were extremely forthcoming, gracious and helpful, but mostly had very little to say outside of their life in films.
Kamini, however, was different. One of the nicest people you can ever hope to meet, her take on life was clear -There’s more to do in life than just films. This is something she has always believed in and what’s more, she has lived by it. She quit films at the height of her career for a couple of years to watch her little son grow up knowing those moments would never come back, she expanded her creativity making beautiful puppets and toys, even doing a show on television with them for children, she took breaks from films as and when she wanted to rather than be a part of the rat race. In fact, when we reached her spacious flat at Malabar Hill, she was working with her tailor on some wonderful cushion covers she had designed herself. Little wonder then, the conversation kept going outside of films, to a wide array of topics from current affairs to her meeting Chairman Mao in China and one had to really cajole her to talk about her first film, the critically acclaimed Neecha Nagar or her experiences on working with the great Bimal Roy in Biraj Bahu for which she had won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress. It was refreshing to see someone so down-to-earth, so level-headed and so happy and contented with absolutely no regrets in life. Today, she is the only working actress from her generation, doing the odd TV commercial or feature film like Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, while the others are living quiet lives outside the glare of arc lights, many of them lonely and forgotten.
As we left, I couldn’t help but recall Alfred Hitchcock telling Ingrid Bergman on the sets of Under Capricorn, “Ingrid, it’s only a movie!”