Living Legend Kamini Kaushal – The little girl with plummy voice

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The famous 1940s and 1950s star and character artiste of the 1970s continues to act in the odd film, 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 Kaushal, with the trademark flower in her hair, never misses attending a film festival in Mumbai. In her 70-year-long career, she has obviously learned a lot about her art.

Even before she won recognition as screen actor Kamini Kaushal, Uma Kashyap (her original name) was auditioned by circumstance to play out a larger-than-life role. The 20-something Uma chose to become mother to her little nieces who had lost their mother in a car tragedy. But as Kamini Kaushal she struck a balance between hearth and heart and scripted a life that let her soar. A recipient of the Kalpana Chawla Award, the 89-year-old actor, surprises you with the lilt in her walk and talk. The term yesteryears actor does not stand true on her. When Shah Rukh Khan asked her to do a little turn in Chennai Express, she was quick to agree. For those who grew up with Kamini Kaushal, mention of her name evokes wistful memories.

She appeared in many films often alongside leading men who were just starting out and who would later become some of the most famous names in Indian cinema. Among them were Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand. After “Neecha Nagar”, she married and settled down in Bombay, raising five children and gave up acting for a while. With gaps in her career she faded before re-appearing. In every film starring her as lead heroine, except when it was opposite Ashok Kumar, in the period 1947 to 1955, her name used to appear first in the credits before the leading hero’s name appeared. A film that won Kamini laurels was Bimal Roy’s Biraj Bahu (1954) based on Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s novel. Her portrayal of a devoted wife won her a Filmfare Award. Her pairing opposite Dilip Kumar was popular with audiences with box office hits like Shaheed (1948), “Pagree”, Nadiya Ke Paar (1949), Shabnam (1949) and Arzoo (1950)).

Her popularity as an actress increased with Do Bhai (1947), aided by Geeta Dutt’s songs like Mera sundar sapna, which, incidentally, was shot in a single take. Her other successful films as lead heroine include Paras(1949), Namoona, Jhanjar, Aabru, Night Club, Jailor, Bade Sarkar, Bada Bhai, Poonam and Godaan. Trilok Jetley, who adopted Premchand’s famous story Godaan on screen, put his film on hold, while Kamini was pregnant with her second child, because he wanted to capitalise on the softness in her voice. In 1965 she moved to playing character roles with a film called Shaheed. She made the transition from playing leading heroine roles to character roles very easily.Her performances were appreciated in Waris, Vishwas, Yakeen, Aadmi Aur Insaan, Gumrah, Uphaar, Qaid, Bhanwar, Tangewala, Heralal Pannalal.

Her resume may hold a hundred films and several TV serials including Khel Khilone but what remains close to her heart are her puppet shows. In fact, she was just 10 when she first created her puppet theatre. Also serials like Chand Sitare, Chaat Pani and Chandamama, made by her banner Gudia Ghar Productions, included her puppets. For Kamini Kaushal, as long as you continue to play… you never really grow old.

Avid music lover and Dev Anand fan

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