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Cinema was never my be-all, end-all: Kamini Kaushal (Interview)
By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, April 3 At 80, veteran actress Kamini Kaushal is delightfully agile, sprightly and girlish as she still continues her swimming and yoga. But she says acting was never above her family.
"Cinema was never my be-all, end-all. When I worked, I did so with complete integrity. But work didn't come above my family. For me, living a decent life is enough," Kaushal told IANS in an interview.
"Yes, I was passionate about acting, but not for the sake of making money. I like being creative. I love making toys as much as acting," said Kaushal, who started her career with "Neecha Nagar" in 1947.
The actress, who worked with big stars of her time such as Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, also spoke about the pitfalls of being a star.
"I once saw one of my colleagues literally adoring her reflection in the mirror. It was scary. I didn't want that to happen to me. The temptation to become self-obsessive is very high in the entertainment business. Don't get so sucked into stardom that you forget you're human."
Kaushal, who still continues to be seen on screen, the latest being the sitcom "Shanno Ki Shaadi", says her most acclaimed role was "Biraj Bahu".
"My only film with Bimal Roy. I was lucky to get it. What a fulfilling and intense experience 'Biraj Bahu' was. Many times he'd take a shot without rehearsals. That's how much faith he had in me."
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: You are 80, my god!
A: It's fun at 80. Gone through three generations, and still at it. Of course, things have changed. They always do. How can it ever be the same? When at the beginning of the century my father went to Cambridge, it took him three months to reach England. He had to go by boat. There was no communication with my mother except the sporadic letter. And now when my son is working in London, we're in touch constantly. He can hop down to Mumbai by the next flight. This is what change is all about.
Q: You've been witness to so many changes in the film industry.
A: Yeah, look at them! Most of my colleagues are gone. There's no Nargis, Suraiya, Nutan, Meena Kumari, Raj Kapoor...you name them, they're all gone. Yes, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand are there.
Q: And Manoj Kumar whose mother you played in the maximum number of films.
A: That was during my third innings. I've had a very unpredictable sort of career. I've done what I wanted to do. Got married and left the industry when it was required and returned when it was okay. When I wanted to work, I did. When I was needed elsewhere, I didn't. Cinema was never my be-all, end-all. When I worked, I did so with complete integrity. But work didn't come above my family. For me, living a decent life is enough. Yes, I was passionate about acting, but not for the sake of making money. I like being creative. I love making toys as much as acting.
Q: So the family was always your priority?
A: You know, I've brought up five kids. My sons are abroad. My two daughters, who are actually my sister's daughters whom I inherited - they don't know any other mother but me - are with me. I don't believe in living for myself and having a gala time, hence the breaks from acting. That is okay. I'm not sorry. I had other priorities like children to be brought up. I continued to be creative from home. I designed so many toys, and won prizes. Toy making is as fulfilling as films, except that people don't get to see your face. I don't crave to see my face splashed everywhere. I once saw one of my colleagues literally adoring her reflection in the mirror. It was scary. I didn't want that to happen to me. The temptation to become self-obsessive is very high in the entertainment business. Don't get so sucked into stardom that you forget you're human.
Q: You started your career in 1947...
A: Actually, I was very reluctant to accept "Neecha Nagar". I wasn't longing to pursue a career in films. I used to do theatre and a lot of radio at that time. The director Chetan Anand was well-known to our family. He chased me like crazy to accept "Neecha Nagar". We were all new. Pandit Ravi Shankar did the music. I was lucky to be part of something so path-breaking, although I wasn't planning a film career. It was a song-less experimental film. And yet I got quite a few offers. But I didn't know any of these people at all. I had hardly seen five Hindi films at that time.
Q: Some of your biggest hits as a leading lady were with Dilip Kumar.
A: "Nadiya Ke Paar" was cute, like a little poem. Dilip and I got along very well. I shared an easygoing relationship with Raj Kapoor also. He was a prankster. We all had a whole lot of fun. We were all pals, young and uninhibited. We had fun. Then I took a break to have a baby. When I had my second baby, I was supposed to do one of my most important films "Godaan". I told my director I won't be able to play such a dramatic role in that condition. To my surprise the director said he'd make the film after my baby was born. I insisted he take someone else. But my director said he needed an actress who could fit the bill for the golden-hearted but sharp protagonist Dhaniya.
Q: Your most acclaimed role was "Biraj Bahu".
A: Yes, my only film with Bimal Roy. I was lucky to get it. When Bimalda asked me to do it, I didn't even sign a contract. His signing me was enough. My co-star Abhi Bhattacharya insisted I sign formal papers, but I was adamant. My contract was signed only much later for tax purposes. What a fulfilling and intense experience "Biraj Bahu" was. Many times he'd take a shot without rehearsals. That's how much faith he had in me.
Q: You've played Manoj Kumar's mother in the maximum number of films.
A: That was wonderful too. The first film where I played his mother was "Shaheed". He was towering over me when he came to offer me the role. I asked him if I look like his mother. I insisted on playing his mother without greying my hair. It was a challenge to play the mother with black hair.
Q: Are you impressed by the work being done today?
A: Yes and no. Technically our films have really progressed, but the content is suffering. I'd like to see more content, but I'm sure youngsters feel differently. They aren't aware of my films at all. To them it doesn't matter whether actors from my era existed. Today's generation knows so much. I grew up with a natural curiosity. Today's generation have to grow up fast to face the competition.
Q: Are you in touch with colleagues?
A: When you're working together there's plenty of interaction. Some people maintain a permanent bonding beyond work. But I live in south Mumbai and the entire industry lives in Juhu and Andheri. To go to the other end of the city to meet friends isn't possible. So I spend my free time swimming. I must do some exercise.
Q: Swimming at 80?
A: Why? What's wrong with it? Either I do yoga or swim. I don't have any vices.
Q: Are you working these days?
A: I get lots of television offers. But the gruelling hours don't suit me. I did a serial "Shanno Ki Shaadi". They were very considerate. I made a wonderful friend in Divya Dutta.
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