Bimal Roy’s Biraj Bahu (1954) based on Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s novel remains a high spot in Kamini Kaushal’s life and career. Her portrayal as Biraj, the unwavering wife, who tries to keep her family together through distress, not only won her the Filmfare Award, it perhaps resonated her personal turmoil. In a strange twist of circumstance, Kamini was asked to marry her brother-in-law B.S.Sood after her older sister Usha died in a car accident. She was regarded as an ‘ideal’ second mother to Usha’s orphaned girls.
The second conflict point in Kamini’s life came when she fell deeply in love with Dilip Kumar but had to choose ‘duty’ over ‘love’. “I broke down several times while enacting the role in Biraj Bahu. My character had a sense of righteousness. She was confident that her husband (Abhi Bhattacharya) would never dismiss her as unfaithful,” she said years later of her cathartic take. In fact, the reference to the Lord Ram-Sita narrative with Suno Sita ki kahani playing in the background, as Biraj slowly walks back home, couldn’t have been missed.
This heartbreak was perhaps also the genesis of the Tragedy King title, which became Dilip Kumar’s nomenclature down the years. His first brush with pain became the palette from which the actor dipped for his performances. Years later, B R Chopra’s Gumrah was said to be a take-off on this terminated tale of love, a film that Dilip apparently declined.
“Life’s about change. If it doesn’t change it’s not life,” once said Kamini. Yes, life did change for them. Dilip Kumar went on to write cinematic history. Kamini had a kaleidoscopic innings as well. But the fact that they’d walked a certain path together remains a common chapter in their respective chronicles.
Revisiting this tale of love and loss…
Uma Kashyap (Kamini Kaushal’s orginal name) was born to celebrated botanist Professor S.R 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). Renamed Kamini Kaushal by Chetan, she won an award at the Montreal Film Festival for her debut.
While her professional life was set to soar, her personal life turned more dramatic than a film script. Kamini, barely 21, 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 daughters. “I loved my sister deeply. I feared my nieces, Kumkum and Kavita, who were just around two and three, would flounder without a mother,” shared Kamini, who got married in 1948. Reluctant to call her act as a ‘sacrifice’, she called it an ‘ideal solution’ instead, even as the responsibility made her nervous.
Her ‘genteel’ and ‘decent’ husband, popularly called Rummy, helped her slip into the new role. The couple went on to have three sons Rahul, Vidur and Shravan. Years later, son Rahul maintained that it was indeed a generous act by his mother. “That was probably the biggest sacrifice mom made in her life; to marry for duty, not love,” he said.
Her husband being broadminded, Kamini continued her career. Filmistan’s Do Bhai (1947), with Geeta Roy’s poignant track Mera sundar sapna, won her popularity. She was seen with Raj Kapoor in Jail Yatra, and Aag, with Ashok Kumar in Poonam and Night Club and Dev Anand in Ziddi and Shair (all between 1947 - 1954). But her stint with Dilip Kumar proved to be a watershed moment in her life. Shaheed, Pugree, Nadiya Ke Paar, Shabnam and Arzoo (between 1948-1950) … the onscreen chemistry was unmistakable. While she was spontaneous, Dilip’s seriousness left her impressed. “Dilip and Kamini act some of the most tender, most intimate and moving love scenes that have ever been seen on the Indian screen,” wrote critic Babu Rao Patel about Shaheed.
Soon enough, the two were drawn towards each other. Trinetra Bajpai and Anshula Bajpai’s book, Dilip Kumar: Peerless Icon Inspiring Generations, mentions the ‘comely’ Kamini Kaushal was Dilip’s ‘first flame and also his first serious heartbreak’. The book cites peers as witness to their romance. Kathak exponent Sitara Devi is said to have met the supposed couple ‘huddled together’ in a Mumbai local first class. While Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai had counselled Dilip against the pointlessness of his affection towards Kamini.
The book also has director/ producer of Pugree, P.N. Arora claim that Dilip visited the actress on the set of the film. He recalled how Kamini’s ‘military man brother’ arrived on the set one day and allegedly brandished a pistol, ‘threatening to kill’ the two if they didn’t bring a halt to their alleged liaison. Separation was inevitable.
Though their worlds had changed, Dilip and Kamini remained each other’s well-wishers. Kamini continued her life with her family in the spacious two-storey home Gateside in the serene Mazgaon, surrounded by families of other Bombay Port Trust (BPT) engineers.
Her last film as heroine was Godaan (1963). Later, she moved to character roles and was notable in Manoj Kumar’s films including Shaheed, Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim, Shor, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan and Santosh (between the ’60s –’70s). She also did TV shows including Khel Khilone and puppet shows under her banner Gudia Ghar Productions (1989 to 1991). In the 2000s, she was seen in Yash Raj Films’ Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Chennai Express and more recently Kabir Singh. Dilip Kumar, on the other hand, chalked an impressive journey to be regarded as India’s finest.
Years later, Dilip recalled his first heartbreak in Bunny Reuben’s biography Dilip Kumar – Star Legend of Indian Cinema, reportedly saying, “She (Kamini) was the only one with whom I achieved total identification. I think everybody falls in love only once. ‘Again’ - if there is an ‘again’ - is merely an imitation of the brilliant flame, the blinding light, the days of trance, the nights of impatience and waiting, and days of such happiness that one cannot believe they will last.”
More recently, in his autobiography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance And The Shadow, Dilip mentioned that he was drawn to Kamini ‘more intellectually than emotionally’. In fact, he hints that Madhubala came in his life as a balm to a lingering hurt saying, “She filled a void that was crying out to be filled… whose liveliness and charm were the ideal panacea for the wound that was taking its own time to heal.”
In a past interview, Kamini candidly discussed the crossroads at which she found herself, “We (Dilip and she) were both shattered. We were very happy with each other. We shared a great rapport. But that’s life,” she lamented (Filmfare). “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,” she said giving credit to her husband, B.S. Sood.
Son Rahul Sood accorded respect to his mother and was quoted saying, “The commitment stayed; even when India’s heartthrob and thespian Dilip Kumar came a-knocking. My mother went through a turbulent time. But eventually, she chose Papa and his daughters over Dilip saab.” In fact, one touching memory that Rahul shared was of his mother slipping a framed photo of her deceased sister Usha under her husband’s pillow as he took his last breaths in hospital. It only reiterated the understanding they shared.
A few years ago, Kamini and Dilip, both in their 80s then, were at the same event. The aging thespian failed to recognize her. “I was heartbroken. It broke my heart to see him give me a blank look. He looked at me and I looked at him. Actually, he finds it hard to recognise anyone. I felt sad and walked away. What an era we have been through!” shared a sentimental Kamini (Filmfare).
Through time, her sense of duty towards her family and her respect for Dilip… both remained unwavering. During one of Dilip’s many bouts with illness, she said, “So many decades have passed. Everybody has a place in life and then we let go. We made a good pair and did good work. The public liked to see us do films together.” (TOI)
In the same vein she said, “Dilip saab was a natural actor… He had a flawless command over the Urdu language… It is not as if he spoke that way to impress you. He was genuinely proficient. Even I am like that. Very straightforward. I can never pretend to be something I am not.” (TOI).
On one occasion when he was hospitalised, she said, “It’s very sad, he is suffering so much. Dilip saab has been ailing for so many years. My prayers are with him for a speedy recovery.” Her admiration for Saira as the perfect wife was palpable when she added, “It is nice how she celebrates his birthdays and invites the film industry to meet him. He always looks happy and well-groomed.”
Sadly, when the thespian passed away at the age of 98 on July 7, 2021 a frail Kamini, whose memory is also fading, couldn’t say much. Her family offered condolences on her behalf. Her penthouse in South Mumbai, lush with merry flowers and homing birds, is her world now. Kamini Kaushal, though feeble at 95, betrays the serenity of a life lived with dignity.
[Inputs From Pinkvilla]