Earlier this week, I spent the morning listening to late Bhupen Hazarika’s compositions in Ek Pal, a film that introduced me to the wonderful directorial acumen of Kalpana Lajmi.
I don’t remember who introduced us. I think it was Prakash Jha. But Kalpana was one of my first friends in the Mumbai film industry. She was feisty and knew many in the filmworld. The formidable Shyam Benegal is her uncle and so was the even more formidable Guru Dutt.
Yes, she is well-connected. But when Kalpana made her first film, the underrated, hauntingly romantic Ek Pal, she sought no one’s help. She approached the mighty trio of Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Farouq Sheikh and all three said yes to her, not because of who she was but because of what she had to offer.
Today, I see shameless nepotism in the industry. Talentless relatives of powerfully-placed industry folks get big breaks while genuinely talented strugglers languish for want of an opportunity. In a world dominated by patriarchy and nepotism Kalpana made it on her own steam.
After Ek Pal came the stunning Rudaali. I was hooked.
The industry has all but forgotten her as she remains seriously ill moving in and out of the hospital. She has little hope of recovery with almost no money to pay for the hefty hospital bills. You know what they say: If the disease doesn’t kill you, the bill will.
She survives on the largesse of a few industry folks who still have some core of humanism left in them. Since most charity in showbiz is done with the intention of getting attention, I am not sure how much of the financial help for Kalpana comes out of genuine concern.
What the film industry needs is a solid health fund for ailing artistes so that we don’t have talented filmmakers dying for want of adequate medical care.
There are chilling stories of stars falling on hard days. The legendary Meena Kumari died in the servant’s room of a bungalow purchased by her. Generous to a fault, she had gifted a bungalow to her sister Madhu and her husband, the comedian Mehmood. The couple was kind enough to let their benefactor spend her last days in the outhouse where they served her one meal a day.
What happened to all her earnings? What happened to all of Tamil-Telugu superstar Savitri’s earnings? Like Meena Kumari, Savitri hit the bottle and… well, you only have to see her bio-pic Mahanati, to discover the similarities between the doomed lives of two legendary actresses.
Meena Kumari invested in the wrong projects and people. She paid for it. Her plight was better than poor Vimi’s. Once a B.R. Chopra heroine, she fell on hard days and drank herself to death. There was no one to claim her body when she died.
Why can’t the Indian film industry take care of its own? Make sure that its denizens are looked after in their lean days. Kalpana Lajmi should be getting the best medical treatment by right. She shouldn’t have to depend on the largesse of some actors who make 65-80 crores of rupees per film and feel very good about themselves after giving a few lakhs to soldiers’ widows and colleagues who have seen better days.
As Kalpana lies alone in her illness, does she regret spending all her savings looking after her mentor and beloved Bhupen Hazarika? Or does she feel happy to have touched the higher notes of love in an era of debilitating self-interest?
Does Deepika Padukone know she has a relative named Kalpana Lajmi who could do with a kind touch?
(Subhash K. Jha can be contacted at [email protected])