We became friends soon after. 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 well-connected. The formidable Shyam Benegal is her uncle and the even more formidable Guru Dutt was also an uncle. Kalpana personally rang up Jaya Bachchan and introduced us. She was that kind of large-hearted warm human being.
Yup, Kalpana was well-connected. But when she 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 the want of an opportunity. In a world dominated by patriarchy and nepotism Kalpana made it on her own steam.
Today the industry has all but forgotten her. In her last painful days she had no money to pay the hefty hospital bills. You know what they say. If the disease doesn’t kill you, the bill will. She blew up all her savings on the medical care of the love of her life Bhupen Hazarika.
“And you know what? If I had to do it again, and again and again…I’d happily do it. Every last penny every ounce of my blood I’d give to bring him back,” she told me during our final conversation. Even in that critical condition she didn’t forget to ask about Lataji.
She knew what true love was.
She survived on the largesse of some industry folks who still have some core of humanism left in them. But most charity in showbiz is done with the intention of getting attention. So I am not very sure how much of the financial help for Kalpana came out of genuine concern.
What the film industry needs is a solid health fund for ailing artistes, so we don’t have talented filmmakers dying for the want of the best 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 the Tamil-Telugu superstar Savitri’s earnings? Like Meena Kumari, Savitri hit the bottle and…well, you only have too see her bio-pic Mahanati to discover the similarities between the doomed lives of the 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 fall 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 have got the best medical treatment by right. She shouldn’t have had to depend on the largesse of some actors who make 65-80 crores 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 lay alone in her illness did she regret spending all her savings looking after her mentor and beloved Bhupen Hazarika? Or was she happy to have touched the lapels of love in an environment of singeing self-interest?
Does Deepika Padukone know she had a relative named Kalpana Lajmi who made timeless films like Ek Pal and Rudaali?