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Kalpana Lajmi Is Not Forgotten

This morning I spent time listening to the late much-missed Bhupen Hazarika’s compositions in Ek Pal, a film that introduced me to the wonderful directorial acumen of my dear friend Kalpana Lajmi.

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.

Yup, Kalpana is 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.

After Ek Pal came the stunning Rudaali. I was hooked.

Today the industry has all but forgotten her as she lies seriously ill in and out hospital. No hope of recovery. No money to pay 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 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 comes out 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 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 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 lapels love in an environment of singeing self-interest?

Does Deepika Padukone know she has a relative named Kalpana Lajmi who could do with a kind touch? Not glamorous enough,is it?

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