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Obituary | Kalpana Lajmi, one of the earliest feminist voices

By September 25, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu  –  Namrata Joshi

Lajmi was amongst the early feminist filmmakers who came to the forefront during the so-called parallel cinema years.

Right from her first feature film — Ek Pal (1986) — Kalpana Lajmi carved out a distinct space for herself in Indian cinema. Based on a short story by Maitreyi Devi, the love triangle, with Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Farooque Sheikh in the lead, wasn’t just seen through the perspective of the woman but also gave her agency in the relationship(s). Lajmi was among the early feminist filmmakers who came to the forefront during the so-called parallel cinema years. Her spare but well-intentioned and significant body of work remained acutely focussed on gender.

It was her second film that put the spotlight on her, and perhaps the most persuasive feature film, Rudaali (1993). Like Ek Pal, this was also based on the work of a woman writer, the iconic Mahashweta Devi. It placed the issue of gender and patriarchy in the broader context of class and caste divides, through the tale of a woman who is unable to weep despite the many personal losses. Will her friendship with a Rudaali (professional mourner) help her to embrace her grief and lead her on to be what she was always destined to be? The friendship/sorority of women found an interesting representation through the characters of Bhikni and Shanichari, played by Rakhee Gulzar and Dimple Kapadia respectively. It brought Dimple the National Award for best actress.

The intersectionality of gender and sexuality, much discussed as a growing, compelling theme in contemporary cinema, found an early exploration at the hands of Lajmi in the path-breaking Darmiyaan (1997). Set in the fickle world of films, it is centred on a transgender Immi (played by Arif Zakaria) and his actor-mother Zeenat (Kiron Kher) who is in denial of him and of herself. Eventually, it is Immi who goes about helping her find and reclaim herself.

Lajmi’s films hereafter could not match up to the promise of the earlier crop. Her penchant for bringing mainstream actresses into the alternative zone, however, continued with the overly melodramatic and broad Daman (2001) in which she got Raveena Tandon to play the victim of domestic abuse and marital rape. It was followed by Sushmita Sen in Chingari (2006), as a prostitute taking on the hypocrisies and power play of the priestly class.

Hailing from the Guru Dutt–Shyam Benegal family (she was Dutt’s niece and Benegal was her maternal cousin), Lajmi started off by assisting Benegal. Gulzar had been a close associate, working on the script, dialogues and lyrics of her early films. But the biggest influence was her mentor and long-time partner and associate, late musician-filmmaker Dr. Bhupen Hazarika. It was through him that she got exposed to the North East. He produced her TV series, Lohit Kinare, based on famous short stories of the region. Later, she took a back seat to help get his work forefront.

Diagnosed with kidney cancer last year, the 64-year-old filmmaker-writer had been undergoing treatment at the Dhirubhai Ambani hospital. Her condition had been deteriorating over the last few months and she wasn’t even able to join in the launch of her book on Dr. Hazarika, Bhupen Hazarika: As I Knew Him, earlier this monthShe is survived by her mother, artiste Lalita Lajmi and brother Devdas Lajmi.

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