Film history

‘I will fight till the end’: Filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi’s lonely battle against health and neglect

The ‘Rudaali’ director has been battling cancer of the kidney for several months.

I was in school when I heard Kalpana Lajmi speaking on stage for the first time. Her voice, I was told, was quite unusual for a woman – it lacked the sweetness required of her gender. I wanted to ask her if she had thought of singing with her long-time companion, the Assamese cultural legend Bhupen Hazarika, and I wondered whether doing so would have altered her journey.

Artists live on in public memory for as long as they keep reaping rewards. But, when it comes to nurturing a wounded tree, public memory can be deliberately amnesiac.

What else explains the country’s neglect of the award-winning Lajmi, once celebrated for making women-centric movies such as Rudali (1993) and Daman (2001)?

For about six months now, 61-year-old Lajmi, who was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney, has been bed-ridden and undergoing to dialysis every other day at Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani hospital. Though celebrity donations have so far helped her keep up with the expensive treatment – which costs her about Rs 2.5 lakhs a month – she remains in need of financial assistance and has received little by way of help or attention from people and the media.

On Saturday, All Assam Students Union leaders met Lajmi in Mumbai and offered her financial support.

Play
Dil Hoom Hoom Kare, Rudaali (1993).

Lajmi was at the centre of media attention – not always favourable – when Hazarika was alive. When he died on November 5, 2011, and details of his will were published, many in Assam were enraged that most of his fortune had been bequeathed to Lajmi, including two houses and plots of land, even though she was not officially related to him. Hazarika and Lajmi had been together for more than three decades, but were never formally married.

In his will, the Padma Bhushan award-winning musician said, “Kalpana Lajmi is my business partner since 1977 and she took the entire responsibility for my tremendous career rise and prior to her joining me, I was penniless and had only Rs 35 in hand.” The singer also passed on all responsibility of the Dr Bhupen Hazarika Cultural Trust to Lajmi.

As sections of Hazarika’s family took strong exception to the will, the media’s insensitive reportage on the issue turned a matter pertaining to art, something that transcends boundaries of caste, creed, sex, family and geography, into a bitter tussle over land.

During Hazarika’s lifetime, the duo had been the subject of much gossip, particularly in Assam. The 28-year age gap between the two, their decision to live together but not marry, and the fact that Hazarika had been married before and was separated from his wife, made them grist for the rumour mill. As a woman who made unconventional choices and was in the public eye, Lajmi was the predominant target of that antagonism.

Breaking convention

The daughter of painter Lalita Lajmi and niece of filmmaker Guru Dutt, Lajmi spent much of her time in West Bengal. She started working as an assistant in Hazarika’s team when she was 17 years old.

Her family members gradually warmed up to Hazarika. Lajmi feels their opposition would have been stronger had he not been a man of the arts. After much media speculation about their relationship, Lajmi, in 2009, spoke up about why they had decided not to marry. In an interview to IANS, the director said that when he turned 80, Hazarika, who too had been sceptical about the institution, offered to marry her, but she turned the proposal down. “May be he wanted to give me the status of wife, but I was not interested,” she said at the time. “For me, the relationship, the trust and the respect that we share with each other are more important than marriage.”

Lajmi also said in that interview that her career had taken a back seat as she spent most of her time tending to Hazarika in his later years, when he was ailing. In her active years, Lajmi made the critically acclaimed films Ek Pal (1986), Rudaali (1993), Darmiyaan (1997) and Daman (2001), but her movies were not without flaws. For instance, her depiction of the tantric or Shakti model of femininity as a supreme force in some films has been the subject of much debate.

But for the most part, Lajmi’s movies were known for featuring realistic and strong female characters who were victimised by the patriarchal, caste-based set-up.

For instance, Lajmi’s debut feature Ek Pal, based on a short story by Bengali novelist and poet Maitryi Devi and starring Shabana Azmi, centres on the inner lives of the wives of rich tea estate owners. It also tackles a taboo subject – a woman’s sexual desire, loneliness and an extra-marital affair.

Play
Ek Pal (1986).

Hazarika’s jajabor or wanderer lifestyle and his bohemian nature that was appreciated and even glorified across the state came at the cost of his failing health and hurt his finances. As his physical condition worsened and money was dire, Hazarika appeared in an advertisement for Star Cement. This seeming commercial turn upset many in Assam and the local media held Lajmi unfairly responsible for his business decisions.

Lajmi maintains that these accusations were baseless. She told Scroll.in that we have for long romanticised the idea of artists who bleed for their art. “It is not just true for Assam, but India as a whole,” she said. “We only start to respect an artist after he/she is dead and gone; there is no respect for the flesh-blood-artist when alive.”

Lajmi did bring some sense of order in Hazarika’s life in his later years at the cost of her own health. Her fierce dedication towards Hazarika was often misconstrued as an attempt to alienate the artist, fondly known as Bhupsu, from his state and his followers.

“I will fight till the end, but Bhupsu must be lonely up there; perhaps I must join him soon,” Lajmi told Scroll.in.

With inputs from Jutika Mahanta.

Play
Kaisa Ghum Hai, Darmiyaan (1997).
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Not just for experts: How videography is poised for a disruption

Digital solutions are making sure it’s easier than ever to express your creativity in moving images.

Where was the last time you saw art? Chances are on a screen, either on your phone or your computer. Stunning photography and intricate doodles are a frequent occurrence in the social feeds of many. That’s the defining feature of art in the 21st century - it fits in your pocket, pretty much everyone’s pocket. It is no more dictated by just a few elite players - renowned artists, museum curators, art critics, art fair promoters and powerful gallery owners. The digital age is spawning creators who choose to be defined by their creativity more than their skills. The negligible incubation time of digital art has enabled experimentation at staggering levels. Just a few minutes of browsing on the online art community, DeviantArt, is enough to gauge the scope of what digital art can achieve.

Sure enough, in the 21st century, entire creative industries are getting democratised like never before. Take photography, for example. Digital photography enabled everyone to capture a memory, and then convert it into personalised artwork with a plethora of editing options. Apps like Instagram reduced the learning curve even further with its set of filters that could lend character to even unremarkable snaps. Prisma further helped to make photos look like paintings, shaving off several more steps in the editing process. Now, yet another industry is showing similar signs of disruption – videography.

Once burdened by unreliable film, bulky cameras and prohibitive production costs, videography is now accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a decent Internet bandwidth. A lay person casually using social media today has so many video types and platforms to choose from - looping Vine videos, staccato Musical.lys, GIFs, Instagram stories, YouTube channels and many more. Videos are indeed fast emerging as the next front of expression online, and so are the digital solutions to support video creation.

One such example is Vizmato, an app which enables anyone with a smartphone to create professional-looking videos minus the learning curve required to master heavy, desktop software. It makes it easy to shoot 720p or 1080p HD videos with a choice of more than 40 visual effects. This fuss- free app is essentially like three apps built into one - a camcorder with live effects, a feature-rich video editor and a video sharing platform.

With Vizmato, the creative process starts at the shooting stage itself as it enables live application of themes and effects. Choose from hip hop, noir, haunted, vintage and many more.

The variety of filters available on Vizmato
The variety of filters available on Vizmato

Or you can simply choose to unleash your creativity at the editing stage; the possibilities are endless. Vizmato simplifies the core editing process by making it easier to apply cuts and join and reverse clips so your video can flow exactly the way you envisioned. Once the video is edited, you can use a variety of interesting effects to give your video that extra edge.

The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.
The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.

You can even choose music and sound effects to go with your clip; there’s nothing like applause at the right moment, or a laugh track at the crack of the worst joke.

Or just annotated GIFs customised for each moment.

Vizmato is the latest offering from Global Delight, which builds cross-platform audio, video and photography applications. It is the Indian developer that created award-winning iPhone apps such as Camera Plus, Camera Plus Pro and the Boom series. Vizmato is an upgrade of its hugely popular app Game Your Video, one of the winners of the Macworld Best of Show 2012. The overhauled Vizmato, in essence, brings the Instagram functionality to videos. With instant themes, filters and effects at your disposal, you can feel like the director of a sci-fi film, horror movie or a romance drama, all within a single video clip. It even provides an in-built video-sharing platform, Popular, to which you can upload your creations and gain visibility and feedback.

Play

So, whether you’re into making the most interesting Vines or shooting your take on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, experience for yourself how Vizmato has made video creation addictively simple. Android users can download the app here and iOS users will have their version in January.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vizmato and not by the Scroll editorial team.