Kalpana Lajmi had an indefatigable zest for life. Her passion for living was evident in every word and every gesture. In her last years, she held on to the reins of her life doggedly, refusing to let go, despite all the pain. Yet, Kalpana Lajmi had that zest and passion snatched from her when life deserted her at 4.30 am on the morning of the September 23.
Kalpan, as she was fondly called by family and friends, held on long enough to see one of her dreams realised: the grand release of her book Bhupen Hazarika – As I knew Him. But, she passed on before the fulfilment of her next fondest hope – that of seeing the book made into a film.
Though in hospital after the removal of her second kidney – from which she never quite recovered – she was involved in planning the release function. She even recorded a video message for the audience gathered at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. It was a vibrant evening, attended by celebrities as well as those closest to Kalpana and Bhupen, replete with music and dance; a fitting tribute to Bhupenda, the legendary Assamese singer and musician, and equally a salute to Kalpan’s commitment and passion.
No one who has met her can forget her booming voice, her humour and her completely joyful laugh that rumbled up from the depths of her being. That, and her genuine interest in people.
There are two aspects that define Kalpan. One is her relationship with Bhupen Hazarika, 28 years her senior, which commenced when she fell completely in love with him as a young teenager of 17 years. It was a relationship which defied convention, defied words to describe it and in the end defied society and the world. Yet, it defined them both. It was not smooth sailing all the way; there were ups and downs, quarrels and recriminations too, not to mention the angst that suffused Kalpana for many years at Bhupen’s refusing to introduce her as his companion and partner; at the non-acceptance from his family and chunks of Assamese society.
After Bhupen passed away on November 5, 2011, and she went to Assam for his final rites, she reflects in her book that stands on the banks of his beloved Brahmaputra under a blue Assam sky, the thought struck her that “….Bhupen gave me in death, what he had not given me in life – his acceptance of me as his wife and consort.”
The second aspect is her art of filmmaking. She was the niece of one of India’s greatest filmmakers, Guru Dutt, who was the brother of her mother, Lalitha Lajmi, herself a renowned painter. Kalpana began her film career as an assistant to another of her relatives, Shyam Benegal, also one of India’s well-known filmmakers.
From the earliest days, her house was a centre for many of those associated with Guru Dutt to gather. This carried on when in Kalpan’s teens she was briefly involved with theatre and the house saw a stream of theatre personalities coming together.
Kalpana made only six feature films. Yet, each of them made a strong statement and had a stunning impact on audiences. And it was not only the topics and content of the films — all of which highlighted the plight of women (Ek Pal, Rudaali, Durga) or tackled taboo of subjects and those shunned by society (Darmiyaan) – it was also the impeccable manner in which the films had been executed: with stunning shot taking and detailed and nuanced at every level. Not to forget the music, mostly by Bhupen Hazarika.
In the last few years, she constantly voiced her wish to get back to filmmaking. If she ever chaffed at her illness it was because she could not focus or feel inspired enough to get back to work. It was like a restraint holding her back from getting on with her work, her life.
Farewell my friend, farewell.