Kalpana Iyer: ‘I regret not getting married’
These days, Kalpana Iyer — the dancing queen, “item girl” , “cameo star”, call her what you will of ’80s Bollywood hits such as Disco Dancer, Lootmaar, Armaan — says she’s stopped being a “worrier” , and become more “accepting”.
“No more of the ‘kal kya hoga?’ kind of stuff,” she says. “I’m at peace.”
She would know: there’s no one quite like her when it comes to reinventing the wheel. From being one of the most desired faces on the silver screen, she’s now restaurant manager in an Indian restaurant in Dubai’s older quarters. From twinkle toes in haute hots to a sari-clad hospitality hostess. From drop-dead gorgeous 34-26-34 sexiness to matronly homeliness.
Kalpana Iyer, in her early 60s now, has been living — and working — in Dubai since 1999. She’s been dropped off to my place (close to her workplace) in a staff van, and, once this interview is over, she intends to take the Metro back to her place in the other part of town.
The grey-haired, portly woman sitting opposite me is a far cry from the siren I used to gawk at whenever I managed to sneak a peek at Bollywood offerings on VCR as a starry-eyed teenager. The diva who was electrifying in song-and-dance mise en scènes such as Koi yahan aha naache naache and Ramba ho, and held her own in compelling darker-shades-invested roles (her critically-acclaimed performance in Anjaam, as the “evil prison warden”, remains her most challenging assignment), now says: “I’ve let my hair remain grey and come to terms with my weight issues — I have thyroid, what to do?”
Cut to her earlier statement of being at peace finally. There was a storm before the quiet. “I was always misunderstood, you know, as the ‘it-girl’ personifying glamour and oomph. A Miss India, a model, an actress. Everyone assumed I was bold but I was actually very simple… God-fearing, always concerned about ruffling the feathers of my conservative Tam Bram family who were quiet and simple, and into Carnatic music… telling too many white lies to protect too many people.”
Pause. And then, “There are some things you do out of josh not hosh. There was nobody to guide me, I didn't come from a filmi background, had to learn the ropes by myself.”
She admits she was a little slow to catch on that her PR was not strong. “My work had been my PR: I should gone one step forward, done better networking — without which one could not have survived in the industry.”
She moved away from the Bollywood circuit at a time when her personal life was going through an emotional vacuum. “The industry had developed a ‘Kalpana does not exist any more’ mindset by then... I was working in TV serials but none of that seemed to help. I needed work to help get over my emotional anguish. I needed to get out.”
That was the beginning of her reinvention. She drew inspiration from her mother. “When I embarked on my Bollywood career, my otherwise strict mother became flexible because the money coming in was important. I needed to bend my rules too, and make a new start. I had to do it for the sake of my family who were suffering because I was suffering… for my sister, who was a single parent and depended on me.”
Come 1999, she took up an offer in Dubai in hospitality, and began a new chapter. “Dubai made me what I am today. Started a new chapter without anything. From zero.”
It wasn't easy. For six months, every day she wanted to go back to the arc lights she had left behind. “I was a film star doing a regular job. Whenever people asked me ‘Yeh kya kar rahi ho?’, I used to feel sad and wonder, ‘What have I done? What have I left behind?... But, I learnt how resilient I could be. I became an integral part of the company I joined -- thanks to the support I got from my boss, who was my rock and a friend.”
Today, she is working for another friend — at Nizam’s in Ambassador Hotel. And she’s finally come a full circle. “If I want to have my glass of wine, let me do it in peace. If I want to have a cigarette, let me smoke in peace. Let me be. I won’t tread on your toes, you don’t tread on mine please! That’s been my coming to age in Dubai… and realise I cannot be God’s good human being all the time, give me a break.”
Does she see herself fitting into the current (Mumbai/Bollywood) landscape? “110 per cent!” she asserts. “Bollywood has changed for the better, there is more system in place, it’s more professional, better organised and I’m totally impressed with the younger crop of actors and actresses — they are doing a damn fine job… And if someone’s listening then please tell them that I’m available and will be very happy to work again — if I get the right role.”
So, what are the lessons life has taught yesteryears’ best-known siren?
“Live life as honestly as you can… it’s painful but totally worth it in the end. Be kind to others: we really don't know what their pain or grief is… Be less judgemental: there must be some reason why someone is a certain way. Be positive, get rid of bitterness… move on. Be grateful — because life gives you only that many chances. Learn from your mistakes. And yes, learn to be grateful, say thank you… as often as you can.”
The one abiding regret she shares before she leaves my place is: “What I could have done, should have done — something that even today gives me a slight twinge of hurt — is the fact I never got married. I know I would have been a wonderful wife and homemaker. It would have completed my story.”
Never say never, I say. Is she open to marriage still? “Of course I am! If I meet a decent man who’s looking for a companion zindagi bhar ke liye, I’ll agree in a shot… but it cannot be frivolous. Koi achcha mile na! Hain koi?”
Then, as she gets up to catch the evening Metro, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she’d caught a Mumbai local after Disco Dancer released.
(Sushmita Bose is a former Features Editor of Khaleej Times, Dubai)
Updated Date: Apr 12, 2019 12:47:10 IST
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