Kuldip Kaur: HARJAP SINGH AUJLA
Bombay's Pioneer Film Actress
Actress Kuldip Kaur's life story cannot be separated from erstwhile united Punjab's premier twin cities of Lahore and Amritsar.
She was the daughter of a wealthy landlord family of Punjab and the daughter-in-law of the grandson of Ranjit Singh's daredevil military commander, General Sham Singh Attariwala.
Her in-laws lived in the village of Attari. Located on Amritsar district's border with Lahore district, just off the Grand Trunk Road, it was 18 miles away from both Amritsar and Lahore.
Kuldip Kaur was a very shy and simple, beautiful Sikh woman.
Her rich landlord husband, Mohinder Singh Sidhu (also called Mohinder Singh Pompa), was a spoiled chap. He was fond of enjoying the good life offered by Punjab's both premier cities of Lahore and Amritsar. He became a member of the Amritsar Club, the Lumsden Club, and the Service Club - all in Amritsar - as well as the Gymkhana Club and the Golf Club, both in Lahore.
He would love to have lunch in one club and dinner in another, sometimes in a different city. He was fond of owning European and American cars. Amongst the smaller cars he had owned were a Renault, a Baby Morris and an Austin. Amongst his favourite larger cars were the top models of Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and Studebaker.
The car dealers of Lahore and Amritsar always spread a red carpet in his honour.
He hardly spent a day without visiting either Lahore or Amritsar. He was a good friend of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala and visited his French style palace - modelled on the Versailles - as well as the magnificent Jagatjit Club several times during the winters. During the summers the Maharaja himself was often on a tour of France and other European countries and was seldom available in Kapurthala.
Kuldip Kaur was born sometime between 1926 and 1928 and brought up like a princess. Her spoiled Sardar husband wanted his wife to be like a modern westernized lady. He wanted his wife to learn swimming and rub shoulders with the club-going English elite based in Lahore and Amritsar.
Once exposed to the club culture, Kuldip Kaur also started getting a taste of its dark side. Since Lahore was a film city, Kuldip Kaur started dreaming about becoming a film actress.
According to one story, Kuldip Kaur started admiring the professional qualities of actor Pran Nath, who was in film acting in Lahore since 1940, when he successfully performed the role of a hero in Punjabi film "Yamla Jutt" (The Simple Peasant).
By July and August of 1947, communal violence erupted into a full-fledged exercise in ethnic cleansing, with Muslims on one side and Sikhs and Hindus on the other. Both Lahore and Amritsar were engulfed in the worst sectarian violence in recent history.
Both Pran and Kuldip Kaur were made to leave Lahore in a jiffy, leaving virtually every belonging behind. Her own village being right on the border was also not peaceful. So Kuldip Kaur left straight for Bombay. According to one story, in order to impress Pran, Kuldip Kaur decided to bring Pran's stranded car from Lahore to Bombay.
In a gesture of unprecedented daredevilry, she travelled from the safety of Amritsar to Lahore and drove Pran's car first to Amritsar and then all the way to Bombay, where she handed over the keys to a surprised but grateful Pran.
After leaving for Bombay, Kuldip Kaur's contact with her parents and in-laws got diminished. On arrival in Bombay, Kuldip Kaur made up her mind to plunge headlong into the film industry. She was prepared to act in Hindi/Urdu as well as Punjabi films.
The experts of film industry were of the opinion that her large piercing eyes and her flat chin made her an ideal choice for the role of a vamp.
The first ranking heroines of the time included Naseem Bano, Madhubala, Nargis, Suraiya and Nutan. Other heroines included Binarai, Shyama, Nimmi, Nirupa Roy, Meena Shori, Nigar Sultana, Veena and Kamini Kaushal. There was a shortage of ladies willing to perform the role of vamps.
One of Kuldip Kaur's first films was a Punjabi blockbuster "Chaman" (1948). Within the same year Kuldip Kaur acted in two Hindi/Urdu films “Ziddi” and “Grahasthi“. All her 1948 films did well. After that she never looked back and went from strength to strength. At one stage Kuldip Kaur was so busy in her film roles that for a long duration she did not visit Punjab.
In 1949, Kuldip Kaur worked in at least two films "Ek Thi Ladki" and "Kaneez". "Ek Thi Ladki" was a blockbuster. Music Director Vinod composed some great tunes for this movie. "Kaneez" did not do too well.
In 1950, Kuldip Kaur acted in two great musical Hindi movies "Samadhi" and "Adhi Raat" and did two Punjabi movies "Madaari" and "Chhai".
1951 was a great year for her: she played the roles of vamps in six movies - "Stage", "Rajput", "Nai Zindagi", "Ek Nazar", "Afsana" and "Mukhra".
Her role in film "Afsana" received critical acclaim.
1952 was another great year for Kuldip Kaur. She worked in four movies - "Shisham", "Nau Bahar", "Baiju Bawra" and "Anjaam". Again her role was highly praised in what became an all-time classic, "Baiju Bawra".
In 1953 again, Kuldip Kaur had four films - "Mashooka", "Baaz", "Anarkali" and "Aabshar".
Of these, "Anarkali" was a super hit and her role stole the limelight.
1954 proved another great year. She was featured in three movies - "Lal Pari", "Gul Bahar" and "Daak Babu".
1955 was one of her busiest professional years. She played the bad girl's role in "Teer Andaz", "Miss Coca Cola", "Mast Qalandar" and "Jashan".
In 1956, things slowed down a bit. She worked in two films, but none was released. Two of Kuldip Kaur starrers spilled over into the new year and were released in 1957. These were "Sheroo" and "Ek Saal". In 1958 Kuldip Kaur had her roles in two films "Sahara" and "Panchyat".
In 1959, she did three films - "Pyaar Ka Rishta", "Mohar" and "Jagir". Out of these, one film, "Mohar," was a great musical. Its music composed by Madan Mohan was simply outstanding.
When Kuldip had fewer Hindi films in hand, she worked in Punjabi films.
1960 started as a reasonably good year for Kuldip Kaur. She had a Hindi film, "Maa Baap," and a Punjabi film, "Yamla Jutt".
But during this very year, her life was cut short when she got some thorns in her feet and legs and she pulled those out by herself. True to her character of a daredevil woman, she did not seek medical advice immediately. Her sores became not only septic, but she contracted tetanus too, which was then incurable.
Kuldip Kaur died in 1960.
She had led a quick paced life and her end came as abruptly.
August 22, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Shishir Krishna Sharma (Mumbai, India), August 22, 2012, 10:24 PM.
Well researched and a great write up indeed. Lots of new information, especially about her personal life. Thanks.
2: Satish Chopra (Delhi, India), August 23, 2012, 4:28 AM.
A comprehensive write-up on a completely forgotten star. Saadat Hasan Manto, the celebrated Urdu writer of Punjab, has also has written a fabulous chapter on Kuldip Kaur.
3: Ishtiaq Ahmed (Stockholm, Sweden), August 29, 2012, 3:17 AM.
This is an excellent tribute to Kuldip Kaur. The Punjabi contribution to Bollywood continues to expand and no doubt Kuldip Kaur's place in that list is a distinguished one. That she hailed from a village just on the border between East and West Punjab renders her a symbol of a Punjab which is no more but which was far more interesting and romantic.