“She was suffering from chronic kidney disease and liver failure. She was on dialysis and in and out of hospital for three years,” her brother Dev Lajmi told PTI.
Women in Lajmi’s films possessed an inner core of strength which allowed them to negotiate matters of heart on their own terms. In Ek Pal (1986), her debut feature, the much-married Priyam (Shabana Azmi) bears a child from her lover. Lajmi’s protagonists fought back hard when wronged. In Daman, Durga (Raveena Tandon) ends up killing her vicious husband. In Chingari, the wronged sex-worker Basanti (Sushmita Sen) avenges her lover’s death slaying the rapacious priest.
Her women were unconventional too. Rakhee (Bhikhni) is a professional mourner in Rudaali. Dimple Kapadia’s touching performance as a woman who’s unable to weep won her the national award for best actress in Rudaali.
So did Tandon for Daman, who tweeted on Sunday, “You will be missed Kalpanaji. Was not your time to go. But may your heart now be at peace. Those days while shooting Daman will be a treasured memory.”
In Darmiyan, the Mumbai-born Lajmi explored the relatively unchartered terrain of alternative gender. A niece of the famed filmmaker Guru Dutt, she assisted Shyam Benegal in films like Bhumika and Mandi, before producing and directing Ek Pal.
Lajmi also assisted Assamese cultural icon Bhupen Hazarika striking a creative collaboration with him. “She was passionate about her work. She was Bhupen da’s companion and looked after him,” said noted filmmaker and Lajmi’s friend, Jahnu Barua. Hazarika passed away in 2011. Lajmi’s memoir, Bhupen Hazarika – As I Knew Him, provides an up, close and personal look into their long-standing relationship.
Hazarika composed music for most of her films. The songs are instantly recognizable for their folksy flavour. Some like Jara dheere jara dheeme leke jaiho doli (Ek Pal) and Dil hoom hoom kare (Rudaali), both in Hazarika’s evocative voice, endure in popular memory.
“There’s a distinctive flavour of Assam in her movies,” Barua said. Ek Pal was shot in the north-eastern state. Before turning to features, Lajmi had also filmed a bunch of documentaries such as Along the Brahmaputra. And one of her most remembered work is Lohit Kinare, a 1988 DD serial adapted from Assamese short stories.
Lajmi loved adapting literature for cinema. Ek Pal’s story was penned by poet-novelist Maitreyi Devi; Rudaali was based on litterateur Mahashweta Devi’s story and Chingari was scripted from Hazarika’s work, Postman and Prostitute.
“She was extremely well read and very literary in her outlook. She was also script-friendly but not very comfortable with the physical process of shooting,” recalls Arif Zakaria, who made his film debut in Darmiyan. Zakaria adds, “I will always be in deep gratitude of her for taking the risk in casting me.” Shah Rukh Khan was initially slotted for the role.
Benegal told PTI, “She was a niece of mine. She was a very fine filmmaker. She went through a long period of illness, it is tragic. She was much young to go”.