Durgabai Kamat: The first actress who changed the picture of Hindi cinema with her own terms
When Dadasaheb Phalke was making his first film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ (1913), he could not find a woman to play the role of Taramati, the wife of Harishchandra. Then he got this character done by an actor named Anna Salunke.
Acting in films is the dream of many people today, especially girls. However, today there are many such actresses in the Bollywood industry, who not only made a separate identity for themselves but also became the inspiration of many people. But, there was a time when girls were thrown out of the society to work in films. In that era of silent films, only men used to play the role of women.
When Dadasaheb Phalke was making his first film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ (1913), he could not find a woman to play the role of Taramati, the wife of Harishchandra. Then he got this character done by an actor named Anna Salunke. But without the woman, it was difficult to show his reality on screen. When Dadasaheb decided that he would cast only a woman in his film.
Dadasaheb Phalke’s second film was ‘Mohini Bhasmasur’, in which he needed 2 actresses to play Parvati and Mohini. Then a mother-daughter duo agreed to work in Dadasaheb’s film. Mother became the first female actress of Indian cinema and daughter the first female child actress.
We are talking about Durgabai Kamat and her daughter Kamla Bai Gokhale…
Durgabai Kamat (1899 – 17 May 1997) was a Marathi theater actress who became the first actress in Indian cinema. She studied till 7th standard and then married Anand Nanoskar, a history teacher at JJ School of Arts, Mumbai, but their marriage did not work out so they separated in 1903. Then Durgabai decided to raise her daughter alone.
The path of acting chosen for the daughter
There were very few employment options available to women at that time and it was even more difficult for a single mother to find a job because acting in film or theater was a taboo for women in the early 1900s. But Durgabai had to take care of her daughter as well as her. When did she decide to become an actress?
Starting with Traveling Theater Company
Durgabai first joined a traveling theater company, which used to act around the clock. Kamala was then 5 years old and learned to read, write, sing and dance during the stage show itself. Since acting was not seen as a ‘respectable’ job for a woman, Durgabai was ostracized by the Brahmin community. But, Durgabai did not deviate from the path of acting.
Dadasaheb gave his first break in films
Then he got an offer to act in Dadasaheb’s second film and he made his debut in Hindi cinema. Interestingly, Durgabai faced fierce opposition for working in the film, which was not women but men because in those days, only men played female roles. At that time most of the companies did not even hire women. It was against their rules.
For the first film, I had to fight with men, not women.
However, Durgabai persevered and created history by working in films. By the age of 15, Kamalabai became very famous in Indian cinema. After this many people from his family came to work in Indian cinema. Please tell that Durgabai is the maternal grandmother of veteran Marathi actor Chandrakant Gokhale, who learned dance and acting from her mother Kamalabai. At the same time, Durgabai is also the great-grandmother of actors Vikram Gokhale and Mohan Gokhale. Vikram Gokhale, who played Aishwarya Rai’s father in the film ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, is the grandson of Kamalabai.
Her courage marked the beginning of the presence of women in Indian cinema. Durgabai and her daughter Kamalabai proved by working in films that even though men did not want to see her become a heroine at that time, but the coming era will be as much for women as it is for men. He died on 17 May 1997 in Pune, Maharashtra.
Though sadly, his name has been largely forgotten. Durgabai Kamat was an incredible woman who made her profession in fire and fury. She was a single mother who decided to break the patriarchal boundaries created for women.