Kamlabai Gokhale was the first Indian movie actress, along with her mother Durgabai Kamat. The Era when social restrictions were imposed on women, Kamlabai achieved success as a stage actress and also become the first lady of the Indian cinema.
Early Life & Background
Kamlabai Gokhale was born as Kamlabai Kamath. She was the daughter of Anand Nanoskar who was a professor in J.J. School of Arts and Duragabai Kamat, who also debuted in Indian movies along with Kamlabai. In 1903, when Kamlabai was a child, her parents got separated. That’s the reason why Durgabai decided to join a travelling theatre company. Kamlabai never went to school, but as her mother was educated, she used to teach her at home.
Journey in the Industry
Kamlabai started her acting career by performing at a stage show at the age of four. Around 1912-1913, Kamlabai bagged the lead role in Dadasaheb Phalke’s movie ‘Mohini Bhasmasur’. In the same movie, Durgabai was roped in the role of Parvati. In the early years, Dadasaheb Phalke use to introduce young male Salunke to play a female lead in his movies like ‘Raja Harishchandra’. It was due to lack of actresses in that era.
Kamlabai became a celebrity at the age of 15. Kamlabai then got married to the actor Raghunathrao Gokhale who uses to play female roles in ‘Kirloskar Natak Company’. Later, Raghunathrao moved to his brother’s company where Kamlabai and Durgabai were employed and soon the young couple was cast as the new lead pair of the company. They mostly did a historic and mythological based stage shows. In those days, people use to advertise their movies through handbills and sometimes, Kamlabai and Raghunathrao used to accompany the distributers.
Kamlabai struggled a lot in her career as women were not allowed to move freely in those years. After the death of her husband, Kamlabai use to work hard. She use to earn Rs. 225 and other expenses were paid by the company. Even her children use to sell comics and use to earn two annas at that time. During her plays like ‘Janta Janardhan’ and ‘Manapman’ where she played Anadibai, people used to wait outside the theatre in Pune with stones in their hands to hit her.
Kamlabai had worked with companies like ‘Manohar Street Sangeet Natak Mandal’ and ‘Natya Kala Prasarak’. In 1930, Kamlabai worked under the freedom fighter Veer Savarkar in the play ‘Ushapp’. She had also acted in a Kannada play ‘Lanka Dahan’.
In later years, Kamlabai worked in Hindi movies like ‘Bhool Bhulaiya’ in 1933, ‘Prabhu Ka Pyara’ in 1936, ‘Chabukwali’ in 1938, ‘Stunt King’ in 1944, ‘Haqdar’ in 1946, ‘Sona Chandi’ in 1946, ‘Aladdin Aur Jadui Chirag’ in 1952, ‘Hulchul’ in 1971 and few more. She had overall worked in around 35 movies and her last film was ‘Gehrayee’ in 1980. In 1992, she was seen in a documentary which was based on her life.
Kamlabai got married to Raghunathrao Gokhale and had three children Lalji & Chandrakant Gokhale. Her son Chandrakant Gokhale is the father of noted actor Vikram Gokhale. Raghunathrao died when Kamlabai was just of 25 years and pregnant with her third child.
Some of the popular movies of Kamalabai Gokhale
‘Mohini Bhasmasur’ in 1913
‘Devi Devayani Sharmistha’ in 1931
‘Rajrani Meera’ in 1933
‘Mirza Sahiban’ in 1933
‘Chandrahasa’ in 1933
‘Ambarish’ in 1934
‘Bikhare Moti’ in 1935
‘Prabhu Ka Pyara’ in 1936
‘Street Singer’ in 1938
‘Sona Chandi’ in 1946
‘Haqdar’ in 1946
‘Aladdin Aur Jadui Chirag’ in 1952
‘Hulchul’ in 1971
‘Ek Nazar’ in 1972
‘Gehrayee’ in 1980