The credit for the First Female Actress of Indian Cinema goes to Durgabai Kamat who played the lead in Dadasaheb Phalke‘s second film, Mohini Bhasmasur (1913). Readers are aware that in Dadasaheb Phalke‘s first film Raja Harishchandra had no lady due to indifference of society towards cinema. Ladies role were performed by Male actors disguised as ladies.
However down foreign countries, ladies were working in films and Dadasaheb Phalke was aware without women working in films the success of cinema would not be possible hence for his second film Mohini Bhasmasur, Dadasaheb Phalke traveled around India folding hands and requesting ladies to work in cinema but none nodded. Cinema in those days was a taboo, particularly for ladies, it was looked down upon by society. The apathy for cinema was so much that even the lowest of low professions, including the prostitutes and nautch girls declined to act in cinema.
Well, Dadasaheb was determined to find an actress as the subject of his film demanded an actress to play the title role of Mohini (an enchanting beautiful lady). Thus after a laborious hunt, Dadasaheb finally found a widow Durgabai Kamat with her single daughter Kamlabai Gokhale. Interestingly, Dadasaheb needed two ladies hence he cast Durgabai Kamat as leading lady Parvati, while her daughter Kamlabai Kamat as Mohini, thus both mother-daughter won fame as India’s first actresses to act in Indian cinema.
Durgabai was married to Anand Nanoskar. They had Kamlabai but the marriage ended in divorce and Durgabai raised Kamlabai on her own. Initially, life was hard as she had to hunt for a job to survive. In those days a single mother had to face the wrath of society. She either had to do domestic help in houses or turn prostitute. While she was at the cross-road of choosing a job to survive she decided to join a traveling theatre company. Though she was able to make a living but she was not able to educate her daughter Kamlabai. Nevertheless being self-educated she taught her.
While doing theatre she was noticed by Dadasaheb who offered her and her daughter role in his film and a handsome amount, an amount she had never earned in her entire life!
Interestingly after the success of Mohini Bhasmasur, both Durgabai and Kamlabai became successful but life was not easy. Besides, facing the fury of society the mother-daughter faced opposition and threat by the men from the film fraternity. The men who played female roles created hue and cry hence many filmmakers feared to cast Durgabai and Kamlabai in their films. However, Durgabai and Kamlabai fought tooth and nail and watching their fame and celebrity many more ladies joined the cinema.
While Durgabai Kamat did not enjoy much fame her daughter Kamlabai acted till the late ’80s. Her last film was Gehrayee in 1980. She married Raghunathrao Gokhale. She had three children. One her child was famous actor Chandrakant Gokhale, father of noted actor Vikram Gokhale and Mohan Gokhale.
She died on 17 May 1997, in Pune, Maharashtra, at the age of 98.