Kamala Kotnis had a successful career during the 1940s, most prominently remembered for starring alongside Dev Anand in his debut Hum Ek Hain (1946).
Kamala was born in 1928 in Hyderabad to her biological parents – a Telugu mother and a British father. She was adopted by a zamindar family and spent her childhood in Kurnool but later they shifted to Madras. She was a film enthusiast as a child and her dreams came true when their neighbour China Kameswar Rao Dronamraju offered her an entry into the film world. Despite her father’s hesitation, she made her debut at the age of 12 as the second lead in the 1940 film Jeevana Jyothi. The film also starred Narayana Rao C H, and C Krishnaveni.
In 1942, she appeared in Chittajalu Pulayya’s film Bala Nagamma starring Kanchanamala, Govindrajulu Subba Rao and Banda Kanakalingeshwara Rao. She played the younger role of Suryanagamma. Some of her consequent films are Bhagyalakshmi (1943), Sri Seeta Rama Jananam (1944), Chenchu Lakshmi (1943), Tahsildar (1944), Hum Ek Hain (1946), Gokul (1946), Mera Suhag (1947), Aage Badho (1947) and Sati Ahilya (1949).
Chenchu Lakshmi was a bilingual film made in Tamil and Telugu by S. Soundararajan where she got the opportunity to play the lead actress opposite Narayana Rao C H. The same lead pair was also seen in the Thasildar, and both the films proved to be highly successful in the box office.
Following this success, she started receiving offers for Hindi films, and was signed by Prabhat Studios in a five year contract. In 1946, Dev Anand made his debut with Hum Ek Hain where he starred opposite Kamala. Apparently, Karan Dewan was considered for the role initially but the studio didn’t like the pairing with Kamala. Kamala was asked to pick an actor to star opposite her from a lineup of photographs and she chose Dev Anand.
On the personal front, she was married to Pandurang Kotnnis, brother of renowned cinematographer D S Kotnis, in 1943. The marriage ended after her last film when he stole her jewellery and wealth while abandoning the relationship. She later married Chandra Dev Prakash Sinha. She spent her time pursuing her passion for tennis at this stage of her life. In a tragic accident, Mr Sinha drowned in the Periyar Lake in 1967. Her niece, Latha, was inspired and encouraged by Kamala to join the films who became a successful actress in South Indian films and television.
Kamala could get herself around the town as she knew how to drive both a car and a motorcycle, something that wasn’t common for women back then.
She was known to have enjoyed the work of C Pullaiah and Y V Rao from the Telugu film industry and her favourite Telugu film was Gruhalakshmi (1938). She was also a fan of Ramola, Ashok Kumar, Nagayya, Tyrone Power and Betty Davis. As luck would have it, she acted in Mera Suhag (1947) which was highly influenced by Power’s Blood and Sand (1941).
Kamala passed away in 2000 in Madras.