The Iconic Legend—Meena Kumari | News India Times

Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, one of her many award-winning performances between Baiju Bawra and Pakeezah. Photo: Publicity Photo

Half a century has passed since Meena Kumari left the world on March 31. But his outstanding performances, impeccable personality and magical charisma endure as timeless memories.

Meena Kumari was a star in the days of Nargis, Nutan, Vyjayanthimala, Madhubala and Geeta Bali. To shine among them for over 15 years as a heroine and later as a star performer was no ordinary feat.

Considered a tragedian (tragedy stalks more of her personal life, however), Meena Kumari was also effortless for comedy, as proven – but sadly overlooked in the age of typography – by a film like Miss Maryand to light and powerful performances in artists like Azaad and Kohinoor.


In Hindi cinema, most images are not consciously sucked in but arrive through one or more hits. And so it was that the image of Meena Kumari became that of the woman behind the aching voice that cracked with emotion, or the tear-laden eyes in an unblemished face, once fame came with Vijay Bhatt. Baiju Bawra (1952), followed by Parineeta, Trail, Ek Hi Raasta, Sharda, Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan and others and even this small appearance in Do Bigha Zamin.

Meena’s date with the camera, like so many great artists from Nargis to Alia Bhatt, began as Baby Mahjabeen, in Vijay Bhatt. leather face (1939), when she was only five years old, and had to support her family when her father, Ali Bux, a theater artist, fell on bad days. She was a child, a teenage entertainer, and the second or leading lead actress in 24 films.

But after his breakthrough in Baiju Bawraher 25th film released in 1952, while the 1950s were mixed in terms of tear quotient for the star, Meena also mastered melancholy in the 1960s: early Dil Apna Aur Preet Paraishe assumed the role of the Sultana of Sorrows with Aarti, Main Chup Rahungi, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Bheegi Raat, Dil Ek Mandir, Pyar Ka Sagar, Chitralekha, Benazir, Kaajal, purnima, Phool Aur Patthar and Hand Bhi Ladki Hoonthanks to most of them being big hits.

Meena’s actual heartaches were no less of a mark, despite her undeniable fame. Meena grew estranged from her father from the time he fell in love with their maid and she clung to filmmaker Kamal Amrohi and married him in 1954, but within a decade the marriage started to show cracks. They separated in 1964, leaving his magnum opus Pakeezahlaunched in 1954, and already re-shot in color and later in Cinemascope, broken down.

After her separation from her husband, Meena found emotional anchors in Dharmendra, filmmaker Saawan Kumar and Gulzar, but trends had shifted towards formulaic entertainment, and from 1967 Meena quickly lost ground with successive failures. and had to move on to inconsequential character roles in Abhilasha, Jawab, Mehboob Ki Mehndi and even the 1972 super hit Dushmun.

Her patch-up with her husband and returning to work on Pakeezah in 1968, the insistence of a good friend Sunil Dutt had less to do with a desire to revive her stardom than the fact that Meena knew she had not long to live. But what she realized (probably unwittingly) was an image of a martyr, who was doomed to self-destruction only because life and its associates had not treated her kindly, which drove her to become an alcoholic. Alcohol had, however, entered her life as a medical prescription (a pinch of brandy) instead of the sleeping pills she was taking due to her chronic insomnia. After her marriage failed, she took to drinking beyond healthy limits.

Meena even immortalized her life’s experiences in an audio disc of poems called Tanha Chandinexplicably under the pseudonym of Naaz.

And the fragile beauty finally fought fate and defeated it to complete Pakeezah, shooting some close-up sequences because she was unable to stand or walk, with Kamal Amrohi using duplicates (even new hotshot Padma Khanna!) in long shots. The film opened on February 4, 1972 and was a huge hit, even as Meena fought for life in a hospital where she died on March 31, 1972, her bills unpaid. Ironically, when she was born, her father couldn’t afford to pay the bills either!

Pakeezah was so huge that Saawan Kumar billed his latest release, his movie Gomti Ke Kinare (in late 1972), then starring Numero Uno Mumtaz, as “Meena Kumari’s Last Movie” (although she had a mediocre character role). Sohrab Modi even paid tribute, a film called Meena Kumari Ki Amar Kahani with a lookalike starlet in 1981. But connoisseurs prefer to call it 1971 Single apnea like its real tour de force.

The film was actually the last she shot for, although she was too sick to sync the Salil Chowdhury-composed beauty of Lata, Roz akeli aaye. As an old widowed governess caught between rival gangsters Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha and exploited by callous parents, Meena has finally proven, under the direction of friend in need Gulzar in her directorial debut, that we had lost one of the greatest actresses of Hindi cinema before time, at only 58 years old.

But Meena’s last date with entertainment came six years later: Leke angdaithe last of several songs she had recorded for films, was released in a 1978 album titled Pakeezah Rang Barang—a compilation of unused but recorded tracks from Pakeezah.

Actress, singer, poet and (in her day) model and fashion pioneer, Meena was all of these besides being a loving stepmother to Kamal’s three children. As a second wife, she charmed not only Kamal Amrohi’s first wife but also his father with her benevolent manners.

But then who wouldn’t be hypnotized by those stunning eyes and the pretty heart that was in this magnificent icon?

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