MEENA Kumari, the legend with unparalleled beauty and acting talent, and had a penchant for writing Urdu poetry. She endured the tragedy which could only last for 38 years. When she was born her father didn’t have money and left her on stairs of the hospital. When he went back to see if she is still there — she was covered in ants.
That incident defined Meena’s life - abandoned, tragic and rescued time and again. It made her a good fit for tragic roles - her eyes remained a muse for many writers and an attraction for many producers. She won the inaugural Filmfare Best Actress Award for Baiju Bawra in 1954. Won the consecutive award for Parineeta (1955) and in 1963 she made history as her films alone were nominated for the best Actress Award and won it for Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. She was only 18 when she was charmed by constant attention and admiration from Kamal Amrohi. Soon they got married. As Meena went on to become the most sought after actress, Kamal’s movies continue to flop on the box office. Kamal turned out to be a possessive, insecure and abusive husband. He used to keep a tab on Meena and didn’t let her stay till late on sets. Once in a party when a foreign journalist referred to him as Meena’s husband, he became infuriated. In 1964 Meena sought separation from Kamal. Her physician prescribed her a peg of brandy to cure insomnia but it eventually led to her addiction and eventual death.
She was also portrayed as a drunkard in her iconic movies - Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam and Chitarlekha.
Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam is still considered as one of the best movies of her. She was paired with Guru Dutt - who was referred to as the male version of Meena Kumari and vice versa on account of their tragic life stories. The movie was produced in black and white and was later colourised. Posthumously she is most remembered for Pakeezah - the movie which was Kamal’s tribute to the woman he loved and the actress he admired. It took 16 years to complete the film. She attended its premiere and it was her untimely death which pushed the movie to become a blockbuster. It was soon after the 1971war Indian movies were banned in Pakistan. However, people in Lahore were able to watch it on their black and white TV screens because the antennas used to catch signals of Doordarshan India.
Pakeezah went on to become a cult classic because of its songs — ‘Chalte Chalte’, ‘Tharhe rahiyo O banke yaar’ and ‘Aaj hum apni duaon ka’ and Raj Kumar’s dialogue: “Aap ke paon dekhe, bahut haseen hai. Inhe zameen par mat utariyega, maile ho jayenge.”
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2019