Mohammed Saad Farooqui
31st March 2018, marks the 46th death anniversary of Indian cinema’s one and only super star Meena Kumrai, but her iconic beauty and indubitable acting skills lives on and have special place in the hearts of millions of her fans and admirers. I, being one of them write out this humble tribute to our beloved tragedienne Meena Kumari. A timeless beauty, here we pay tribute to her elegance and undoubtable acting & poetry skills. In every character of each role she played , be it Bahu Begum, SahibJaan of Pakeezah, Choti Bhau, Chitralekha, Noor Jehan, Madhavi in Kaajal, Karuna of Dil Apna Aur Preet Paraaye, Sita in DilekMandir, Guari of BaijuBawra, Benazir and many more to mention. Menna Kumari remains immortal for her exemplary acting skills.
She played the “damsel in distress” to perfection! Her beautiful eyes, full of pain, and her deep voice, dipped in sadness, created an effect that established her as anirreplaceable unique Tragedy Queen.
She reined the Indian film industry for 30 years and closed her eyes at an age of 40. Even today, the name Meena Kumari evokes so many things – melodrama, tragedy, pain, sacrifice, sorrow loneliness and sufferings. Her unhappiness was appreciated in each role she played in many movies. Not only was she an actress par excellence but also a poetess. She recorded some of her gems under the guidance of iconic music director Khayyam under the pen name “NAAZ”.
Born on 1 August 1933 in Bombay, she was the second child to Ali Bux hailing from Punjab and Iqbal Begum originally from Calcutta. She was named “Mahjabeen” meaning “forehead of the moon”. Both her parents had careers as struggling stage artists. According to a popular Bollywood legend, Meena’s father had left her at the door of an orphanage as a child. After some time, he returned to fetch the baby and to his shock, found ants crawling all over her body.This was one of those incidents’s that remained in her subconscious mind.
Meena Kumari started her career at the age of 4 and was taken to the studios in order to supplement income for her family. In 1939, she started as a child actor in the movie Leather Face and soon became popular child artiste.
Director Vijay Bhatt rechristened Mahjabeen as “Baby Meena”. Given her early start, she had no formal schooling but was fluent in many languages and a voracious reader. She never went to school in any meaningful sense, and her education was the result of private tuition, and more significantly the result of individual interest; in every sense she was self-educated. It is said that Meena Kumari never traveled to outdoor locations without her books and her favorite set of pens and papers. After pack up, she usually spent her time in her room jotting her thoughts on paper and when she got exhausted, she went down for a stroll in the hotel garden because she liked watching the moon. She was cast under the name Meena Kumari in Ramnik Production’s Bachchon Ka Khel (1946).
The film that won her fame and also almost killed by drowning, was Vijay Bhatt’s Film “Baiju Bawra in 1952. From here on there was no looking back for Meena Kumar. In years to come , Meena Kumari won four Filmfare Awards in the Best Actress category and was the recipient of the inaugural Filmfare Awards (1954), Best Actress Award for Baiju Bawra and had a consecutive win in the second Filmfare Awards (1955) for Parineeta. Meena Kumari made history at the 10th Filmfare (1963), by receiving all of the nominations for Best Actress and won for her performance in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. She was the only actress in Hindi cinema to have been nominated thrice for the Best Actress award in the same year. She appeared at Filmfare award functions in her trademark white saris and used to recite her own or Faiz’s ghazals on such occasions. Between 1950s and 1960s, Meena Kumari became one of the most sought-after actresses in India.
Prominent actors of that period like Dilip Kumar, Nargis, Madhubala, Pradeep Kumar, Raj Kumar, and many more were all great admirers of Meena Kamari’s talent. Music maestro Naushad Ali found her to be a quintessential actress with golden voice. Her voice had a definite metallic tinge to it and was suited perfectly for reciting Ghazals and Nazms that she often did. Eminent film maker Satyajit Ray described Kumari as “undoubtedly an actress of the highest caliber”. Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, mentioned that Menna Kumari was one of her favorite actress and her was voice most suited her. If you ask me to define her career as well as her life, I would define it by those two stanzas from one of her poem “Tumhara naam hai, yaa aasmaan nazaroun mein smiat gaya mera gham-ghasta zindagi ki tarha. And the other one ……….. “Tum kya karoge sun kar mujhse meri kahani, Be luft zindagi ke kisse hain pheeke pheeke”. And everything else that comes in between.
In 1952, on the sets of one of her films, Meena Kumari fell in love with and married film director, Kamal Amrohi. They got married and produced a film considered to be their own love story, Daera (1953). Meena Kumari often used to address Kamal as “Chandan” and Kamal to Meena as “Manju”. Pakeezah was their dream project that followed. But sadly due to their strong personalities, however, Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi started to develop conflicts, in their married life which led to separation in 1960, and ultimately divorce in 1964.
Highly affected Meena Kumari, who, once a happy woman, became depressed and found solace in alcoholism. Her life and prosperous career were marred by alcoholism, troubled relationships, and an ensuing deteriorating health. At the same time, this loneliness became the solitude she needed to create poetry and beauty for the world. She became a “shayara” to the core. She had started composing poetry and in later years Kaifi Azmi acted as a mentor. In her poetry, published after she died in 1972, we can sense a haunting loneliness that was part of her being. No friendship or relationship could make that loneliness leave her.
The movie for which, I believe Meena Kumari was born for was – Pakeezah. No other actress could ever have brought to this film what she did. She lived the role and became Pakeezah.
It took over 14 years the movie to complete, mainly because of the tumultuous relationship between Kamal and Meena. Pakeezah was made for her by husband Kamal Amrohi to showcase this beautiful personality and to immortalise her for posterity.
Every line he wrote for Pakeezah, he had Meena in mind. He wished and succeeded to present her on the screen as no one had before: beautiful, sad, sanguine and dejected. He captured as many dimensions of Meena Kumari’s personality in this movie- her beauty, her sadness, her regal look, her poetic soul, her languid movements and her golden voice – all beautifully depicted in Pakeezah.
The surging desire “to love and be loved’ was the entire theme of Pakeezah, and it was this theme in which Meena saw a reflection of her own life. Meena Kumari felt, she herself was born with a surging desire to love and be loved. During its making it seemed that the story of the nautch girl in Pakeezah was actually Meena’s own story, and really on the screen there was no need to act. Nobody could reach the heart of her loneliness.Yet, when she died, as the woman who had held sway over her audiences for two decades, the entire nation mourned her loss and her admirers still await another actress like her.
During her last days, she sold off the bungalow to co-star Mumtaz, and helped rescue the bankrupt director Sawan Kumar Tak, who was making Gomti Ke Kinare (1972). Meena Kumari shot for the film despite her failing health. It was her last film and it released posthumously after she succumbed to liver cirrhosis on 31st March 1972. It was the death of a star who had in everything she did, in the life she had lived showed rare passion and talent, and reflected through the integrity of her acting skills the secret hopes, fears and tears. The epitome of super stardom is no more amongst us. There was none, there is none and there won’t be any like Meena Kamari!
In my platonic learning: What is seen is not a reality. The reality is ideal, real impressions of the legend’s characters living in minds, love, respect and honor for her are reality. MeenaKumari! You are cherished and that is reality. May Almighty Allah bless you peace endlessly.” I conclude my tribute to this great actress by praying to almighty that her disturbed soul rest in peace and also quote the verses from Allma Iqbals poetry, which I think are very apt to life lead by the legend –Meena Kumari………“Hazaaron saal nargis apni be noori pe roti hai………..badi mushkil se hota hai chaman mein deedawar paida”.