Meena Kumari

For the Indian sport shooter, see Meena Kumari (sport shooter). For the Indian weightlifter, see Meena Kumari (weightlifter). For the Malayalam actress, see Meena (Malayalam actress).

Meena Kumari

Meena Kumari
Born Mahjabeen Bano
(1933-08-01)1 August 1933
Meetawala Chawl, Dadar East, Bombay, British India (present-day Mumbai, India)
Died 31 March 1972(1972-03-31) (aged 38)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Occupation Actress, Singer, Poet
Years active 1939–1972
Spouse(s) Kamal Amrohi 1952–1972 (her death)

Meena Kumari (1 August 1933 – 31 March 1972), born Mahjabeen Bano, was an Indian film actress, singer and poet under the pseudonym "Naaz".[1][2][3]

Meena Kumari is also known as The Tragedy Queen of Indian cinema.[4] Kumari is regarded as one of the greatest actresses to have appeared on the screens of Hindi cinema. During a career spanning 30 years from her childhood to her death, she starred in more than 90 films, many of which have achieved classic and cult status today like Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Pakeezah, Mere Apne, Aarti, Baiju Bawra, Parineeta, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Foot Path, Char Dil Char Rahen and Daera. Despite the tragedy queen tag, Kumari performed many light hearted comedic roles in hit films like Azaad, Miss Mary, Shararat and Kohinoor.

Vinod Mehta (the biographer of Meena Kumari) was told by a director, "Even Dilip Kumar (the tragedy king) found it difficult to keep his calm in front of her."[5] Raaj Kumar would often forget his dialogues while working with Meena Kumari on set.[6] Madhubala was also a fan of Meena Kumari and said, ‘She has the most unique voice. No other heroine has it.’[7] Satyajit Ray described Kumari as "undoubtedly an actress of the highest calibre".[8] Meena Kumari empathized greatly with Marilyn Monroe the fact that Marilyn's husband, Arthur Miller, had some passing similarities to Meena's husband Kamal Amrohi, made the identification closer.[8]It is said throughout her life, Meena Kumari had a love–hate relationship with movies.[9]

Meena Kumari won four Filmfare awards in the Best Actress category and was the first recipient of the Ist Filmfare 1954 best actress award for Baiju Bawra with a consecutive win in 2nd Filmfare 1955 for Parineeta. 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.[10] On 13th Filmfare 1966 Kumari won her last best actress Filmfare award for Kaajal.

The greatest hallmark of Meena Kumari lied in her ability to depict the struggle of Indian women existing specially in the 50s and 60s, Kumari Onscreen Persona is described as a perfect example of real traditional Bharatiya Nari by the Indian film fraternity like Mohammed Zahur Khayyam and Javed Akhtar.[11] Kumari gained a reputation for playing grief-stricken and tragic roles, and her performances have been praised and reminisced throughout the years. Like Kumari portrayed of Pakeezah under Kamal Amrohi's direction became historical piece of document.[12] In her performances, beauty, aristrocracy, tragedy, personality all blended into one. Her role as Chhoti Bahu, in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) is considered one of the best performances in Indian Cinema. Chhoti Bahu a role dangerously close to Kumari's own tragic life, like the character of Chhoti Bahu, in real life Meena Kumari also became addicted to alcohol.[13] Kumari life and prosperous career were marred by heavy drinking, troubled relationships, an ensuing deteriorating health, and her death from liver cirrhosis in 1972.

Family Background

Meena Kumari's father was a Sunni Muslim, Pathan named Master Ali Bux who had migrated from Bhera, Punjab.[14] He was a veteran of Parsi theater, played harmonium, taught music, and wrote Urdu poetry and played small roles in films like "Idd Ka Chand" and composed music for films like "Shahi Lutere".[15] Meena Kumari's mother Iqbal Beghum original name was Prabhawati, she was a Bengali Christian converted to Islam. Iqbal Beghum was the second wife of Ali Bux.[15] Before meeting and then marrying Ali Bux, she was a stage actress and dancer, under the stage name, Kamini and earlier in her life related to the well known Tagore family of Bengal.[15]

Connection with Tagore family

Meena Kumari's grandmother, Hem Sundari Thakur (Tagore), was the daughter of the Rabindranath Tagore's younger brother.[16] She was married into the Tagore family, but she became a widow at an early age, after she lost her husband, Rev Bill, she was compelled to give up all her rights to the family name or property by her in-laws.[17] Later she embraced Christianity and married a Christian an Urdu journalist named Pyare Lal Shankar Meeruti.[16] Hem Sundari has two daughters; one of these was Prabhawati(Iqbal Beghum), Meena Kumari's mother.[16]

Birth and childhood

Meena as an infant

Meena Kumari was born with the birth name Mahjabeen into the family of poor theatre artistes Ali Bux and Iqbal Begum on 1 August 1933, this was a great disappointment to Ali Bux because he desperately wanted a son.[18] The Bux family lived next to Rooptara studios in Dadar, Bombay, and Ali Bux was forever hopeful of getting a major break in the film industry. But that never happened.

Meena Kumari was the second daughter of Ali Bux and Iqbal Begum.[18] Khursheed was her elder sister and Mahlekha(also known as madhu first married to actor Mehmood Ali) was her younger sister.[18] At home, Mahjabeen's family fondly called her by the name "Munna".[19] At the time of her birth, her parents were unable to pay the fees of the Dr Gadre[20] who had delivered her, so her father left her at a Muslim orphanage however, he picked her up after a few hours.[21]

Vinod Mehta(the biographer of Meena Kumari) said "Her father had decided to disown her, he left her at the door of a Muslim orphanage. As he was walking away his conscience took the better of him, the child was crying. He went back to collect the baby and he saw that there were ants over all her body. I believe that moment remained in her subconscious mind. Here was a traumatized soul. She could not have been a happy person. Life had decided that she will suffer."[22]

I never had a collection of bright colored marbles like other children.[19] -Meena Kumari

Little Mahjabeen is said to have said, "I do not want to work in movies, I want to go to school, and learn like other children.[23]

But despite her protestations of wanting to go to school, her parents started peddling four year Mehjabeen to film studios for work apportunities and dirctor Vijay Bhatt offered little Mahjabeen a child's role in his production, Leatherface, that released in 1939.[24] Mahjabeen's looks and talent brought more opportunities, ever since that ugly beginning against her wishes, at the age of six she remained the one bread earner in the Bux family. Mahjabeen was admitted into a regular school but that was not for long because the demands of work frequently interrupted her curriculum, 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. Kumari concentrated most on Urdu although she could get by in English and Hindhi.[8] Little Mahjabeen used to carry her children's books onto the sets and even while travelling with her parents on outstation shoots. On the sets little Mahjabeen was nicknamed "Reading Mahjabeen".[8]

Career and life

Early work as Baby Meena (1939–45)

Little Mehjabeen embarked on her acting career at the age of six. She was immersed in work over next four years as a child artist, mostly in Vijay Bhatt productions Leatherface (1939), Pooja (1940), Ek Hi Bhool (1940) Vijay Bhatt became her mentor and, on the sets of Ek Hi Bhool (1940), rechristened Mahjabeen as Baby Meena.[25]

More films followed for baby Meena Nai Roshni (1941), Bahen (1941), Kasauti (1941), Garib (1942), Pratiggya (1943) and Lal Haveli (1944).

Breakthrough as Meena Kumari (1946–52)

At the young age of 14 baby Meena became the heroine Meena Kumari in Ramnik Production's Bachchon Ka Khel (1946) with Duniya Ek Sarai (1946), Piya Ghar Aaja (1947) and Bichchade Balam (1948) performing with credit and winning recognition from all in the industry. The phase continued with several hits on the box office, including some mythologicals and fantasies Veer Ghatotkach, (1949) Shri Ganesh Mahima (1950), Magroor, (1950) Hamara Ghar, (1950) Anmol Ratan, (1950) Sanam, (1951) Madhosh, (1951) Lakshmi Narayan,(1951) Hanuman Patal Vijay, (1951) Tamasha (1952) and Aladdin Aur Jadui Chirag (1952).

Marriage to Kamal Amrohi (1952)

On the sets of Tamasha, Ashok Kumar introduced filmmaker Kamal Amrohi to Meena Kumari.[26] Later Kamal Amrohi offered Meena Kumari a lead role in his upcoming film "Anarkali" and the contract was signed on 13 March 1951.[26] On 21 May 1951 Meena Kumari was involved in a serious motor car accident while returning from Mahabaleshwar to Bombay.[26] She was admitted to Sasoon hospital Poona, her left hand fingers were severely damaged and Kumari went through terrible bouts of depression, Kamal Amrohi religiously visited her during her days in hospital.[26] When they were not scheduled to meet both Kumari and Amrohi would write letters to each other.[26]

Meena Kumari asked the director Kamal Amrohi "If despite her accident she was still in the running for Anarkali(Film)", Kamal Amrohi said "There was no question;" he took a pen and etched on her hand the word Anarkali along 'Meri' (Mine).[27]

"A year has passed since then, and I am still the happiest person in the world because the man I have married is still the ideal man I loved before I had ever met him. We understand each other completely. Kamal has lived up to my every thought of him. I have found him exactly as I had dreamed of him - I hope, indeed I know, he will say the same of me. Something of this deep understanding and kinship of soul which lies between us may perhaps be seen in the picture we have just made together, "Daaera."[28]

— Star Meena Kumari, "deeply, terribly, frighteningly in love" interview conducted by Filmfare Magzine in 1953

For four months this hospital affair continued and love blossomed. After Kumari was discharged from hospital the famous telephoning marathon began between Kumari and Amrohi during nights.[8] Soon shooting of the film Anarkali was begun but the producer Makhanlal suffered a crippling financial disaster so the film Anarkali was abandoned. On 14 February 1952 Meena Kumari age 19 and Kamal Amrohi age 34 secretly married in a simple 'Nikah' ceremony in the presence of a Qadi and Kumari's younger sister Mahleka (madhu).[8] The nikah paper was witnessed by Baqar Ali (Kamal Amrohi, friend and assistant) and Qadi's two sons, and signed in the name of Mahjabeen Bano (Meena Kumari's real name) and Syeed Ameen Haider (Kamal Amrohi's real name). After the ceremony Amrohi planted a kiss on Kumari's forehead and the newlyweds parted, Amrohi left for Sion, Meena and Madhu returned home.[8]The marriage was kept secret from family and media, although Kamal Amrohi had been married and had three children. After some months the matrimony news leaked to father Ali Bux, angry father regularly hurling accusations, and recommending a divorce.[8] Meena Kumari remained adamant on her marriage decision but stayed in her father's house. Kamal Amrohi planned a film called Daera in 1953, which was based on their love story.[29] Kumari asked her father's permission that her husband need her for the film Daera but Ali Bux refused that the dates were given to Mehboob Khan for film Amar.[29] Reluctantly, Meena Kumari agreed but after five days shooting Meena Kumari instigated a disagreement with Mehboob Khan and left the studios.[29] The following day Meena Kumari disclosed to her father that she was off to Bombay Talkies to work for her husband Kamal Amrohi's Film Daera. Ali Bux warned his daughter that if she went in that direction the doors of his house would be permanently shut to her.[29] On 14 August 1953 Meena Kumari drove to Bombay Talkies and worked in front of her husband's camera and at night, when Meena Kumari came back from the Film Daera shooting, her father refused to open the door. Meena Kumari turned her car and left for her husband's residence at Sion.[29]

When the news of the marriage became public, Indian press commented "Meena Kumari's reputation as the quiet and silent girl of the Indian cinema was aided considerably by her announcement of her marriage which had been kept secret over a year."[29] In a sponsored program broadcast over Radio Ceylon in 1958, Meena Kumari gushed enthusiastically about her first ever visit to her husband's home town, Amroha, in the north-west region of Uttar Pradesh. She and Kamal had been there in 1956, four years after they were married. The area is rich in culture, architecture, mangoes, sugarcane and fresh water fish. Meena Kumari exulted with joy and gratitude, and referred to her husband with high regard, love and extreme respect.[30]

A friend actress Nadira said in an interview "Meena is wildly in love with her husband whom she admires, respects and fears. What is more, she is terribly possessive of him![28] Kumari always addressed Amrohi as "Chandan", and Amrohi called Meena Kumari "Manju".

Rising star (1952-56)

Tragedy Queen of Indian Cinema (1957)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Meena Kumari essayed roles in films that mirrored her own unhappy life, after separation (never a formal divorce) from husband Kamal Amrohi. The intensity and power in those celluloid tragedies were derived from her own personal situation and emotional make up in those years. The conviction and strength of those characters she portrayed, in a series of films, earned her a repute as The Great Tragedienne and the endearing crown of The Tragedy Queen of Indian Cinema popularly bestowed on Meena Kumari.[36]

Critical acclaim (1962)

The year 1962 proved to be a watershed. Meena Kumari created history in Filmfare, and remains unique to this day, by being the sole leading lady to have been nominated at all slots for the 10th Filmfare Best Actress award in 1963. The nominations were for her roles in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Aarti and Main Chup Rahungi. Kumari won her third best actress Filmfare for Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam. The Bengal Film Journalists' Association conferred the Best Actress Award on Meena Kumari for Aarti.[43]

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962)

A film produced by Guru Dutt and directed by Abrar Alvi. It is based on a Bengali novel, "Shaheb Bibi Golam" by Bimal Mitra. The film stars Meena Kumari, Guru Dutt, Rehman, Waheeda Rehman and Nazir Hussain.[44] The film's music is by Hemant Kumar and lyrics were by Shakeel Badayuni. The film is also noted for its brilliant cinematography by V. K. Murthy and famous Songs "Na Jao Saiyan Churda Ke Baiyan" and "Piya Aiso Jiya Mein" sung by Geeta Dutt.

In 1967 Vividh Bharati Service of All India Radio Program Meena Kumari confessed that " Chotti Bahu from Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam was my Astral body ".[2]

Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam was perhaps the most perilous mix of the reel and real. Meena Kumari Played the character of Chotti Bahu which was dangerously close to her own tragic life.

Meena Kumari wrote in her private diary "The women is troubling me a great deal. All day long and a good part of my night it is nothing else but Chhoti Bahu's helplessness, Chhoti Bahu's sorrow, Chhoti Bahu's smiles, Chotti Bahu's hopes, Chotti Bahu's tribulations, Chotti Bahu's endurance, Chotti Bahu's ... Chotti Bahu's ... Chotti Bahu ... Oh ! i am sick of it."[45]

—The Legend and the Enigma

By Shoma Chatterji

The film was a major critical and commercial success, with critics attributing it to Meena Kumari's performance as Chotti Bahu, which is regarded as one of the best performances of Hindi cinema.To quote the review featured in Upperstall "While each of the performances are spot on, if there is one person who is the heart and soul of the film, it is Meena Kumari. Her portrayal of Chhoti Bahu is perhaps the greatest performance ever seen by an actress on the Indian Screen."

The film won four Filmfare Awards, including Best Actress award.Same year Meena Kumari made a history in Filmfare by getting all the nominations in best actress category and won Filmfare best actress award for Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam.This movie is also nominated for the Golden Bear at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival, and Meena Kumari was selected as a delegate. Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam was also chosen as India's official entry to the Oscars.[46] To quote the review featured in The Times of India dated 24 June 1962:

The well-knit screenplay, achieving an effective balance between the various characters and emotional phases, provides a neat dramatic pattern. It appears to be a specially successful job considering the verbosity and digressiveness of the novel of Mr. Bimal Mitra who, though often brilliant, writes in a highly disorderly way.

Separation from husband and addiction to alcohol (1964)

After marriage Kamal Amrohi allowed Meena Kumari to continue her acting career, but put three conditions.[8]

1. You will return home by 6:30 every evening.

2. You will allow no one in the makeup room except your makeup man.

3. You will sit in your own car which will take you to work and fetch you back.

Meena Kumari agreed to all terms but with passing time she kept breaking them. It is said Kumari felt oppressed by the feudal attitude and high handed behaviour that Kamal Amrohi brought to their relationship. Kamal Amrohi's lavish productions, Daira and Pakeezah, and his Kamalistan studios (1958), were mostly financed by Kumari earnings. Meena Kumari was watched over. Kamal Amrohi had issued strict instructions, and had people deployed assistant Baqar Ali, to prevent any other man from meeting Meena Kumari on the sets.[53]

" In that 10 x 12 poster of concentrated womanhood called Meena Kumari, is hidden: an extremist, a thinker, a writer of unlimited imagination, an orthodox idealist, a very determined and self-respecting woman, a God and husband-respecting lady, and a comedian too.[28]

— The Meena Kumari I Know by Actress Nadira 1962

Khursheed explained clearly 'she loved children. Kamal Sahab never wanted a child from Meena'[54] Kamal denied 'It was Manju who never wanted a baby because she felt it will harm her screen image'.[55] Nargis Dutt relates how she once questioned Meena. Haven't you ever wanted to become a mother? " Is there any woman who does not want to become a mother" Meena replied with tears in her eyes.[55] Kumari raised Kamal Amrohi's son, Tajdaar, who was greatly attached to his Chhoti Ammi (younger mother).[56]

Abrar Alvi director of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam recounts how Kamal would have his spy and right-hand man Baqar present even in the makeup room while Meena's makeup was being done and one awful evening when, working beyond schedule to complete a shot, he had to face his heroine dissolving in tears.[57]

In 1963, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam was selected as the Indian entry to the Berlin Film Festival and Meena Kumari was selected as a delegate. The then Minister of information arranged for two tickets, one of Meena Kumari and one for her husband but Kamal Amrohi refused to accompany her wife and said " I do not want to tag along merely as Meena Kumari's husband." The Berlin trip never materialized.[8]

" When her star start rising his went down.I asked Kamal Amrohi if indeed he had hit her as per many rumors. He completely denied it, saying that such a thing was totally against his unbringing. But six different people told me that there was physical violence in their relationship. Thoes were the days when Meena Kumari would come back Rembrandt till late at night.[58]

Vinod Mehta(the biographer of Meena Kumari) interview 2013

During a premiere at Eros cinema Sohrab Modi introduced Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi to the governor of Maharashtra. Sohrab Modi said' This is the reowned actress Meena Kumari and this is her husband Kamal Amrohi'. Whereupon before greetings exchanged, Kamal Amrohi interjected, 'No, i am Kamal Amrohi and this is my wife, the reowned actress Meena Kumari'. Saying this Kamal Amrohi left the auditorium. Meena Kumari saw the premiere alone.[8]

On 5 March 1964, on the mahurat of the film Pinjre ke Panchi, Kamal Amrohi's assistant, Baqar Ali slapped Meena Kumari once when Kumari insisted on letting the budding poet lyricist Gulzar, into her make up room.[59]

Crying copiously, Meena Kumari breeezed out the studio saying " Tell Kamal Sahab I will not be coming home tonight" and Kumari kept her words.[60]

Meena Kumari never returned home and never stepped in their Pali Naka home thereafter.[60] Kumari stayed in actor Mehmood's house for a while, who was married to her sister, Mahlekha (Madhu), before moving to one in Janaki Kutir, Juhu.[60] Kamal Amrohi rushed to Mehmood's house to reconcile their differences and escort her back. But Kumari refused.[60]

Kamal Amrohi informed Meena Kumari's sister, Mahlekha (Madhu) " I will never come to collect Manju again" and Amrohi too kept his words.[8]

Meena Kumari wrote in her poetry about Amrohi:

دل سا ساتھی جب پايا
بے چينی بھی ساتھ ملی

"Dil saa saathi jab paya
Bechaini bhi saath mili"

(When I found a partner like my heart
Restlessness also found with him)

Meena Kumari was a patient of chronic insomnia and was on sleeping pills for a long time, during 1963 Dr Saeed Timurza, her physician, then prescribed a small peg of brandy as a sleeping pill alternative and this was officially how she came into contact with the habit that was to kill her.[61] Somehow this prescribed peg of brandy turned into heavy drinking after Kumari separation from her husband. Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi never formally divorced but separated in 1964.[62] During those years of separation from her husband, Kumari name was associated with Rahul, Gulzar, Dharmendra and Sawan Kumar Tak.[8]

Deteriorating health and treatment in London (1968)

Heavy drinking had badly damaged Meena Kumari's liver. In 1968, she fell seriously ill. Medical advice was that Kumari needed more advanced and permanent cure.[8]

Dr Sherlock warned Meena Kumari before she left the infirmary, "The day you want to die have a drink."[8]

—Meena Kumari The Classic Biography 1972

Kumari was taken to London and Switzerland in June 1968 for treatment. From the months of June to August Meena Kumari was in the safe hands of Dr Sheila Sherlock.[8]

Upon recovery, Kumari returned to India in September 1968.[8] Director Sawan Kumar Tak said "Not only did she not drink, she would not let me drink either. she did not touch a drop after London".[8]

Completion of Pakeezah (1956–71)

"Shah Jahan made Taj Mahal for his wife, Kamal Sahab wanted to do the same with Pakeezah."[8]

— Kamal Amrohi's PR man

In 1955 Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi were in South India and here Kamal Amrohi began outlining the plot of his next film with his wife Meena Kumari and decided that he would call it Pakeezah.[8] After the failure of Daera in 1953, Pakeezah as an idea was roaming Amrohi's mind.[8] A concept, he say was irretrievably fixed with his love for his wife.[8]He hope to create a film which would be worthy of the love he felt for her as a women.[8] Kamal declares that every line he wrote he had Meena in mind. He wished to present her on the screen as no one had before: beautiful, sad, sanguine, dejected, calculating, sexy he ambitioned to capture as many dimensions of her as he knew of.[8] Pakeezah took 16 years to reach the silver screen. First planned by Amrohi in 1956, the film went on the studio floors in 1964, but the shooting came to a standstill after their separation(never formally divorced ) in March 1964, when it was more than halfway complete.[68]

Mr Amrohi wrote a letter to his estranged wife on 24 August 1968.[8]

"Only Pakeezah completion remain unsettled.You have made a condition that unless i give you a divorce you will not complete Pakeezah. Even this knot can be untied ... I will free you from your marital ties. After this if you wish to complete your Pakeezah. I would be the most happy to do so. This is my request, that Pakeezah on which the fortune of many people depends, and which had the good wishes of so many people should not be left uncompleted if possible. You have better means. You have box-office appeal, and most of all Pakeezah needs you personally ... Pakeezah that is like a sinking ship will reach a shore under your care."

Meena Kumari wrote to her husband Kamal Amrohi in the early 1969[8]

"In regard to my working in Pakeezah, I have always been willing and clamouring to work. Pakeezah is my life dream and it will be my greatest pleasure to see it completed. As for my remuneration, I am glad you have given me an opportunity to prove my regards and respect for you. I shall accept only ONE GUINEA as a token of goodwill for my entire work in Pakeezah."

In 1969, Hindustan Times described the meeting which Sunil Dutt and Nargis had organised between the Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi:[69] "Not much was said, but streams of tears were shed... Amrohi greeted her with a token payment of a gold guinea and the promise that he’d make her look as beautiful as the day she had started the film.They had dinner together and she gave him her diary to read."

on 16 March 1969, five years and twelve days after Kumari left her husband, Gravelly ill, Meena Kumari reported for work again on Pakeezah.[8] Kamal Amrohi organized a great reception. He gave his wife a peda(sweet) as a peace offering, and made a documentary film on her arrival at the studio.[8] Meena Kumari was determined to complete the film and, was well aware of the limited time left for her to live, went out of her way to complete it at the earliest. Despite her rapidly deteriorating health, she gave the finishing touches to her performance. Vinod Mehta (the biographer of Meena Kumari) shared an incident which occurred during the last days of Pakeezah shooting "On outdoor shooting Kamal Amrohi's unit travelled in two cars near a place called Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh, the cars all but ran out of patrol , and for miles around there was nothing except a long, deserted, straight road. It was discovered that a bus passed on this route every morning from which fuel could be purchased. Kamal Amrohi decided to spend the night in desert he ordered his unit roll up the windows of the cars and hope for the best. A little after midnight the occupants of the vehicles were surrounded by a dozen armed men. The men knocked on the closed windows and forced their way in. when the armed gang leader learned that one of the persons in the car was Meena Kumari, his attitude completely changed. He turned out to be a Meena Kumari fan and welcomed his guests in true fan tradition. He organized music, dancing, and food. He provided place to sleep. He instructed his juniors the next morning to fetch petrol for the unit. From Meena Kumari, he wanted a special favour. He sharpened his knife and took it to her. ‘Please autograph my hand with this,’ he requested. Meena was not new to signing autographs but she had never attempted anything as ambitious as a knife. Nervously, she wrote her name on this man's hand. He said he was grateful for this favour. Once the unit left, they found at the next town that they had spent the night in the camp of Madhya Pradesh's renowned and dangerous dacoit—Amrit Lal."[8]

According to Amrohi, "He and Manju(meena kumari) had come close indeed. During the shooting journeys she cared for Chandan (Kamal Amrohi) as a wife looks after her husband. On his part he says he ensured that Manju was provided all material comforts and conveniences.Only physically we were not man and wife. Otherwise in every sense we lived like man and wife."[8]

Khursheed Said "It was just work between them, Meena had no feeling left for Kamal and if he thinks anything else he is fooling himself."[8]

"I has lived with Pakeezah almost aslong as i lived with its creator ... to Meena Kumari Pakeezah means a performance. A great performance? That is not for me to say: that is for people to decide. For me to say is this: it is a performance to deliver which I have, as an actress, had to delve deeper into the secret wells of being than any actor or actress normally delves in the process of his or her professional work."[8]

—Meena Kumari about Pakeezah (1972)

Pakeezah released on 4 February 1972, with a grand premiere at Maratha Mandir theatre in central Mumbai.[8] Meena Kumari arrived to attend the last premiere of her life.[8] Kumari let Raaj Kumar, for the benefit of the press, Raaj Kumar kissed her hand and then she went in to see the film.[8] Meena Kumari seated next with Kamal Amrohi during the premiere.[8] When Mohammed Zahur Khayyam complimented Meena Kumari with "shahkar ban gaya" (it's priceless), she was in tears.[70] Two months later Kumari passed away. Meena Kumari posthumously received her twelfth and last Filmfare nomination for Pakeezah. Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards bestowed Special award to Meena Kumari for Pakeezah in 1973.[71]The film has since gained a cult and classic status, and Meena Kumari's performance as a golden-hearted Lucknow Nautch Girl drew major praise.


Three weeks after the release of Pakeezah, Meena Kumari became seriously ill; on 28 March 1972 she was admitted to St Elizabeth's Nursing Home.[72]

Kamal Amrohi recalled Meena Kumari's last words before she went into a coma at the nursing home on the evening of 29 March 1972. Meena Kumari said "Chandan, I will not live much longer now. My last wish is to die in your arms."[73]
Meena Kumari's Grave

Meena Kumari died on Friday 31 March 1972 of liver cirrhosis at age 38. As per husband Kamal Amrohi's wish, Meena Kumari was buried at Rahematabad Qabristan located at Narialwadi, Mazgaon, Mumbai.[72]

Meena Kumari wished this epitaph to be on her grave:[72]

She ended life with a broken fiddle,

With a broken song,

With a broken heart,

But not a single regret.

Kamal Amrohi stated," Once people took away my Manju after naming her Meena Kumari, Now this cruel death has snatched her away from everybody, But i know she is not dead, She is sleeping in my heart in an immortal sleep."[8] (Kamal Amrohi died February 11, 1993 in Mumbai and buried next to Meena Kumari's grave at Rahematabad Qabristan located at Narialwadi, Mazagaon, Mumbai.)

Sahir Ludhianvi about Meena Kumari, "An artiste with rare talent, a soft spoken woman in white with a soul of a poet her whole life was a sacrifice of her own emotions, her personality, her own ego and their sublimation in the art that gives joy to millions. A cruel destiny put her lily-white soul on the cross of human emotion.[74]

Dilip Kumar lamented, "31 March 1972 was an unfortunate day since on this day in front of their own eyes they had seen helplessly the slow going away of a dear friend."[75]

""Of the mountainous films Meena made,her performance in ‘Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam’ stands on the pinnacle . If I wish to remember my heroine as a film star I would remember her as Guru Dutt's Chhoti Bahu."[76]

Vinod Mehta Writer of Meena Kumari The Classic Biography

Dev Anand concluded," Meena Kumari was the greatest artiste of them all. I regret there was no recognition of her historionic talent."[75]

Raaj Kumar was confident that " She would live for all time to come."[75]

Burjor Khurshedji Karanjia editor Filmfare, "She made a lot of money and lost it, she knew great love and lost that too. Across those exquisite sculptured features, the marble made flesh, flustered the bemused query."[77]

Baldev Raj Chopra producer director wrote " Meena Kumari is no more. It almost appears that, with her death, we are reaching the end of an era of great artistes dedicated and larger than life."[8]

Mr V. Verma said," She had combined in herself two radical opposites, the grace of Moghul like live living and the spontaneity of a hippie."[8]

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas tributed," Martyrs never die. And it was Meena Kumari the mortal human being that was buried in a grave. Her soul, her art, is beyond decay."[8]

The Poetess Naaz

Meena Kumari was also a talented poet under the pseudonym Naaz.[78] According to Naushad Ali, Kumari's poetry clearly reflected her angst. Haunting, crystalline and precisely observed, Kumari's poetry reveals a side of her personality that was rarely on display in her films. It proved that she was a much more sensitive and self-aware woman than her fans tend to realise.[79]

تم کيا کروگے سن کر مجھ سے ميری کہانی
بے لطف زندگی کے قصے ہيں پھیکے پھیکے

"Tum kya karo ge sun kar mujh se meri kahani
Bay lutf zindagi ke qissay hain pheekay pheekay"

(Why do you want to listen to my story:
Colourless tales of a joyless life)

  • The Poet – A Life beyond Cinema, has her collected poems translated from Urdu to English by academician-writer Noorul Hasan and an introduction by Philip Bounds, Daisy Hasan[83] published by Roli Books.

"This is Life"

My heart wonders incessantly
If this is life, what is it that they call death?
Love was a dream?
Ask not about the fate of this dream?
Ask not about the punishment
I received for the crime of loyalty


Meena Kumari made waves as an actor beyond compare in the 60s. Kumari got the author-backed roles and her male co-stars were said to be wary of starring opposite her.[84] Vinod Mehta shares Meena Kumari become so powerful that she would make or break stars, Kumari adopted an attitude of guardian, artistic mentor towards the newcomers who worked opposite her like Rajendra Kumar in Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan with Sunil Dutt in Ek Hi Raasta.[8] Meena Kumari had helped Dharmendra enormously in the initial stages of his career and established Dharmendra's acting career in Indian Cinema.[8]

Javed Akhtar share "Young Indian women's imitate Meena Kumari's styles, by emulating Kumari's degnified sober fashion styles, the way Kumari wear saree, her hair style, her bindi style, and this was the first time an Indian actress achieved such status and fame. Meena Kumari became the "First Female Style Icon of Indian Cinema."[85]

A postal stamp was issued in honour of Meena Kumari on 13 February 2011 by India Post.[86]

Meena Kumari's most awaited film Pakeezah released on 4 February 1972 and just a day before Pakeezah released on 3 February 1972 in Arabian Sea a 'Pakeezah Boat' was sailing.[8] Tajdar Amrohi shares "When Pakeezah shooting started again in 1969 the first song shot was "Mausam Hai Ashiqana" with this song Meena Kumari set a new fashion trend of girls wearing Lungi.[87] Indian Film Critics Soumya Bavya says "Pakeezah is just like poetry on celluloid I can not imagine anybody else in this movie except Meena Kumari."[2]

Pakeezah was the inaugural film telecast by Doordarshan, India's state-owned television station, when it began broadcasting from Amritsar in Punjab in the early 70s. It was specially beamed towards Lahore nearby, in Pakistan. Thousands flocked at Lahore, from as far as Karachi, hundreds of miles away, to see Pakeezah. It was a flood the crowds stampeded the streets of Lahore to get to the television screens placed at strategic points on virtually every street corner.[88]

Neville Tuli, chairman, Osian's Group said in a statement "Meena Kumari is a true icon for Womanhood & Cinema, absorbing all, breaking all, in the search to be herself".[89] On 24 February 2016 Meena Kumari's original publicity material and memorabilia, including paintings and portraits of her films, were displayed at the Womanhood Festival at Osianama Liberty Mumbai India.."[90]

"There was no dichotomy between the actor and the role she played," says Rekha Banerjee, wife of the late film director and screenplay-writer, Shanu Banerjee. She recalls Meena Kumari sobbing inconsolably long after the director had called ‘cut', so deeply did she immerse herself in the role.[91]

Historian critic Philip Bounds and researcher Daisy Hasan write regarding Meena Kumari's legacy of poetry, "Poetry was the medium through which Kumari distanced herself from her public image and criticised the industry that had brought her to public attention in the first place. In that sense her poems tell us as much about Bollywood as they do about herself."[92]

Javed Akhtar narrates "Kamal sahab gave me a job and helped me. My salary was Rs.50 and even in the 60s you could not rent a house in that much money. I used to sleep in a corner of the studio. I started living in the costume room of the studio. I didn’t have enough money to even go out to have a meal. In the evenings I would just potter around in the drawers. There were many cupboards filled with costumes of Pakeezah sherwanis, dresses, shoes. One day I opened a drawer, and found amid the clutter, three Filmfare trophies. I dusted them and realized they were Meena Kumari's Filmfare trophies. I had never held a trophy and a Filmfare trophy was akin to the Oscar of India. There were big mirrors in the room. In the evenings I would come back and lock myself in the costume room and hold the trophies in front of the mirror, acting how I would accept it if I were to receive it. The first trophy I held in my hand was that of Meena Kumari's! I was an eighteen-year-old boy who had no home, no money no food, but these trophies encouraged me to achieve my dreams and for this i will be always thankful to Meena ji."[93]

Meena Kumari thought for a moment and said, "Meena Kumari's life was other people's destination. For her own self it was a road leading nowhere … to no point of arrival … all right, Khuda Hafiz.".[94]

—Tragedy Queen Meena Kumari Interview by Afsar Jamshed

Satyajit Ray said " I saw Meena Kumari's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam she was undoubtedly an actress of the highest calibre."[8]

Music Director Naushad says that "Meena throughout her short life was exploited by people for their own ends, and was so frustrated that she took to drinking and writing poetry to fight her feeling of betrayal." [95] Due to the contrast between her stardom and troubled private life, Kumari is closely linked to broader discussions about modern phenomena such as mass media, fame, and consumer culture.[95] [96] Every year, on Meena Kumari's birthday, numerous articles are printed and television programmes aired to commemorate her, and modern magazines continue to publish stories on her personal life and career.[97][98]


Year Film Role Notes
1939 Leather Face Baby Meena as a child artiste
1940 Pooja Baby Meena as a child artiste
1940 Ek Hi Bhool Baby Meena as a child artiste
1941 Nai Roshni Baby Meena as a child artiste
1941 Kasuti Baby Meena as a child artiste
1941 Bahen Bina as a child artiste
1942 Garib Baby Meena as a child artiste
1943 Pratiggya Baby Meena as a child artiste
1944 Lal Haveli Mukta as a child artiste
1946 Duniya Ek Sarai Baby Meena as a child artiste
1946 Bachchon Ka Khel Meena Kumari first film as a heroine
1947 Piya Ghar Aja
1948 Bichchade Balam
1949 Veer Ghatotkach Surekha
1950 Shri Ganesh Mahima
1950 Magroor
1950 Hamara Ghar
1950 Anmol Ratan
1951 Sanam Rani
1951 Madhosh Soni
1951 Lakshmi Narayan
1951 Hanuman Patal Vijay
1952 Tamasha Kiran
1952 Aladdin Aur Jadui Chirag Princess Badar
1952 Baiju Bawra Gouri Won - Filmfare Best Actress Award
1953 Parineeta Lalita Won - Filmfare Best Actress Award
1953 Naulakha Haar Bijma
1953 Foot Path Mala
1953 Do Bigha Zamin Thakurain
1953 Dana Pani
1953 Daera Sheetal
1954 Ilzam Kamlee
1954 Chandni Chowk Zareena
1954 Baadbaan
1955 Rukhsana
1955 Bandish Usha Sen
1955 Azaad Shoba Nominated - Filmfare Best Actress Award
1955 Adl-E-Jahangir Noorjehan
1956 Shatranj Sandhya
1956 Naya Andaz Mala
1956 Mem sahib Meena
1956 Halaku Nilofer Nadir
1956 Ek Hi Raasta Malti
1956 Bandhan Bani
1957 Sharadha Sharadha Ram Sharan Won - Best Actress Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards
1957 Miss Marry Miss Mary / Laxmi
1958 Yahudi Hannah
1958 Savera Shanti
1958 Sahara Leela Nominated - Filmfare Best Actress
1958 Farishta Shoba
1959 Shararat Shabnam
1959 Satta Bazaar Jamuna
1959 Madhu
1959 Jagir Jyothi
1959 Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan Ratna
1959 Chand Bimla
1959 Char Dil Char Rahen Chavli
1959 Ardhangini Chhaya
1960 Kohinoor Rajkumari Chandramukhi
1960 Dil Apna aur Preet Parai Karuna
1960 Bahaana
1961 Zindagi aur Khwab Shanti
1961 Pyaar Ka Saagar Radha / Rani B Gupta
1961 Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan Geeta
1962 Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam Choti Bahu / Sati Lakshmi Won - Filmfare Best Actress Award/ Nominated in 13th Berlin International Film Festival & Meena Kumari was selected as a delegate.
1962 Main Chup Rahungi Geeta Nominated - Filmfare Best Actress
1962 Aarti Aarti Gupta Won - Best Actress Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards

Nominated Filmfare Best Actress

1963 Kinare Kinare Neelu
1963 Dil Ek Mandir Sita Won - Best Actress Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards

Nominated Filmfare Best Actress

1963 Akeli Mat Jaiyo Seema
1964 Sanjh Aur Savera Gauri
1964 Ghazal Naaz Ara Beghum
1964 Chitralekha Chitralekha
1964 Benazir Benazir
1964 Main Bhi Ladki Hoon Rajni
1965 Purnima Purnima V. Lal
1965 Kaajal Madhvi Won - Filmfare Best Actress Award
1965 Bheegi Raat Neelima
1966 Pinjre Ke Panchi Heena Sharma
1966 Phool aur Patthar Shanti
1967 Noorjehan Mehr-un- Nisa / Noorjehan
1967 Majhli Didi Heema
1967 Chandan Ka Palna Shoba Rai
1967 Bahu Beghum Zeenat Jahan Beghum
1968 Baharon Ki Manzil Nanda Roy / Radha Shukla
1968 Abhilasha Meena Singh
1970 Saat Phere
1970 Jawab Vidhya
1971 Mere Apne Anandi
1971 Dushman Malti
1972 Pakeezah Nargis / Sahibjaan Won special Bengal Film Journalists' Association Award and posthumously received her twelfth and last Filmfare nomination.
1972 Gomti Ke Kinare Ganga

Filmfare Awards

Year Film Role Result
1954 Baiju Bawra Gouri Won
1955 Parineeta Lalita Won
1963 Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam Choti Bahu Won
1966 Kaajal Madhvi Won
Year Film Role Result
1956 Azaad Shoba Nominated
1959 Sahara Leela Nominated
1960 Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan Ratna Nominated
1963 Aarti Aarti Gupta Nominated
1963 Main Chup Rahungi Geeta Nominated
1964 Dil Ek Mandir Sita Nominated
1967 Phool Aur Patthar Shanti Nominated
1973 Pakeezah Nargis / Sahibjaan Nominated

Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards

Meena Kumari has won several awards at the Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards (BFJA)

Year Film Role Result
1958 Sharada Sharada Won
1963 Aarti Aarti Won
1965 Dil Ek Mandir Sita Won
1973 Pakeezah Nargis/ Sahib Jan Won


One of the first biographies of Meena Kumari was written just after her death by Vinod Mehta in 1972. It was titled Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography.

In film

Tigmanshu Dhulia would be making a film on Hindi cinema's Tragedy Queen, a screen adaptation of Vinod Mehta's book, "Meena Kumari The Classic Biography".[99]


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  • Ghosh, Avijit (2013). 40 RETAKES. Westland. ISBN 978-93-83260-31-7. 

External links

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