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Meena Kumari

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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.jpg
Meena Kumari
Born Mahjabeen Bano
(1932-08-01)1 August 1932
Meetawala Chawl, Dadar East, Bombay, British India (present-day Mumbai, India)
Died 31 March 1972(1972-03-31) (aged 39)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Occupation Actress, Poet[1]
Years active 1939–1972
Spouse(s) Kamal Amrohi
Meena Kumari Autograph.jpg

Meena Kumari (1 August 1932 – 31 March 1972), born Mahjabeen Bano, was an Indian film actress and poet [2] (under the pseudonym Naaz).[3]

Meena Kumari is also known as The Tragedy Queen of Indian cinema.[4][5] 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 and Char Dil Char Rahen.

Vinod Mehta (the writer of Meena Kumari The Classic Biography) was told by a director, "Even Dilip Kumar (the tragedy king) found it difficult to keep his calm in front of her."[6] It is said that Raaj Kumar would often forget his dialogues while working with Meena Kumari on set.[7] Meena Kumari empathized greatly with Marilyn Monroe[8] (the fact that Marilyn's husband, Arthur Miller, had some passing similarities to Meena's husband Kamal Amrohi, made the identification closer).It is said throughout her life, Meena Kumari had a love-hate relationship with movies.

Meena Kumari won four Filmfare awards in the Best Actress category and was the first recipient of the Ist Filmfare best actress award in 1954 for Baiju Bawra with a consecutive win in 1955 for Parineeta. Kumari made history at the 10th Filmfare by receiving all of the nominations for Best Actress and won for her performance in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.[9]

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 perfect example of real traditional Bharatiya Nari by Indian film fraternity like Mohammed Zahur Khayyam.[10] 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.[11] In her performances, beauty, aristrocracy, tragedy, personality all blended into one.Like Chhoti Bahu, in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) considered one of the best performances in Indian Cinema, Chhoti Bahu a role dangerously close to her own tragic life, Kumari became addicted to alcohol.[12] Kumari life and prosperous career were marred by heavy drinking, troubled relationships, an ensuing deteriorating health, and her death from liver cirrhosis in 1972.[13]

Family background

Meena Kumari father was a Sunni Muslim, Pathan, named Master Ali Bux had migrated from Bhera.[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 mother Iqbal Beghum (original name Prabhawati was a Bengali Christian converted to Islam) was the second wife of Ali Bux.[16]

Connection with Tagore family

Meena Kumari's grandmother, Hem Sundari Thakur (Tagore) was the daughter of the Rabindranath Tagore's younger brother.[17] She was married into the Tagore family but She became widow at an early age, after she lost her husband named Rev Bill, she was compelled to give up all her rights to the family name or property by her in-laws.[18] Later She embraced Christianity and married a Christian an Urdu journalist named Pyare Lal Shankar Meeruti.[17] Hem Sundari has two daughters one of these was Prabhawati(Iqbal Beghum) Meena Kumari's mother.[17]

Birth and childhood

Meena as an infant

Meena Kumari was born with the birth name Mahjabeen into the family of Ali Bux and Iqbal Begum on 1 August 1932/33 this was a great disappointment to Ali Bux because he desperatly wanted a son.[19] The Baksh 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 Baksh and Iqbal Begum.[20] Khursheed was her elder sister and Mahlekha(madhu first married to a comedian Mehmood Ali) was her younger sister.[21]

At the time of her birth, her parents were unable to pay the fees of the Dr Gadre[22] who had delivered her, so her father left her at a Muslim orphanage however, he picked her up after a few hours.[23] At home, Mahjabeen’s family fondly called her by the name "Munna".[8]

I never had a collection of bright colored marbles like other children.

Meena Kumari

Meena Kumari with family

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." but despite her protestations of wanting to go to school her parents met Director Vijay Bhatt for work opportunities for their child in film projects and 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 age of six she remained the one bread earner of 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 intrest, in every sense she was self educated.(She concentrated most on Urdu although she could get by in English and Hindhi).[25] Little Mahjabeen used to carry her children books on the sets and even while travelling with her parents on outstation shoots. On the sets little Mahjabeen was nicknamed "Reading Mahjabeen".

Career and Life

Early work as Baby Meena (1939-44)

Little mehjabeen embarked on her acting career at the age of six, she was immersed in work over next four years, as child artist mostly in Vijay Bhatt productions Leatherface (1939), Pooja (1940), Nai Roshni (1941), Bahen (1941), Kasauti (1941) and Garib (1942).

Vijay Bhatt became her mentor and, on the sets of Ek Hi Bhool (1940), rechristened Mahjabeen as Baby Meena.[26]

More films followed for baby meena Pratiggya (1943), 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. Later Kamal Amrohi offered Meena Kumari a lead role in his upcoming film "Anarkali" and contract was signed on 13 March 1951. On 21 May 1951 Meena Kumari had been involved in a serious motor car accident while returning from Mahabaleshwar to Bombay. Meena Kumari was admitted in Sasoon hospital Poona, her left hand fingers were severely damaged Kumari was going through teribble bouts of depression, Kamal Amrohi religiously visited her during the hospital days. When they were not scheduled to meet both Kumari and Amrohi would write letters to each other.

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

"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.”

— Meena Kumari interview conducted in 1953

For four month this hospital affair continued, After Kumari discharged from hospital the famous telephoning marathon began between Kumari and Amrohi during nights. Soon the film Anarkali shooting was started 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' Cermoney, in the presence of Qadi and younger sister Mahaleka(madhu). The nikah was witnessed by Baqar Ali (Kamal Amrohi' freind and assistant) and Qazi's two sons, marriage was kept secret from family and media.Though Kamal Amrohi was already married and had three childrens.

Meena Kumari with husband Kamal Amrohi

After some months the matrimony news leaked to father Ali Bux, through a servant who heard Kumari and Kamal phone conversations. Angry Ali Bux regularly hurling accusations, and recommended for a divorce. Meena Kumari remained adamant on her marriage decision but stayed in her father house. Kamal Amrohi planned a film called Daera in (1953), which was based on their love story. Kumari asked her father permission that her husband need her for the Film Daera. Ali Bux refused that the dates were given to Mehboob Khan for film Amar. Rluctantly Meena Kumari agreed but after five days shooting Meena Kumari instigated a disagreement with Mehboob Khan and left the studios. 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 for her. On 14 August 1953 Meena Kumari drove to Bombay Talkies and worked infront of her husband's camera and at night when Meena Kumari came back from Film Daera shooting her father refused to open the door. Meena Kumari turned her car and left for her husband Kamal Amrohi's residence at Sion. Thus the news of the marriage became public and the couple started their married life in 1953.

Rising star (1952)

Tragedy Queen of Indian Cinema (1957)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Meena Kumari essayed roles in films like Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam that mirrored her own unhappy life, after separation 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 Tragidienne and the endearing crown of The Tragedy Queen of Indian Cinema popularly bestowed on Meena Kumari.

  • 1957: Film Sharada directed by L.V. Prasad was Meena Kumari first venture with Raj Kapoor for Meena Kumari it was a difficult role to essay and had been refused by all leading actesses of the day. The finesse which Meena vested in her role earned her the Best actress at Bengal Film Journalists' Association Award.The Film gained great critical success.The film was the ninth highest grossing film at the Indian Box Office in 1957 and noted as one of the best performances of Meena Kumari.[31] Miss Mary a comedy film directed by L.V. Prasad Star Meena Kumari and Gemini Ganesan. The film was one of the biggest hits of that year.[32]
  • 1958: Sahara directed by Lekhraj Bhakri, Meena Kumari received a Filmfare Best Actress nomination for her performance. Film Yahudi directed by Bimal Roy. It starred Meena Kumari, Dilip Kumar, Sohrab Modi, Nazir Hussain, Nigar Sultana.It was based play Yahudi Ki Ladki by Agha Hashar Kashmiri, a classic in Parsi-Urdu theatre, about persecution of Jews in the Roman Empire.[33] The film was a box office hit with famous song "Yeh Mera Diwanapan Hai" sung by Mukesh. Film Farishta starting Ashok Kumar and Meena Kumari as lead protagonist. The film was above average. Film Savera directed by Satyen Bose with Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar in lead roles.
  • 1959: Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan directed and produced by Devendra Goel stars Meena Kumari with newcommer Rajendra Kumar and Honey Irani, the film was a huge hit on box office and Meena Kumari received a Filmfare nomination for Best Actress for her performance. Film Char Dil Char Rahen directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, with a star cast Meena Kumari, Raj Kapoor,Shammi Kapoor, Kumkum,Nimmi. The film received well reviews from Critics.
  • 1960: Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai Hindi romantic drama written and directed by Kishore Sahu.The film stars Meena Kumari, Raaj Kumar and Nadira as leads.The film tells the story of a surgeon is obligated to marry the daughter of a family friend, while he is love with a colleague nurse, played Meena Kumari. It is one of the noted acting performances of lead actress Meena Kumari's career.[34] The films music is by Shankar Jaikishan, and features hit song, the Hawaiin-themed "Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh" sung by Lata Mangeshkar.[35] At the 1961 Filmfare Awards it created an upset by beating popular musical epic, Mughal-e-Azam of Naushad for the Best Music Director category.[36] Film Kohinoor directed by S U Sunny. The film stars Meena Kumari, Dilip Kumar, Leela Chitnis and Kumkum. This film is also notable for some rare comical and funny scenes by Meena Kumari, who is otherwise known as tragedy queen. Its tone was light and it lacked the intense characterisations of their earlier films.The film was one of the biggest Hindi film hit in the decade. Bahaana directed by Kumar had a star cast inclusive of Meena Kumari, Sajjan, Anwar, Kumar, Pramila, Azurie and Sheela Vaz.
  • 1961: Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan a family drama directed by Sadashiv J. Row Kavi with Meena Kumari and Balraj Sahni in the lead roles.It is one of the noted acting performances by Meena Kumari.The film was one of the highest-grossing film of the year at the Indian Box Office with the famous song "Jyoti Kalash Chhalke" by Lata Mangeshkar. Film Zindagi Aur Khwab directed S. Bannerjee Starting Meena Kumari and Rajendra Kumar.The film was a hit on Indian box office. Pyaar Ka Saagar directed by Devendra Goel with Meena Kumari and Rajendra Kumar.The film did above the average.

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 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, which was conferred with three more awards, but her performances in the other two movies had equally impacted the audiences.

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam

1962 Film Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam was perhaps the most perilous mix of the reel and real. In 1969 Vividh Bharati Service of All India Radio Program Meena Kumari confessed that " Choti Bahu from Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam is my Astral body ".

Meena Kumari as Chhoti bahu in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam

A film produced by Guru Dutt and directed by Abrar Alvi. It is based on a Bengali novel, "Shaheb Bibi Golam" by Bimal Mitra.

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."[37]

—The Legend and the Enigma

By Shoma Chatterji

Meena Kumari Played the character of Choti Bahu which was dangerously close to her own tragic life.The film was a major critical and commercial success, with critics attributing it to Meena Kumari's performance as Chhoti Bahu, which is regarded as one of the best performances of Hindi cinema.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 was chosen as India's official entry to the Oscars.[38]

Separation from husband and addiction to alcohol (1964)

After marriage Kamal Amrohi allowed Meena Kumari to contineo her acting career but put three conditions.[46]

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 meet Meena Kumari on the sets.[47]

Khursheed explained clearly 'she loved children. Kamal Sahab never wanted a child from Meena'[48] Kamal denied 'It was manju who never wanted a baby because she felt it will harm her screen image'.[49] 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.[50] Kumari raised Kamal Amrohi’s son, Tajdaar, who was greatly attached to his Chhoti Ammi (younger mother).[51]

The couple relationship got estranged in 1960, Squabbles, arguments and physical voilence.

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 makeup was being done and one awful evening when, working beyound schedule to complete a shot, he had to face his heroin dissolving in tears.[52]

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[53]

" When her star start rising his went down.I asked Kamal Amrohi if indeed he had hit her as per many rumors. He completly denied it, saying that such a thing was totally against his unbringing. But six different people told me that there was physical voilence in their relationship. Thoes were the days when Meena Kumari would come back Rembrandt till late at night.[54]

— Vinod Mehta interview (The Writer of Meena Kumari The Classic Biography)

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. Meena Kumari breeezed out the studio saying " Tell Kamal Sahab I will not be coming home tonight" and Kumari kept her words.[55] Meena Kumari never returned home and never stepped in their Pali Naka home thereafter. Kumari stayed in actor Mehmood’s house for a while, who was married to her sister, Mahalekha (Madhu), before moving to one in Janaki Kutir, Juhu. Kamal Amrohi rushed to Mehmood’s house to reconcile their differences and escort her back. But Kumari refused.

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
Discontent also found with him)

Meena Kumari was a patient of chronic insomnia and was on sleeping pills for a long time, Dr Saeed Timurza, her physician, then prescribed a peg of brandy as a sleeping pill, and this was officially how she came into contact with the habit that was to kill her. [56] Somehow this peg of brandy turned into heavy drinking after Kumari sepration from her husband. Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi never formally divorced but separated in 1964.[57] During those years of separation from her husband, Kumari name was associated with Rahul,[58] Gulzar,[59] Dharmendra[60] and Sawan Kumar Tak.[61]

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

Dr Sherlock warned Meena Kumari before she left the infirmary, "The day you want to die have a drink."[67]

—Meena Kmari The Classic Biography 1972

Upon recovery, she returned to India in September 1968. she settled her debts and made peace with her estranged sister, Madhu, whom she had not spoken to for two years.

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".

Completion of Pakeezah (1969-71)

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

— 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. After the faliure of Daera in 1953, Pakeezah as an idea was roaming Amrohi's mind. A concept, he say was irretrivably fixed with his love for his wife.He hope to create a film which would be worthy of the love he felt for her as a women. 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. Pakeezah took 14 years to reach the silver screen. First planned by Amrohi in 1958, the film went on the studio floors in 1964, but the shooting came to a standstill after their separation in March 1964, when it was more than halfway complete.[70]

Mr Amrohi wrote a letter to his estranged wife on 24 August 1968.[71]

"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[72]

"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:

"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."[70]

on 16 March 1969, five years and twelve days after Kumari left her husband, Gravelly ill, Meena Kumari reported for work again on Pakeezah. 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. Gravelly ill 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. According to Amrohi, "He and Manju(meena kumari) had come close indeeed. During the shooting journeys she cared after Chandan (Kamal Amrohi) as a wife look 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."[73] 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."[74]

"I has lived with Pakeezah almost aslong as i lived with its creator ... to Meena Kumari Pakeezah means a performence. A great performence ? That is not for me to say: that is for people to decide. For me to say is this: it is a performence 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."

—Meena Kumari about Pakeezah (1972)

Pakeezah released on 4 February 1972, with a grand premiere at Maratha Mandir theatre in central Mumbai. Meena Kumari arrived to attend the last premiere of her life. She let Mr Raaj Kumar, for the benefit of the press, Raaj Kumar kissed her hand and then she went in to see the film. Meena Kumari seated next with Kamal Amrohi during the premiere. When Mohammed Zahur Khayyam complimented Meena Kumari with "shahkar ban gaya" (it's priceless), she was in tears.[75] 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. She posthumously received her twelfth and last Filmfare nomination.


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.

"Appa! Appa! I don't want to die."

Meena Kumari to her elder sister Khursheed from her deathbed.[76]

— (Meena Kumari The Classic Biography)

Meena Kumari died on Friday 31 March 1972 of liver cirrhosis at age 39. At her death, she was in more or less the same financial circumstance as her parents at the time of her birth. It is said that when she died in a nursing home, there was no money to pay her hospital bills. She was buried at Rahematabad Qabristan located at Narialwadi, Mazgaon, Mumbai.

Meena Kumari

Meena Kumari wished this epitaph to be on her grave:

She ended life with a broken fiddle,

With a broken song,

With a broken heart,

But not a single regret.

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.[77]

Dilip Kumar lamented," 31 March 1972 was an unfortunate day since on this day infront of their own eyes they had seen helplessly the slow going away of a dear friend."[78]

Dev Anand concluded," Meena Kumari was the greatest artiste of them all. I regret there was no recongnition of her historionic talent."[79]

Raaj Kumar was confident that " She would live for all time to come."[80]

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."[81]

Baldev Raj Chopra producer directer 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."[82]

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."[83]

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas tributed," Martyrs never die. And it was Meena Kumari the mortal human being that was duried in a grave. Her soul, her art, is beyond decay."[84]

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."[84]

The Poetess Naaz

Meena Kumari was also a talented poetess under the pseudonym Naaz. 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.[85]

  • I write, I recite Meena Kumari’s poems LP Vinyl Record was released in 1971, for which Mohammed Zahur Khayyam gave music.[86] The ‘nazms’ poetry in the album have been written,recited & sung by the poetess herself.[87] The album is re-released in 19 September 2006.[88]
  • Tanha Chand (Lonely Moon) a collection of Meena Kumari poems, was compiled by Gulzar and published after her death in 1972.[89]

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

"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[90] published by Roli Books has poems in which the late actress talked about love, loneliness, wishes, illusion, a window of dreams, silence and innocence.

"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


Filmfare Awards

Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards

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

  • 1963 Best Actress (Hindi): Aarti
  • 1965 Best Actress (Hindi): Dil Ek Mandir
  • Special Award: Pakeezah[92]


One of the first biographies of Meena Kumari was written just after her death by Vinod Mehta in 1972. It was titled Meena Kumari: A 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".[93]


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External links