Remembering The Tragedy Queen
of Indian cinema, Meena Kumari on her 84th Birth Anniversary. The soulful, poetic, charming, timeless beauty. Just like her movies her life, too, experienced tragedies.
Meena Kumari didn’t just reflect sadness, melancholy and loneliness, her life has a beautiful love story which is no less than a movie plot.
Mahjabeen Bano, who became Meena Kumari after entering the Indian cinema, is generally known for a career that was forced upon her, her great thirst for knowledge and education, her stardom, an alcoholic life, and death. But, in between all this, there was a girl who fell in love with a man and never got over it.
Somewhere in between a life of struggle, being the single bread winner of her family, at the age of 19 when Meena was almost on the verge of becoming a superstar, she met filmmaker Kamal Amrohi. She was offered the film ‘Anarkali’ by him and the contract was signed on 13 March, 1951.
Meena’s love life began with an accident.
And by accident I mean an accident in reality. On May 21st, 1951, Meena Kumari met with an accident and her left hand’s fingers got severely damaged. Kamal Amrohi became a religious visitor to the hospital to meet Meena and when they were not scheduled to meet both Kumari and Amrohi would write letters to each other.
Because Meena was in depression after such a severe accident, she asked Amrohi, “If despite her accident she was still in the running of Anarkali (film)”. To which Kamal replied in the most romantic way, he said “There was no question” he took a pen and etched on her hand the word Anarkali along with the word ‘Meri’.
Cupid had struck both by the time Meena got discharged from the hospital. The telephone was the only medium that helped them to stay connected. The shooting of ‘Anarkali’ was about to start but the producer Makhanlal suffered a crippling financial disaster so the film ‘Anarkali’ was abandoned.
What next? They married secretly!
Meena’s father was conservative. He wouldn’t have ever agreed to Meena and Kamal’s marriage. Kamal was already married and had three children. Hence, 19 year old Meena decided to secretly marry 34 year old Kamal Amrohi. On 14 February, 1952, there Nikaah
ceremony took place in the presence of Qadi and Meena’s younger sister, Mahaleka.
The newly wed couple got parted soon after the nikaah ceremony. This picture was taken when Kamal planted a kiss on Meena’s forehead soon after the Nikaah ceremony.
They were apart and the phone became their enemy. Yes, a servant overheard their conversation on the phone and told Meena’s father, Ali Bux, about her secret marriage! Father wanted Meena to take divorce. He was furious with her and that’s the reason he didn’t allow her to work with Kamal in his next film ‘Daera’.
‘Daera’ was based on their real life love story but the father denied to give him Meena’s dates.
Rather, Meena was asked to work for Mehboob Khan’s movie ‘Amar’. Meena’s love couldn’t let her listen to her father. She simply drove from the sets of ‘Amar’ and reached Bombay talkies to shoot for Kamal’s movie, ‘Daera’. When Meena returned from the shooting, her father refused to open the door. She turned her car and left for her husband’s place. In this way, news of their marriage became public and the couple started their married life in 1953.
Meena always addressed Amrohi as “Chandan”, and Amrohi called Meena Kumari “Manju”.
In a interview in 1953 Meena said,
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.”
It was all like a dream for Meena. She was young, beautiful and every person’s dream girl. Not much after, Kamal started putting restrictions on Meena and set some rules for her.
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 agreed to everything but used to break the rules every now and then. Obviously, she might have felt stuck. Kamal Amrohi’s lavish productions, ‘Daera’ and ‘Pakeezah’, and his Kamalistan studios (1958), were mostly financed by Kumari’s earnings. Meena Kumari was watched over. Strict rules and spying became common between the two.
Meena loved children but Kamal never wanted a child from her. On camera, Kamal always blamed Meena that she didn’t want any children as it would change her image as an actor. It was all confusing and difficult till Meena wrote about Amrohi in her poetry,
Dil saa saathi jab paya,
Bechaini bhi saath mili.
Meena Kumari became a patient of chronic insomnia and this separation from her husband made her an alcoholic. Vinod Mehta, the writer of Meena Kumari’s biography said in an interview,
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 upbringing. But six different people told me that there was physical violence in their relationship. Those were the days when Meena Kumari would come back Rembrandt till late at night.
Heavy drinking damaged Meena’s liver. Doctors even said that the day she wants to die she should have a drink. Kamal and Meena were never official divorced. It was their own choice to stay away from each other.
‘Pakeezah’ was a huge project for Kamal. According to Kamal, he wrote ‘Pakeezah’ keeping Meena in his mind. He wished to present her on the screen as no one had before: beautiful, sad, sanguine, dejected, calculating, sexy. His ambition was to capture as many dimensions of her as he knew of. But their separation brought the movie to a standstill.
The movie took 14 years to hit the silver screen. Their differences and Meena’s health were making the movie impossible till Amrohi wrote this letter to her,
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.
To which she replied,
In regard to my working in Pakeezah, I have always been willing and clamoring 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.
With this the movie making began and came out as a big success. Kamal accepted that this movie brought them closer and many differences vanished. Three weeks after the release of ‘Pakeezah’, Meena became really ill and got admitted to St Elizabeth’s Nursing Home.
Meena’s last words to Kamal before she went into coma were,
Chandan, I will not live much longer now. My last wish is to die in your arms.
It is said the when Meena was born her father couldn’t pay the hospital’s fee because of bad financial condition and when she died the condition became similar. She died on March 31st, 1972 and there was no money to pay her hospital bills. Meena Kumari’s life was full of tragedies and whatever she has spoken was no less than poetry reflecting on the sadness or love she experienced. The epitaph she wished to be written on her grave will make you realize what a strong lady she was who lost all of her to love,
She ended life with a broken fiddle, With a broken song, With a broken heart, But not a single regret.