1. Meena Kumari loved the scent of mogras. If you wanted her as a friend you could try giving her mogra flowers. You would have seen her face light up with pleasure. She was not much into worldly things and gave away all her possessions to her relatives and died in the servant’s quarter of a mansion she gifted to her sister.
2. Meenaji couldn’t dance to save her life in Pakeezah. But she loved to sing and has recorded an entire album of her own poetry I Write I Recite composed by Khayyam. In her films she wanted only Lata Mangeshkar to sing for her. Lataji recalls her association with the legendary actress. “I remember one day she called and introduced herself. She wanted me to come and sing in her house. I declined saying I don’t sing for private functions. She never held that incident against me. She often used to land up at the recording studio for my songs. One day for a recording for Hemant Kumar I had washed my hair and left it open. Meena Kumari who was very proud of her hair , looked at my hair and exclaimed, ‘Kitne lambe baal hain aapke!’ I told her I had never cut my hair in my life. My voice used to match her to perfection. What an artiste and what a fine humanbeing! During the making of Pakeezah (which went on for a good 20 years) Kamal Amrohi who used to treat me like a daughter invited me home for song rehearsals. Meena Kumari was practicing her steps for my songs in Pakeezah. Meena turned to me and said, “When you sing I don’t have to make any effort to act.”
I cherish that compliment. Sadhana had said something similar to me once. Meena Kumari often called to chat. She seemed very unhappy with her life. I met her for the Filmfare awards in 1968. She had become thin and pale. That year I had given up the awards, and she said, ‘It’s like the queen abdicating her throne.’ Later I came to know she was extremely ill. When I reached her place with flowers she looked very ill. She looked at me and said, ‘Allah, aap yahan aaye, main badi khush-kismat hoon.’ We chatted. She asked me for tea, though I sensed she was in no position to offer me anything except her warmth in that condition. She passed away a little later. And then Pakeezah became a legend. Meena Kumari was so ill she couldn’t dance for the film. But I cherish my songs for her in that film.
3. Not much of a dancer, Meena Kumari was too frail to even stand straight for the climactic song and dance in Pakeezah (Aaj hum apne duawon ka asar dekhenge). Kamal Amrohi had to get a body-double Padma Khanna to dance for Meena Kumari.
4. She had injured the little finger of her hand in a car accident early in her life. In all her films she kept the left hand with the injured finger covered with her saree or a dupatta. Directors would tell her to not hide the finger as it took nothing away from her beauty and screen presence. But she remained self-conscious about her injury till her last.
5. She was rumoured to have shared intense romantic relationships with Gulzar and Dharmendra, though neither men has ever spoken about their association. But she agreed to do Gulzar’s Mere Apne for almost no fee. As for Dharmendra, proof of Meenaji’s extra-marital relationship lies in her ex-husband’s film Razia Sultan where he cast Dharmendra and then painted him black from head to toe on screen. It is said this was Amrohi’s revenge on the man who snatched his wife’s attention and affection. Meena Kumari supported the young struggling Dharmendra financially and emotionally. A formidable actress and a big box-office draw, she insisted that producers who wanted her for their films sign Dharmendra opposite her. Some of these films that she did only to boost Dharmendra’s career like Chandan Ka Palna, Main Bhi Ladki Hoon, Baharon Ki Manzil and Purnima were so awful they brought the actress’ reputation down by many pegs.
6. Meena Kumari’s most celebrated film is Pakeezah. But her finest film and performance was in Guru Dutt’s Pakeezah. The legendary actress played the neglected alcoholic wife of a feudal family. The role was offered to famous photographer Jitendra Arya’s wife Chhaya Arya. Eventually she was rejected. Meena Kumari had missed the opportunity to play a Bengali woman in Devdas. She pined to play a Bengali housewife and had her heart set on the role of Choti Malkin in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. But Meenaji’s husband Kamal Amrohi asked for a price for his wife that Guru Dutt couldn’t afford. Meenaji personally intervened to sort out the matter.
7. Contrary to belief, Meena Kumari’s farewell film was not Pakeezah but Sawan Kumar Tak’s Gomti Ke Kinare where again she played a tawaif. She shot the film through her failing health as a favour to the debutant director. Ironically in this film Meenaji sang Majrooh Sultanpuri’s immortal lyrics which reflected on her exploitation by those whom she trusted and loved: ‘Aaj Toh Meri Hansi Udai Jaise Bhi Chaha Pukara Kal Jo Mujhe Inn Galiyon Mein Laya Wohbhi Ttha Haath Tumhara’….RIP, Meena ji.
More Pages: Pakeezah Box Office Collection
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