Aman Duttawrote on Jul 8 2009 4:29PM
Mahjabeen Bano was the third daughter of Ali Baksh and Iqbal Begum; Khursheed and Madhu were her two elder sisters. At the time of her birth, her parents were unable to pay the fees of Dr. Gadre, who had delivered her, so her father left her at a Muslim orphanage, however, he picked her up after a few hours.
Her father, a Sunni Muslim, was a veteran of Parsi theater, played harmonium, taught music, and wrote Urdu poetry. He played small roles in films like Id Ka Chand and composed music for films like Shahi Lutere.
Her mother, Prabhwati Devi, was the second wife of Ali Baksh. Before meeting and then marrying Ali Baksh, she was a stage actress and dancer, under the stage name, Kamini. After marriage, she converted from Hinduism to Islam, and changed her name to Iqbal Begum.
(It is said that Prabhwati Devi's mother, Hem Sundari, had been married into the Tagore family, but she was disowned by that family after being widowed.)
When Mahjabeen was born, Ali Bakhsh aspired to get roles as an actor in Rooptara Studios. At the urging of his wife, he got Mahjabeen too into movies despite her protestations of wanting to go to school. Young 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."
As Mahjabeen embarked on her acting career at the age of 7, she was renamed Baby Meena. Farzand-e-Watan or Leatherface (1939) was her first movie, which was directed for Prakash Studios by Vijay Bhatt. She became practically the sole breadwinner of her family during the 1940s. Her early adult acting, under the name Meena Kumari, was mainly in mythological movies like Veer Ghatotkach (1949), Shri Ganesh Mahima (1950), and fantasy movies like Alladin and The Wonderful Lamp (1952).
Meena Kumari, (here with Rehman), performed a landmark role, as Choti Bahu, in Abrar Alvi's, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, 1962
Meena Kumari gained fame with her role as a heroine in Vijay Bhatt's Baiju Bawra (1952). This heroine always negated herself for the material and spiritual advancement of the man she loved and was even willing to annihilate herself to provide him the experience of pain so that his music would be enriched. She became the first actress to win the Filmfare Best Actress Award in 1953 for this performance.
Meena Kumari highly successfully played the roles of a suffering woman in Parineeta (1953), Daera (1953), Ek Hi Raasta (1956), Sharda (1957), and Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960). Though she cultivated the image of a tragedienne, she also performed commendably in a few light-hearted movies like Azaad (1955), Miss Mary (1957), Shararat (1959), and Kohinoor (1960).
One of her best-known roles was in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), which was produced by Guru Dutt. Kumari played Chhoti Bahu, an alcoholic wife. The film was a major critical and commercial success, which was attributed by critics to Kumari's performance, which is regarded as one of the best performances of Hindi Cinema. The role was famous for its uncanny similarity to Meena Kumari's own life. At that time, she herself was on a road to gradual ruin in her own personal life. Like her character, she began to drink heavily, though she carried on. In 1962, she made history by getting all the three nominations for Filmfare Best Actress Award, for her roles in Aarti, Main Chup Rahungi, and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. She won the award for Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Upperstall.com wrote about her performance,
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 on the Indian Screen. The sequence where Chhoti Bahu dresses for her husband singing Piya Aiso Jiya Main is a poignant exploration of a woman's expectations and sexual desire. And later on when she has become a desperate alcoholic, you cannot help but cry with her in the sequence where she pleads with her husband to stay with her and then angrily turns on him to tell him how she has prostituted her basic values and morals to please him. However the common factors between the actress's life and Chhoti Bahu are too dramatic to be merely coincidental - The estranged marital relationship, the taking of alcohol, turning towards younger male company, the craving to be understood and loved - all elements evident in Meena Kumari's own life.
For four more years, Meena Kumari performed successfully in Dil Ek Mandir (1963), Kaajal (1965), and Phool Aur Patthar (1966). However, she relied more and more on intimate relationships with younger men like Dharmendra, and often dulled her senses with liquor. She spent the last years of her life playing the doomed woman. Because of heavy drinking, she increasingly lost her good looks, and began playing character roles in B-grade movies like Jawab (1970) and Dushmun (1972).
She developed an attachment to writer-lyricist Gulzar and acted in his directorial debut, Mere Apne (1971), Meena Kumari presented a strong portrayal of an elderly woman who got caught between two street gangs of frustrated, unemployed youth and got killed, her death making the youth realize the futility of violence. In 1972, she recognized that she had a limited time left on this earth, and so she went out of her way to complete at the earliest the cult classic, Pakeezah (1972). Initially, after its release in February 1972, Pakeezah opened to a lukewarm response from the public; however, after Meena Kumari's death less than two months later, people flocked to see it.
Throughout her life, Meena Kumari had a love-hate relationship with movies, and besides being a top-notch actress, she was a talented poetess, and recorded a disc of her Urdu poems, I write, I recite with music by Khayyam.
Three weeks after the release of Pakeezah, Meena Kumari became seriously ill, and died on March 31, 1972 of cirrhosis of the liver. 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.
Relationship with Kamal Amrohi
In 1952, on the sets of one of her films, Meena Kumari fell in love with and married film director, Kamal Amrohi, who was fifteen years elder than her and was already married. She wrote about Amrohi:
Dil saa jab saathi paya
Bechaini bhi woh saath le aaya
When I found someone like my heart
He also brought sorrow with him
Soon after marriage, Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari produced a film called Daera (1953), which was based on their love story. They also planned another film, Pakeezah. However, it took sixteen years (1956 to 1972) before Pakeezah reached the silver screen. (The scenes in Pakeezah's popular song, In