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Meena Kumari (born Mahjabeen Bano, 1 August 1933 – 31 March 1972) was an Indian film actress, singer and poet under the pseudonym Naaz, who starred in classic films of Hindi Cinema.
Popularly known as The Tragedy Queen, Chinese Doll and Female Guru Dutt, she is often remembered as Cinderella of Indian films.
She was active between 1939-1972. Indian film critics regarded Meena Kumari as a "historically incomparable" actress of Hindi cinema.
In a career spanning 33 years, she starred in about 92 films such as Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Pakeezah, Mere Apne, Aarti, Baiju Bawra, Parineeta, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Foot Path, Dil Ek Mandir and Kaajal. Vinod Mehta (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".
Raaj Kumar would often forget his dialogues while working with Meena Kumari on set.
Madhubala was also a fan of Meena Kumari and said: "She has the most unique voice.
No other heroine has it." Satyajit Ray described Kumari as "undoubtedly an actress of the highest calibre".
Amitabh Bachchan said "No one, not any one, ever spoke dialogues the way Meena Kumari did... no one... not anyone to date..
and perhaps never will".
Music Director Naushad said "Hindi film industry may produce great actresses but there would never be another Meena Kumari".
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.
It is said that throughout her life, Meena Kumari had a love–hate relationship with the movies.Meena Kumari won four Filmfare Awards in the Best Actress category.
She was the recipient of the inaugural Filmfare Best Actress Award for Baiju Bawra in 1954 and had a consecutive win in the second Filmfare Awards (1955) for Parineeta.
Kumari made history at the 10th Filmfare Awards (1963), by receiving all of the nominations for Best Actress and won for her performance in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.
In the 13th Filmfare Awards (1966), Kumari won her last Best Actress award for Kaajal. The greatest hallmark of Meena Kumari laid in her ability to depict the struggle of Indian women existing especially in the 50s and 60s.
Kumari's onscreen persona is described as a perfect example of a traditional Bharatiya Naari by the Indian film fraternity, such as Mohammed Zahur Khayyam and Javed Akhtar.
Her portrayal of "Sahibjaan", a nautch girl with a golden heart in Pakeezah under Kamal Amrohi's direction became a historical document.
Meena Kumari began acting when she was four. She initially worked mostly in Vijay Bhatt productions; Leatherface (1939), Adhuri Kahani (1939), Pooja (1940) and Ek Hi Bhool (1940). Vijay Bhatt rechristened Mahjabeen as "Baby Meena" during the filming of Ek Hi Bhool (1940).
More films followed for Baby Meena, namely Nai Roshni (1941), Bahen (1941), Kasauti (1941), Vijay (1942), Garib (1942), Pratiggya (1943) and Lal Haveli (1944).
Meena was cast under the name Meena Kumari in Ramnik Production's Bachchon Ka Khel (1946). One of the major blows in Kumari's life was the death of her mother who died on 25 March 1947. Duniya Ek Sarai (1946), Piya Ghar Aaja (earlier titled Jalan) (1948) and Bichchade Balam (1948) were some of her early films in which she not only acted but also sang songs. By the late 1940s, she shifted her focus to films belonging to either mythology or fantasy genres. Veer Ghatotkach (1949), Shri Ganesh Mahima (1950), Laxmi Narayan (1951), Hanuman Patal Vijay (1951) and Aladdin Aur Jadui Chirag (1952) performed with credit. Other films such as Magroor (1950), Hamara Ghar (1950), Sanam (1951), Madhosh (1951), and Tamasha (1952) mostly had an ensemble cast. Meena Kumari's rise came with her mentor Vijay Bhatt's musical, Baiju Bawra (1952).
Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, a film produced by Guru Dutt and directed by Abrar Alvi featured Meena Kumari in the role of Chhoti Bahu. It is based on the Bengali novel "Saheb Bibi Golam" by Bimal Mitra. The film stars Meena Kumari, Guru Dutt, Rehman and Waheeda Rehman. Its music is by Hemant Kumar and the lyrics are by Shakeel Badayuni. The film is also noted for its brilliant cinematography by V. K. Murthy and the famous songs "Na Jao Saiyaan Chhuda Ke Baiyan" and "Piya Aiso Jiya Mein", both sung by Geeta Dutt.
For Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, to support a drooping heavy look which is associated with immoderate consumption of liquor, she used to apply concentrated Eau de Cologne under her nose. The irritation caused by such action helped her in achieving the perfect look for the role of an alcoholic.
The film won four Filmfare Awards, including the Best Actress award. This movie was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival, where Meena Kumari was selected as a delegate. Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam was chosen as India's official entry to the Oscars.
By the early 70s, Meena Kumari eventually shifted her focus on more 'acting oriented' or character roles.
The idea of Pakeezah came into existence in 1954, followed by its muhrat in 1956. Meena Kumari was determined to complete the film and, 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.
Pakeezah had a grand premiere on 3 February 1972, at Maratha Mandir theatre, in central Bombay, and the prints being carried on a decked-up palanquin. The film was finally released on the following day, 4 February 1972. Pakeezah enjoyed a successful run of 33 weeks and even celebrated its silver jubilee. She posthumously received her twelfth and last Filmfare nomination for Pakeezah. Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards bestowed the Special award to Meena Kumari for Pakeezah in 1973.
Meena Kumari was also a playback singer. She sang as a child artist for films like Bahen till 1945. As a heroine, she rendered her voice to songs from films like Duniya Ek Sarai (1946), Piya Ghar Aaja (1948), Bichchade Balam (1948) and Pinjre Ke Panchhi (1966). She also sang for Pakeezah (1972), however, the song was not used in the film and was later released in the album Pakeezah-Rang Ba Rang (1977).
Kamal Amrohi met Meena Kumari in 1938, while searching a child artist for the film Jailor. Years later, on the sets of Tamasha, Ashok Kumar introduced filmmaker Kamal Amrohi to Meena Kumari, who later, offered her a lead role in his upcoming film Anarkali. The contract was signed on 13 March 1951 but on 21 May 1951, Meena Kumari was involved in a motor car accident while returning from Mahabaleshwar to Bombay. She was admitted to Sassoon Hospital in Poona, injured around the left hand where Amrohi visited her regularly.
For four months this hospital affair continued and love blossomed. This accident left Meena Kumari with a banded left pinky which remained so throughout her life, and she used to cover her left hand with a dupatta or saree during shoots. The film Anarkali was eventually shelved. On 14 February 1952, Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi secretly got married in a simple "Niqah" ceremony in the presence of a Qadi and Kumari's younger sister, Mahliqa (Madhu). After the ceremony, the newlyweds parted. Amrohi left for Sion and Meena and Madhu returned home. The marriage was kept secret from the family and media, although Kamal Amrohi was already married and had three children from his previous wife. After some months, the matrimony news was leaked and Ali Bux recommended a divorce. Meena Kumari remained adamant on her decision, but stayed in her father's house. Meanwhile, Kamal Amrohi planned a film called Daaera in 1953 and decided to cast Kumari, now his wife, in it. Kumari asked her father's permission, who disagreed after which Meena Kumari left for her husband's residence at Sion.
After their marriage, Kamal Amrohi allowed Meena Kumari to continue her acting career on certain conditions. Meena Kumari agreed with them, but with passing time she kept breaking them. Abrar Alvi, director of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, recounts how Kamal Amrohi would have his spy and right-hand man Baqar Ali present even in the makeup room while Meena's makeup was being done.
According to Vinod Mehta, writer of her biography, Meena Kumari was subjected to physical abuse in her marriage. He points out that although Amrohi, repeatedly denied any such allegations, he learnt it from six different sources that she actually suffered. Instances shared by actress Nargis pointed out the same. Such rumours found their base on the mahurat of Pinjre Ke Panchhi where Kamal Amrohi's assistant, Baqar Ali had a violent argument with Kumari. Kumari immediately called for Amrohi who instead insisted her to return home. An enraged Kumari went straightaway to her sister, Madhu's home and never returned to Amrohi's.
Meena Kumari was a patient of chronic insomnia. Upon her physician's advice, she started taking a small peg of brandy as a sleeping pill alternative. This prescribed peg of brandy turned into heavy drinking after her separation from her husband in 1964. After that, Kumari's name was associated with Gulzar, Dharmendra and Sawan Kumar Tak.
In 1968, Kumari was diagnosed with cirrhosis of liver and received treatments in London and Switzerland in June 1968.
Upon recovery, Kumari returned to India in September 1968 and resumed work. Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, although Meena Kumari temporarily recovered but was now much weak and thin. After returning from London, Kumari for the first time, purchased her own home, which was on the eleventh floor of a building called "Landmark", situated at Carter Road, Bandra.