Meena Kumari- Tragedy Queen of Indian Cinema
Most of the viewers Bollywood films remember Tragedy Queen Meena Kumari. Her death anniversary falls on 31st March every year . Meena Kumari can be considered as the greatest actress of Bollywood during the golden age, who had portrayed images and characters showing complexity of the mind of the Indian woman and the social ostentations that they had faced during different periods of time. She had acted with all top actors of the bollywood in those days including Dileep Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Pradeep Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Raj Kumar, Bharat Bhsuhan and Balraj Sahni etc. She was very good in writing poetry as well.
Meena Kumari was born on 1st August 1932, known as Mahjabeen Bano and started to act at the age of 7 as child actress as baby Meena. She stormed into the Indian silver screen in the year 1952, with the sublime performance in Vijay Bhatt’s master piece Baiju Bawra(1952). Although the film had been renowned for everlasting composition of Hindustani ragas by Naushad and supreme performance by Mohammad Rafi, with songs like “Man tarpat”, “Woh duniya ke rakhwale”, etc., Meena Kumari’s performance opposite Bharat Bhushan showed the film lovers that she had come to conquer Bollywood with her soft style of acting. In the 50s Meena Kumari’s performance in films like Parineeta(1953), Footpath(1954), Azaad (1955) Yahudi(1958) etc. were appreciated by critics as well. She had created her image of martyr in L.V.Prasad’s film Sharada, 1957, even after having an affair with Raj Kapoor, in the film she had to sarcrifice her affection to marry Raj Mehra, his father, who was much older than her in age.
Her films with the ”Tragedy King” Dileep Kumar in movies like Azaad (1955), Yahudi (1958) and the costume film Kohinoor(1960) were also a success. In Dil Ek Mandir(1963), Meena Kumari after having affair with Rajendra Kumar in her youth had to marry Raj Kumar, due to the social pressure. But from the time she had married Raj Kumar, she fulfilled all the duties of a middle class Hindu woman and brought her sick husband to the hospital at the mercy of Rajendra Kumar. She prayed to God for the recovery of Raj Kumar. Rajendra Kumar sacrificed his life to treat her husband and dies at the end of the film. The songs composed by Shankar Jaikishan and sung by Rafi and Lata had not lost their significance even today. In 1962 Meena Kumari performed the role of Choti bahu in Guru Dutt’s Saheb Bibi aur Ghulam, the film showing the zamindari raj (dominance of Feudal lords) existing in the British capital in India, that is Calcutta. She was married to the youngest son in a family of zamindars who used to attend mujras in Jaan bazaar, in Calcutta, where performers from Lucknow, Benaras used to come and exhibit their skills of singing classical songs. She tried to retain her husband Rehman at home and through her conversation, Guru Dutt, the observer comes to know about the history of the family.
The film Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan, which was released in 1961 was also a masterpiece. The film was related to the story of a middle-class woman played by Meena Kumari who sacrificed her entire life for the cause of happiness for the family. Balraj Sahani has a little brother who missed his mother at a very early stage. The mother died even before the little boy came to realize the gravity. He required mother’s care. Balraj Sahani marries Meena Kumari. She fulfills all her duties of the mother and nurtures the child. Sailesh Kumar played the role of the brother of Balraj Sahani. He marries Seema Deo who belongs to a rich family. Durga Khote played the role of the mother of Seema Deo, while Om Prakash played the role of the father of Seema Deo. Her mother tries many tricks to get the brothers separated. She could not succeed. Meena Kumari never begot any child due to a miscarriage. But when Seema Deo’s child was seriously ill, Meena Kumari neglects her health to treat the child and at the end of the film dies. Her bangles (chudiyan) did not burn after her body turned into ashes. The excellent performance of Meena Kumari and Balraj Sahani made the film immortal. Sudhir Phadke’s excellent classical music mesmerized the audience. Lata’s song “Jyoti kalash Chalke” still haunts huge number of cinema lovers.
Meena Kumari’s performance opposite Pradeep Kumar, used to create a different dimension, as her image had matched with royal style of acting of Pradeep Kumar. After the success of Aarti(1962); Meena Kumari, acted in the blockbusters Bheegi Raat(1965), and Bahu Begum(1967), opposite Pradeep Kumar and Ashok Kumar. In Bheegi Raat, she loved Pradeep Kumar, yet due to an accident which made her legs paralysed she could not attend the engagement and worked in the house of Ashok Kumar as governess. When society boycotted Ashok Kumar, she agreed to marry her, but presence of Pradeep Kumar at the end of the film in the song “dil jo na keh saka” compelled Ashok Kumar to sacrifice his affair and go back to London. It was a film where, Rafi, Lata, Roshan and the actors all had provided their best performance possible. Meena Kumari’s other film with Pradeep Kumar titled Chitralekha(1963) was also successful. Meena Kumari played the role of Noorjahan in the film Noorjahan (1967) with Pradeep Kumar who had directed many landmark historical films like Taj Mahal, Bahu Begum, etc. In Noorjahan the love story of Salim with Meherunnisa was shown.
Meena Kumari had become immortal with her classic performance in the film Pakeeza(1971), opposite Raj Kumar, which took around 16 years to be completed. It was created on a subject related to women brought up in the class of women who could not give the recognition to their next generation as their father’s are not known. The music composed by Ghulam Mohammad, Lata and Rafi’s songs, her ex husband director Kamal Amrohi’s direction all complemented each other, and the film became historical piece of document.
The greatest hallmark of Meena Kumari lied in her ability to depict the helplessness of Indian women existing specially in the 50s and 60s, when the society dominated them and they had no independent income to live separately against the pressure of society. In her performances beauty, aristocracy, tragedy, personality all blended into one and for her frequent portrayal of sorrowful and dramatic roles in her films and her real-life story. Whenever we think about cinema classics like Sharada (1957), Miss Mary (1957) Dil Apna aur Preet Parayi(1960) and Ghazal(1965) Meena Kumari’s image automatically comes in our mind. She was the national best actress for four times. In 1962, she made history by getting all the three nominations for Filmfare Best actress award for her roles in Aarti, Main Chupa Rahungi ( Tamil block buster film Kalathoor Kannamma Hindi remake) and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. She won the award for Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam third time. Her last Filmfare award as best actress was received for her movie Kajal(1965).
She died on 31st March 1972, only at the age of 41 years due to liver damage. Meena Kumari’s films should be restored in an archive for future generations to learn the art of understanding the characters from the core of the heart the way Meena Kumari had done during the golden age of Indian cinema.
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