Don’t be surprised if you log in to Google and see Meena Kumari’s sorrowful luminous eyes gazing back at you. It is Hindi cinema’s reigning tragedy queen’s 85th birthday today and Google has decided to commemorate that with a Meena Kumari Google Doodle. Today’s generations may not know much about this talented, enigmatic actress but back in the 60s and 70s, her love affairs and melancholia drenched poems were what kept many a tabloid alive.
When late journalist Vinod Mehta published her biography in 1972, literary biopics for film actors was a relatively new genre in India. He says that almost every co-star and colleague that he approached were eager to share their memories about the talented but lonely star who passed away at a young age of 39. The only exception was Dharmendra, with whom she was reported to have had a wild love affair. He was then very new to the industry, while she was an already established star. Vinod Mehta writes about Dharmendra’s awed devotion to her and how she also reciprocated the love.
During that period, she was also married to filmmaker Kamal Amrohi with whom she had a very tempestuous relationship. Their marriage was plagued with reports of his increasingly controlling and jealous nature, her growing alcohol dependency and illicit love affairs. Pakeezah, a film they were both working on suffered greatly and in 1964, when they separated, the project also came to a halt. By this time her alcohol addiction was taking a toll on her health. Four years later in 1969, the two had a tearful reunion. He requested she come back to finish the film as it was his life’s dream and she agreed on the condition that he make her look beautiful again. By that time her liver cirrhosis was in an advanced stage. They finished the film and after the premiere she called him ‘the most honest filmmaker in India.’ The audience, unfortunately, did not have a similar reaction and the film was declared a massive flop. But when Meena Kumari died a few weeks later, a tide of grief gripped her fans and they thronged the halls to watch her last film. They wept in the aisles, swept away as the onscreen tragedy of their queen merged into the offscreen tragedy of her death. The film eventually went on to complete 33 weeks in theatres.
Often referred to as the Marilyn Monroe of India, she was very different from her contemporaries. She read voraciously, wrote poems, was a known alcoholic and loved to be sad. Her mournful eyes and forlorn aura bewitched her fans. As Vinod Mehta says,“much of her sorrow was self-imposed.” Her appeal was so strong that she even captivated the great literary giant of our times Gulzar. The two bonded deeply over their common love for urdu, literature and cinema. She even bequeathed her diary of poems to Gulzar and after her death, he arranged for the poems to be published.
We leave you with this video of Meena Kumari at her magical best.
Lead Image Courtesy: Amar Ujala