The Happiness of Being Meena Kumari

aaGaaz to hotaa hai a.njaam nahii.n hotaa 
jab merii kahaanii me.n vo naam nahii.n hotaa 
jab zulf kii kaalik me.n ghul jaaye koii rahii 
badanaam sahii lekin gumanaam nahii.n hotaa 
ha.Ns ha.Ns ke javaa.N dil ke ham kyo.n na chune Tukare 
har shaKhs kii qismat men inaam nahiin hotaa 
din Duube hai yaa Duubii baaraat liye kishtii 
saahil pe magar koii koharaam nahiin hotaa 

-Meena Kumari

Indeed there was no anjaam. She continues to live on. She lived a long life although we may not see her today. But she does live and will live. In her performances and her poetry.

Talk about Meena Kumari and what reminds is a large mountain which can stand the test of time and still delivering performance, beautiful, stable and constant. Meena Kumari was highly respected due to her qualities of integrity, her agreeability and her sweetness. She was a highly independent person with a rare quality of presentation. Being a good person, she was highly respected and loved by the people who came across and her encouragement is remembered by many.

Names given to her were Meena Kumari, Manju and many others. She was born Mahjabeen in 1933 in Mumbai (then Bombay). Her family then was made up of her father, her mother and her two elder sisters. She was born in a muslim family.

Visibly tender, she was a strong person and would not compromise on her own rules even if it meant death and her life is full of examples of it. Highly idealistic, she even compromised with what we call practical even today.

The deer eyed person with her own hairstyle was one of the finest actresses and performers the Indian land has produced. By deer eyed I mean the innocence reflected by her eyes. She always looked beautiful in any role. She preferred trdaitional dresses and had a difnified look. Her dignity would affect anyone who interacted. In fact she was an encouragement in herself and just talking to her encourages you. Such was the personality of Meena Kumari. She was equally expresive in her happy roles, in pensive mood, in romantic and sad moods. She could carry out all her roles with ease.  Expression never lost her and she did full justice to it.

Perhaps this was the effect of this uncompromising personality that her performances are unforgettable even today.

The film star was also a great poet and her works are published by Gulzar after her death who inherited them after she passed away. She also recorded an album in her own voice.

Fact is that she was far ahead of her time when it comes to the freedom of women. She could dare to live freely in the 1950s and 60s when so many of our Bollywood stars are conservative even today. She never doubted her drinking alcohol as she was driven by her own rules and she never harmed anybody albeit helping many come up. She decided to live her life alone when she was dumped by the nearest person whom she depended upon and she never tried to run away from the miseries given to her.

Meena Kumari tried to marry again in later stages of her life but failed to gain proper emotional support. Living alone and fighting the inconsistencies of the nearby people, she died at an early age of 39 when she got very sick due to alcohol abuse.

She will always be remembered. Not only as an actress, but also as a strong individual. And a good poet of course. She lives and she will live. In her performances and her poetry.


It is very difficult to separate the real life of Meena Kumari from the reel life as films have been very close and apparently followed her since she started to just speak properly. Fact is that she was in films and that is where she learnt her the ABCs of it - at the age of six. And after that she never looked back - till the end. It is known that she did not want to work in films and she did not want to work even in her first film when she was just six but the question raised by father was simple - "what else?" Life was dictated by poverty. And she had to work. Talented as she was, she refined the art very much and after Baiju Bawra, was a super star and she was perhaps one of the topmost superstars. But the relation with films was a love hate one and she could not come out of films nor she could fully assimilate the idea though films liked her too much. She is probably one of the dearest of all times to the film industry. Films saw every aspect of Meena Kumari. They saw her young, they saw her growing, they saw her marry, they saw her divorce, they saw her sorrows. They were her most faithful companions which gave her name, fame, money as well as company. And Meena Kumari could not do without them.

In 20s and 30s Prabhavati Devi, Sundari Devi's daughter had to struggle again in life to finally settle life with Ali Bux and earn a living by doing small drama and music in Mumbai. He was a Pathan and Sunni Muslim. He married Prabhavati Devi and gave her the name of Iqbal Begum. Ali Bux played harmonium and composed music for films like shaahi lutere. He also did bit roles in films like id ka chand.They were poor. They lived on small bits and pieces earned by him and Iqbal Begum. Bombay had seen many many such fortune seekers earlier and would witness much more in the future. Small timers who would do bit roles. Iqbal begum (Prabhavati Devi) was a dancer and stage actress with a screen name of Kaamni. The family could hardly earn the required bits and pieces for living.
The Ali Bux family used to live next to Rooptara studios in Mumbai (then Bombay). Ali Bux was very hopeful of getting a role in films in the Bombay film industry but it had never materialized.

In such conditions, this traveller of time who was destined to make a mark, was born on 1 Aug, 1933 in Mumbai (then Bombay) in a place called Dr Gadre's clinic. She was the third daughter in a row in the family and times were very difficult for her parents. So much was the problem that it is said that her father had to leave her in an orphanege as that was a better option in many ways. Hours later he went back to pick her up. In such conditions was this future star born and saw the light of day. She was christened Mahzabeen.

Ali Bux left her in an orphanage. He was frustated. But after a few hours passed, he went to pick her up. This was 1932, 1 Aug. The new baby became the youngest among Khursheed, Madhuri and Mahzabeen - the name given to her. Mahzabeen alias Meena Kumari had started seeing the world.

In such poor conditions was this family living that not much is known about their personal life in those times. The family could somehow managed to meet the ends. In such conditions Mahzabeen grew up and turned six when it was being discussed that she could earn for the family. Fact is that Ali Bux was not ready for Mahzabeen to work into films but Prabhavati Devi wanted it as a means of livelihood. Finally it was decided that she would work.

Vijay Bhatt understood her talent and liked her. She was selected for child actress role in the film Farzand-e-vatan. Little baby Meena was not interested in working in films. She was simply so little. She wanted to play and to go to school and learn like other kids. She did not want to act and work. But she was asked to work in a film. The film was renamed Leatherface later on.There was no escape. She had to work with the cat in the film in a scene. Although afraid, she had to do that role.

Mahzabeen had turned baby Meena. This was the beginning of a phenomenon called Meena Kumari. She was baby Meena in this Vijay Bhatt film. The same Vijay Bhatt would be her mentor once again when she gets her big break in Baiju Bawra in 1952.

At age of six, in 1939, it was decided that she would act in films, albeit againt her will and there was no other option. "What else" was the question of her parents when they insisted the six year old daughter to act in a film called Leatherface. Meena Kumari became the bread earner of the family since this age and had seen the ugly face of life early in life.

Till this time, she earned for the family and always lived for them.  She had a love hate relationship with films which continued till her death.

Probably the seeds of making of a tragedy queen were sown at this time. Sensitive as she was, a lost childhood had started showing up. Childhood is the time when we learn and play. And not a time when we are into serious life. Childhood is the time when we take shape. We are definitely made up of our early years.

This phase of her life saw films like Veer Ghatokach, Shri Ganesh Mahima etc. She also made fantasies like Alladin and the Wonderful Lamp. This phase lasted until Baiju Bawra.

Although a good and dedicated performer, she was not exactly into limelight. She was just an average actress. For a period of 14 years since 1949. Her father was mainly her manager during this period. During this period Meena Kumari has grown into a fully grown young woman. She grew into a beautiful young lady. An unblemished beauty. She had grown into a hard working and soft spoken person capable of taking up great challenges.

Vijay bhatt, her mentor in Leatherface came into picture again when he gave her a chance in the film Baiju Bawra in 1950. Baiju Bawra was a musical love story where Gauri was the beloved. Meena Kumari Played the role of Gauri very well. She played the character of the woman dedicated to her lover. Meena Kumari Played the role very well. The movie was a superhit. Her performance as a dedicated woman was excellent and was loved by cinema goers. The role of Gauri was well played by Meena Kumari. The movie won the filmfare awards best actress award that year.

Sensitive and cheerful Meena Kumari fall in love after she met Kamal Amrohi on the sets of a film and she was head over heels for her as she herself has written about Kamal Amrohi-

Dil saa jab saathi paya
Bechaini bhi woh saath le aaya.

Although he was 15 years older than Meena Kumari, she liked him. Kamal Amrohi was married earlier too. Meena decided to commit her life to him. The marriage took place very soon and they went for ahoneymoon.

Honeymoon plans were for a film that would be a love story reflecting the real life love story of Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari. A film that would be an epic of love. The story was conceived. Like a child was born.

And in such times she married Kamal Amrohi. A time when she was a top star and time was very good. They had a nice honeymoon, they planned and completed a film called daera which one of Kamal Amrohi's only 4 films and they planned Pakeezah.

Nobody knew that Pakeezah would complete in as long as 14 years.

By now, she became the woman representing the suffering Indian woman of that time and she would represent the same for years to come. Meena Kumari was a hallmark and a phenomenon of her own kind. She became the magic word to make a film hit. There was no doubt about the capability and dependability of the person who would put in high quality hard work and guarantee the success of the film. She became a magnate and a phenomenon in herself. Meena Kumari's performance was not dependent upon the co star of the film but she would rather be the central character. Any film with Meena Kumari in it makes her the central character. Such was the power of Meena Kumari.

Perhaps the greatest challenge was Sharda where she has done a highly unusual role successfully. A role that she had dared to take up after there was no heroine ready to do the role. An unconventional role, Sharda remains one of the best performances of Meena Kumari. She could do justice to a difficult role. She was Raj Kapur's lover turned step mother.

This role that nobody else dared, Meena Kumari almost got another filmfare award. Filmfare awars she did not get but the journalists best actress award she did get for this film.

The second challenge was Saheb Biwi aur Gulam which became perhaps the best performance ever by any actress in Hindi cinema. The performance of Meena Kumari in this film is simply unforgettable and uncomparable.

Although everybody else liked every body else, Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi started developing disparity and the differences grew much larger as both of them were highly accomplished and successful characters. She would not like any interference in her work as she was an authority in herself. However, Kamal Amrohi was very much upset at her habit of following her own rules and decisions. Relations grew sour and sour.

In the meantime, the marriage with Kamal Amrohi had turned sour that it resulted into separation and divorce in 1964. This event shaped her personal life also. The once very happy Meena Kumari turned into the epitome of tragedy in a short time when she took refuge in alcohol (and poetry). She herself has expressed her sorrows and miseries in many places and most importantly in her poetry which is the best reflection of her feelings. The same person who wrote beautiful poetry about Kamal Amrohi said-

Tum kya karoge sunkar mujhse meri kahani,
                                      Beluft zindagi ke kisse hain pheeke pheeke!

And at the time of divorce she had said

Talaak to de rahe ho
    Nazre Kahar ke saath
Jawani bhi meri lauta do
    Mehar ke saath

Life would never the same again and she was probably the saddest person as she could not stabilize later on in her life. It is known that Meena Kumari liked tragedy and wanted to lose herself into it, which she did so often. She could cry at any moment without any aids. We never know but probably she enjoyed it and wanted to be just tragic,  enjoying every moment of it and finally turned her own life into a tragic story!

Probably she reflected the irony of the conservative woman in the changing scenario. Perhaps she was not at the right time as today's woman has more freedom. However, she was an excellent person and an artist. A woman who keeps her promise silently and keeps the traditional values in a moderm middle indian family - she represented the difficult part the modern indian woman .who takes care of the family  And she also kept promise in real life and was reliable and  she did maintain values and principles. It is known that she would keep her words and promises and would live according to her own rules.

Emotional that she was, she used to write all her feelings in her poetry which was published by Gulzar later on.

In 1972 March, Meena Kumari was extremely sick and on 30th March, she had to be admitted in hospital. She was on oxygen and after 4 hours she required no more of it. She left mere apne, Gulzar's directorial debut,  half done, and she also left some poetry in bits and pieces for Gulzar. She had completed Pakeezah which went superhit at the same time. Alcohol was not required any more.

After 40 years, there was the same day when there was no money left to pay for her hospital bills. Just like when she was born in 1933, there was no money for the doctor.