Indian cinema’s tragedy queen Meena Kumari is remembered today on her 85th birth anniversary. Born as Mahjabeen Bano, she is one of the highly acclaimed actresses in the cinematic universe who left an impression hard to fade. Call her female Guru Dutt or Cinderella, she is one pillar of strength who led her life on her own terms.
During a career spanning 33 years, which started at the age of four as ‘Baby Meena’, she starred in about 92 films such as Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Pakeezah, Mere Apne, Aarti, Baiju Bawra, and Parineeta to name a few. Indian film critics regarded Meena Kumari as a “historically incomparable” actress of Hindi cinema.
The writer of her biography titled ‘Meena Kumari – The Classic Biography’ Vinod Mehta was told by a director: “Even Dilip Kumar (the tragedy king) found it difficult to keep his calm in front of her”. Many superstars of the bygone era adored her.
Meena Kumari empathised greatly with Marilyn Monroe, the fact that Marilyn’s husband, Arthur Miller, had some passing similarities to Meena’s husband Kamal Amrohi, made the relatable factor more prominent. Her husband was 15 years senior, but the marriage soon went on the rocks as he tried to set rules for her film career and even allegedly mistreated her, and they eventually separated.
She’s one of the few celebs who grew and were raised right under the watchful eyes of the hawk-eyed media. Her on-screen persona was that of a typical Indian woman of the time. She had the ability to depict the struggle of Indian women. As we recall the turbulent life and times of Meena Kumari, we ponder upon her short lived life and the tragedies that struck her in reality.
According to a popular Bollywood legend, Meena’s father had left her at the door of an orphanage as a child. After some time, he returned to fetch the baby and to his shock, found ants crawling creepily all over her body. That was the beginning of her tragedy.
It is not difficult to read between the lines since Meena’s real life often overlapped with her screen roles. According to her biography, Meena was a Good Samaritan to the male figures in the film industry. The newbies struggling to make a career in showbiz were brought to light by her.
The girl who started out as Baby Meena, a child artiste and a breadwinner of the family took to the bottle and succumbed to alcoholism which resulted in her untimely death on March 31, 1972 merely at the age of 38 years. As Mehta would have us believe, “unloved and unwanted.”