Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

Meena Kumari: Story of a Poetess and an Actress

cover of biography of Meena kumari by Vinod Mehta The book Meena Kumari was written by Vinod Mehta in the year 1972. Vinod Mehta was 31. He went on to be the editor of Debonair Magazine, India first real girlie magazine that also used to have a section about current affairs. Many years later Vinod Mehta became the founding editor-in-chief of the The Outlook Magazine.

Vinod Mehta’s previous book, Bombay: A Private View, was a success. But the book Meena Kumari was ill received. However, I don’t think it was ill-conceived. For some one like me, born ten years after the book was written, it means a lot. When I was a little boy, I knew Meena Kumari thanks to the ditty, which had the line, quite memorable actually:

Meena Kumari ka laal dupatta,
us-se nikala ullu ka paththa...
Occasionally, I might have watched some old movie of hers on Doordarshan. Never must have I given much thought to her. But, then a few years later, I saw the book Meena Kumari on the book shelf of an elder cousins of mine whose books I often ‘borrow’. The cover of the book had a photograph of Meena Kumari with her head draped in a laal duppata.

The book talks about an era that I would not have known otherwise and the great thing is that it wasn’t written with a pre-planned motive of providing my generation with an insight into the era of Meena Kumari-the actress. It was supposed to be read in the year 1972 itself. And it talked about Meena Kumari-the person. And that’s where the beauty of the book lies.

The chapter five titled Pakeezah starts with a sound byte from a taxiwalla :

"First Meena Kumari made this film with her money. Then with her death."

The chapter nine of the book tilted THE WOMAN opens with these lines attributed to Meena Kumari herself:

Badi Bechari Hai

Meena Kumari

Jisko Lagi Hai

Dil Ki Bimari

Here is what Vinod Mehta wrote about her poetry :

Her poetry is sad, joyless, pessimistic, morbid-but then what do you expect from a women of the temperament of Meena Kumari? Her verses were entirely in character with her life, or at least her comprehension of her life. My heroine (throughout the book, the author calls her ‘my heroine’) was not an outstanding poet, nor a detached poet, nor a penetrating poet, nor a classical poet. She was a learning poet who translated her life into verse.

All right, she was a third-rate poet. But does Raakhee write poetry? Does Hema Malini write poetry? Does Sharmila Tagore write poetry? Did Vyjayantimala write poetry? Meena Kumari was not only the greatest actress in the last 20 years she was also the most literate.

The dominant strain in Meena Kumari’s poetry is love, or rather the impossibility of finding love. And it would be true to say that my heroine looked and searched, wept and cried in its pursuit. "In fact,” she said,” love is my biggest weakness-and greatest strength too. I am in love with love. I am craving for love. I have been craving for it since my childhood.” We all know she was unsuccessful.

The book finally got re-published in August 2013.

Buy Vinod Mehta's Meena Kumari from


  1. "For myself, I was unhappy with the biography because I was young and foolish in those days and rather easily influenced. I had been reading too much Norman Mailer and it shows in the book.

    Now, a couple of publishers are after me to have the biography reprinted with perhaps a new and longish foreword added. Initially, I must confess I was petrified at the idea, but last Sunday I re-read a few pages and they were not as bad as I had imagined. With some minor surgery and editing most of the obvious blemishes could be excised. However, is anyone interested in Meena Kumari? I am not sure. Her kind of cinema and her kind of actress is history. Yet there is the everlasting appeal of nostalgia, something our Meena was hooked on, and most apparent in a collection of mediocre poems she wrote and recorded in her own voice."

    Vinod Mehta in Outlook Magazine dated 27 Oct 2003

  2. Hi Vinayak,

    I have been absolutely desperate to get my hands on this book for over a year now. This book is not available on amazon, being 'out of print', and living out of India, I was hoping that I would be able to obtain it in the next 'India trip' I made. But in my recent trip there, all of the many bookstores I went to did not stock it. Apparently only one edition of the book was ever printed, and that was the original 1972 edition....the book has been pretty impossible for me to find....There also appears to be little likelihood of the biography being reprinted. I understand that you obtained an old copy from a relation, but are you aware of anywhere where the book is otherwise available? I understand that copyright issues might ensue if you place some of the contents of the book wholesale on your blog. Any ideas otherwise as to how to obtain this book? Could I potentially buy it from you? I am greatly interested in all the contents of the book, but particularly that portion of it which pertains to the film 'Pakeezah', the nature of Meena's relationship with Kamal Amrohi, as well as how Raaj Kumar related to the film, his role in it, and more broadly his relationship with Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi. Would really appreciate if you could provide some info on the last few mentioned things, even if you possibly can't make the book available to me. Thanks a lot !


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