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,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.
us-se nikala ullu ka paththa...
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
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.-0-
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.