~ Meena Kumari.
Meena Kumari was born with the birth name Mahajabeen into the family of Ali Bux and Iqbal Begum (known as Prabhawati Devi before her marriage and conversion to Islam). At home, Mahajabeen’s family fondly called her by the name “Munna”.
Vijay Bhatt, Director, Producer and Proprietor of Prakash Studio was approached by Ali Bux to cast Mahajabeen in one of his films. Vijay Bhatt was at that time making Leather Face aka Farzande Watan ( Hindi title, film released in 1939) in which Jairaj was the hero and Mehtab the heroine. There was a vacancy for a small girl to play Jairaj’s daughter (14 years later in the film Magroor she was to play the role of Jairaj’s love) and it is for this part that Vjay Bhatt wanted to cast Mahajabeen. At the audition, the little girl was neither intimidated nor overawed by the surroundings or the equipment. Vijay Bhatt was quick to spot this and gave her the role. A fabulous sum of 25 rupees was paid to Mahajabeen.
From that day onwards there was no looking back. Film followed film and in four years this funny looking girl starred in Adhuri Kahani, Pooja, Nai Roshni, Behan, Vijayay, Kasauti and Garib. Vijay Bhatt made most of these films. On the sets of the film Ek hi phool Vijay Bhatt’s suggested the name Baby Meena and henceforth Mahajabeen was know by this name until she grew up to be a lady and her name naturally matured to Meena Kumari. In Ramnik Production’s Bachon Ke Khel, Baby Meena performed with credit and got noticed.
The year 1938 found Mahajabeen six-year old and already mini famous. An up and coming writer called Kamal Amrohi was looking for a seven-year-old girl to play a minor part in Sohrab Modi’s Jailor. Amrohi went to the house of Ali Bux at Dadar. After the greeting and the nature of the call established, Ali Bux sent for his daughters and one came running immediately, barefoot, with traces of mashed banana all over her face. Ali Bux apologized for the uncouth appearance of his daughter and said that she looked nice without the fruit all over her face. Amrohi agreed and promised he would recommend the girl to Mr. Modi. As it turned out she did not get the role. This was the first time that Kamal Amrohi had met Meena Kumari.
Appa! Appa! I don’t want to die.
Meena Kumari crying out from her deathbed to her elder sister Khursheed.
She ended life with a broken fiddle,
With a broken song,
With a broken heart,
But not a single regret.
Meena Kumari wished this epitaph to be on her grave.
This write up was based on the book Meena Kumari written by Vinod Mehta.
Meena Kumari first became etched in my mind because of her cinematic death in the movie Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, the death of her character — Chhoti Bahu. The scene towards the end of the movie, when the skeletal hand of Chotti Bahu is discovered during a dig years after her death, for me became synonymous with the tragedy queen of Hindi cinema ― Meena Kumari. Even the song Bhawra bada nadan hai, although picturised on Waheeda Rahman and Guru Dutt, for no particular reason reminded me of her and it still does. And , that’s how I came to know Meena Kumari, because of a haunting cinematic death.
About the photograph: Meena Kumari was a big fan of Marilyn Monroe. And so, Andy Warhol’s famous portrait of Marlin Monroe was the obvious inspiration for me to create this image.