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Pakeezah: Making of a Classic

Meena Kumari in PazeezhaAfter the failure of the film Daeera (1953), Pakeezah as an idea took root in Kamal Amrohi’s mind. The concept was irretrievably fixated with his love for his wife. He hoped to create a film, which would be worthy of her as an actress, and worthy of the love he felt for her as a women. By 1960 Amrohi had written the script.

In 1961 when the camera was set in motion following had been signed: Joseph Wirsching as Cinematographer( the German cameraman of Amrohi’s first big success Mahal made in 1949 with Madhubala and Ashok Kumar), Gulam Mohammad as Music Director, Ashok Kumar as Hero ( later among others like Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt and the final choice Raj Kumar, Dharmendra was also shot listed, but his relation with Meena Kumari created problems), Meena Kumari as the Heroine, and a handful of Urdu writers as Lyricists.

Of all the artists, the speediest was Mr. Ghulam Mohammed, the music director. But, the going for the movie wasn't smooth. The film was started at a time when Meena Kumari’s marriage was breathing its last. Between 1961 and 1964 the work on the film continued but at a slow pace because dates for Meena Kumari were all booked (1964 she was still on top of the game). Also, Amrohi was a known perfectionist, he wasn’t satisfied with his own work and kept rewoking it. By early 1964 some work was complete at a cost of a whooping sum of 40 lakh rupees. Then Amrohi and Meena Kumari separated in 1964, bringing filming to an indefinite halt. Time moved on, but the work on the film almost died down and the relation between Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari kept getting worse. Vinod Mehta quotes in his book Meena Kumari , a letter that Amrohi wrote on 25th August 1968 to his estranged wife,

“…only Pakeezah’s completion remains unsettled. You have made a condition that unless I give you a divorce you will not complete Pakeezah. Even this knot can be untied…I will free you from your marital ties. After this if you wish to help complete ‘your Pakeezah’ I would be most happy to do so. This is my request, that Pakeezah on which the fortune of many people depends, and which has the good wishes of so many people should not be felt uncompleted if possible.
You have better means. You have power. You have box-office appeal, and most of all Pakeezah needs you personally…Pakeezah that is like a sinking ship will reach ashore under your care.”
Amrohi certainly was out of options for having written such a pleading letter. Amorhi was fortunate that in 1968 Meena Kumari, the film star instead of lead roles, was now playing the role of elder sister type roles. Also, her health was not keeping well (she shot Pakeezah in great physical pain). Not only Amorhi but Meena Kumari also needed this film. It is said that Nargis Dutt asked Meena if she would complete Kamal Amrohi’s film( Sunil Dutt is also said to have played a role).Meena said yes. But, probably, she had already made up her mind. On March 16th, 1969, five years and twelve days after she had left her husband, Meena Kumari reported for work on Pakeezah.

Between 1958 and 1972, a lot had happened. Twelve or fourteen years in making of a movie is a very long duration. Some of the original crew had grown old, some had quit, some retired and some had died.
Two of the people who died during this period were: Ghulam Mohammed the music director who had already composed the songs for the life and Joseph Wirsching (later V.K. Murthy got the job) the cameraman who was supposed to shot the film. When the film was resumed in 1968, several financiers asked Kamal Amrohi to replace the music with slightly trendier music. Amrohi said that he would have agreed, had Ghulam Mohammed lived on, but he could not betray a dead man who had given him twelve beautiful songs. In keeping with the times, though, he kept only six songs in the film.

Vinod Mehta in his book Meena Kumari tells us the story of Ghulam Mohammed,the composer of the beautiful songs of the movie Pakeezah.

Mr. Ghulam Mohammed died a pitiable and harrowing death. In the middle of 60s, the room in Hindi films for genuine Indian music had virtually disappeared. Cheap imitations of Rock-n-Roll were in vogue and the ‘Ya Hoo’ type of melody reigned supreme. Ghulam Mohammed was a classical musician. To him “Ya Hooo” was anathema and he continued to practise his type of music. Amrohi, recognizing talent, had signed him on but nobody else. Borrowing a tape-recorder, Mr. Mohammed made rounds to the producers. He played then his Pakeezah songs. “This is my quality of music,” he would say and ask for work.
The producers were unimpressed. This was no music they said. This was out of date. Could he produce something more contemporary, more jazzy? Poor Ghulam Mohammed would return with his tape-recorder.
In 1968 he was sick. He had no money to buy food. He had no money to buy medicine. Soon Ghulam Mohammed was dead, unmourned and unremembered. He had died in sickness and in poverty and in shame.
Next year when they are distributing the Filmfare Awards and Ghulam Mohammed gets his for Pakeezah, as I confidently expect him to, he will take little comfort in posthumous glory.

In 1972, the Filmfare for Best Music Award went to Shankar-Jaikishen for the film Be-Imaan (1972). Veteran actor Pran turned down his own Filmfare Award for Be-Imaan because he felt that Pakeezah and Ghulam Mohammed really deserved the prize. Gulam Mohammed didn’t get his dues even after death and Vinod Mehta’s confidence was misplaced.

Image: Screen Capture of Meena Kumari in the song Chalte Chalte
from the movie Pakeezah

Also read, Meena Kumari: A poetess and an Actress
And, Translation of lines penned by Meena Kumari

The book finally got re-published in August 2013.

Buy Vinod Mehta's Meena Kumari from


  1. Other Indian popular films may be subtler but few have quite the force and romantic conviction of Amrohi's. He never struck gold again, and nor did Kumari, whose last film this was. But gold Pakeezah definitely is.

    Eminent film critic Derek Malcolm writes about Pakeezah ,he included the film in his Century of Film series of articles. Besides Pakeezah, only Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room (1960) made it to the list.

  2. Ghazal "dekh to dil ki jaa.N se uThataa hai", used as part of the background score in Pakeezah was sung by Naseem Chopra.
    Naushad Ali, the music director for the background score of the
    in his autobiography gives this information.

    Following songs are also listed as having been composed by Naushad for "Pakeezah" but not used in the film:
    - ban ban bole koyaliyaa (Parveen Sultana)
    - morii baalii umariyaa me.n daaG lagaay(Rajkumari)
    - ab kii na jaa o bides (Rajkumari)
    Found this wonderful information at a web group about Classic Indian Film music

  3. Nice post. May fcts mentioned here was a revelation to me. Read my post on Women on SIlver Screen

  4. Arjun,
    Thanks for the comment!
    Read your post, it was great.

  5. Loved this blog. Loved Pakeezah. A complete film. great. Keep the good work going

  6. I think i am going to do a few more posts on great Meena Kumari.

  7. i jus luved ur effort and hope dat even young generation remmbers her.i confidently sau der won't be any other meena kumari or no other actress to compete her i jus luv meena kumari....

  8. i danced to chalte chalte while I was a todler as my parents and relatives are very fond of the songs and Menna Kumari. Today after 40 years when I revisted Paakeezah again, I can feel the ordeal when one has to dance with so much pain in heart. Thats the magic of Paakeezah and meena Kumariji. May be I was reborn as Meena Kumari as my life also has shaped up tragically like her. my e-mail address is


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