* Another fan Khanindra Kumar Dutta observed, ‘Without doubt, her life is expressed in a beautiful but sad way with Khayyam’s haunting music’
It was in 1970 that Khayyam composed music for actress and singer Meena Kumari’s poetry sung in her own voice. On her ghazal ‘Yun Teri Rehguzar Sei Diwana Waar Guzre’, one fan Mini Singh observed “I never felt and heard my heart beating before listening this ghazal, as it’s not blood but feelings are oozing out”. It was the combined effect of Sarangi interludes by Ustad Sultan Khan and Santoor playing, Meena Kumari’s recitation in Taranum and Khayyam’s music that must have made him come out with these comments. This Long Play record titled ‘I Write, I Recite’ was published composed to some very light but very engaging tunes by Khayyam wherein Maah Jabeen (Meena Kumari) sang a selection from her own poetry. Another Ghazal ‘Chand Tanha Hei Aasmaan Tanha, Dil Milaa Hai Kahaan Kahaan Tanhaa, Bujh Gaii Aas Chhup Gayaa Taaraa, Tharatharaataa Rahaa Dhuaan Tanhaa.’ created the same pathos.
Another fan Khanindra Kumar Dutta observed, “Without doubt, her life is expressed in a beautiful but sad way with Khayyam’s haunting music.”
The climax comes when she recites thee Ghazal “Aaghaz To Hota Hai, Anjam Nahin Hota, Jab Meri Kahani Mein Vo Naam Nahin Hota/Jab Zulf Ki Kalak Mein Ghul Jaaye Koi Raahi, Badnam Sahi Lekin Gumnam Nahin Hota/ Hans Hans Ke Jawan Dil Ke, Ham Kyun Na Chunen Tukre, Har Shakhs Ki Qismat Mein Inaam Nahin Hota/Dil Tore Diya Us Nei Ye Keh Ke Nigahon Se, Patthar Se Jo Takraye Woh Jaam Nahin Hota/Din Duba Hai Ya Duubi Baraat Liye Kashti, Sahil Pe Magar Koi Kohram Nahin Hota”. The language and diction of Meena Kumari’s poetry is simple but effective. The rest of the magic is created by Khayyam’s tunes. In the following discourse we shall see why this tragic outpour is visible in Meena Kumari’s poetry.
Master Ali Bukhsh desiring of a son put away the new born girl on August 1, 1932, the day she was born in an orphanage till his wife cried to bring the child back home. This baby was named Mah Jabeen by her mother due to her forehead resembling a moon.
One story is that her parents were so poor at the time of her birth that they could not pay the hospital fee and Mahjabeen was left in an orphanage. Her parents were artists and her father worked at a Parsi theatre on a meagre income. Her mother danced on stage under the guise of Kaamini. Mah Jabeen was forced to start acting at the tender age of seven as baby Meena till she got a break in Vijay Bhatt’s 1952 film ‘Baiju Bawra’ supported by Naushad’s classical music to make the movie a smashing hit. She was nowknown Meena Kumari, born as an actress to reckon with.She was reluctant to enter into this profession and was more interested in going to school rather than spent time in the studios. Before becoming Baiju Bawra’s heroine, she had to work in small roles in mythological movies like Shri Ginesh Mahima and Veer Ghatotghach She got best actress award for her acting in Baiju Bawra. Then there was no looking back, Praneeta came in 1953, Aik Hi Raasta in 1956, Sharda in 1957 and Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai in 1960. The latter was a black and white film. Music by Shankar Jaikishen was a smashing hit. The film stars were Raaj Kumar, Meena Kumari, Nadira, Tun Tun, Helen and Om Prakash. One of the famous songs in the film is ‘Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar. The use of Choir in this song is superb, a novelty at that time. In those days, songs used to be pictured without giving extra movements to the actors. In this song one can see Meena Kumari singing this song in a sitting posture with friends and it looks nice. One enjoys the melody more with this visual treatment. This movie bagged Filmfare Award for the composers.
The climax in Meena Kumari’s career was in 1962 for her acting exuberance in the film Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam.
The music of the film Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam starring Guru Dutt, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman, Sapru, Rehman and Dhumal was given by Hement Kumar on which I have written in my book Melody Maker 1, “Hement Kumar asked Asha Bhonsle to sing in a teasing tone, a little childish, for Waheeda Rehman to josher simple natured Guru Dutt in the song ‘Bhanwara Bara Nadan Hain’. The other classic song from this movie is ‘Piya Aiso Jiya Mein’ rendered by Geeta Dutt wherein Meena Kumari gets ready to receive her husband Rehman who is in a bad habit of going to singing girls at night. Meena Kumari’s acting is superb. This movie was directed by Abrar Alvi. ‘Meri Jaan O Meri Jaan’ is a sung by Asha Bhonsle pictured on a dancing girl, song. In my humble opinion, the best song of this film was Geeta Dutt’s ‘Koi Door Sei Awaz Dei Chale Aao’ with mysterious tune and orchestral interludes, typical of Hement Kumar. This song was re-sung by Lata Mangeshkar as a tribute to late Geeta Dutt. This movie was one of the classics of Indian Cinema, based on a novel by Bimal Mitra. The movie explored the life and time of Calcutta during the British Raj. The story of the movie deals with the upsurge of the business class and the decadence of feudal system in India. At the heart of the film is Chhoti Bahu (younger daughter in law), the devoted wife of a debauched Zamindar (landlord) pining for her husband’s love and willing to go to any length to get it. Meena Kumari excelled in the role of neglected daughter in law yearning for her husband’s love that she never gets. In one of her interviews Minoo Mumtaz who danced on the song ‘Saqi Aa Aaj Mujhe Neend Nahi Aaei Gi Suna Hei Teri Mehfil Main Ratt Jagga Hei’ rendered by Asha stated that the shooting was completed in twelve days and it always took place in night shifts. This Mujra dance is filmed for elder landlord Sapru where the servant Guru Dutt peeps through the door. One of the stories linked with this film is that Guru Dutt wanted Shashi Kapoor to play the role of Bhootnaat (the servant) due to his innocent looks but Shashi backed out at the nick of time. This compelled Guru Dutt to act that role himself. Waheeda Rehman a star at that time desired to act in this film despite Guru Dutt discouraging her but she spoke to Ibrar Alvi, the writer and niched a role of Guru Dutt’s beloved in the film. She acted admirably well especially on Asha-sung song ‘Bhanwara Bara Nadaan Hei’. Even the director Abrar Alvi desired Madhubala or Geeta Bali for this role. Guru Dutt asked first Satyen Bose and then Nitin Bose. Both refused. Guru Dutt took interest in directing the songs. Geeta Dutt excelled in the song ‘Piya Aiso Jiya Main Samei Geyo Re’ filmed on Meena Kumari. Having said all that, the main feature of the film remains music by Hement Kumar with no song by Lata and great emotional acting by Meena Kumari”.
1962 was the year when Meena Kumari was nominated for the best actress award in three films namely ‘Aarti’, ‘Main Chup Rahun Gi’ and ‘Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam’.
One story is that her parents were so poor at the time of her birth that they could not pay the hospital fee and Mahjabeen was left in an orphanage. Her parents were artists also and her father worked at a Parsi theatre on a meagre income. Her mother danced on stage under the guise of Kaamini
Earlier in 1952 Meena fell in love with Kamal Amrohvi, fifteen years older to her. Meena being a poet used to recite poetry for Kamal who was already a married man. Anyhow both got married in 1953 and Kamal produced a film namely ‘Daera’ based on their true story.It flopped commercially. In 1956 the marriage seemed to be on the brink of break-up and appeared a distance in their relationship. The same year the great film ‘Pakeeza’ was launched. Shooting stopped due to cracks appearing in the marriage of Meena and Kamal till many years later when Nargis and Sunil Dutt intervened after seeing rushes of the scenes already shot, and convinced both to restart the shooting as it was a brilliant story. Both agreed and Meena acted despite being sick.
Let me first dwell upon Pakeeza’s story. After being spurned by her lover Shahabuddin’s (Ashok Kumar) family, Nargis is driven to a graveyard where she gives birth to Sahibjaan secretly. Nargis dies during childbirth, and her sister, Nawabjaan, takes the child as her own. Sahibjaan was brought up at the brothel house of Madam Nawabjaan (Veena). Unable to break away from the vicious circle, Sahibjaan grows up and becomes a beautiful and popular dancer cum singer. Forest ranger Salim Ahmed Khan (Raaj Kumar) (who comes across Sahinjaan on a river bank after she escapes from the hands of a Jagirdar she was sold to. The boat sinks in a river but she escapes drowning. She takes refuge in the tent of Salim who had gone for his Shikar) is enthralled by Sahibjaan’s beauty and innocence only by looking at her bare feet in the camp (Raj Kumar’s dialogues ‘Tumharey Paaon Daikhey …’ were household dialogues), and eventually convinces her to elope with him. That she does but trials and tribulations await Sahibjaan as she is recognized by men wherever she goes in the company of Salim. When Salim re-names her “Pakeezah” (pure of heart) and takes her to a priest to be legally married, she refuses, and returns to the brothel house. Salim eventually decides to marry someone else, and invites Sahibjaan to dance Mujra at his wedding. Sahibjaan agrees to this proposal. During this event, the story takes an exciting turn. Nawab recognizes Shahabuddin, and calls him to witness the irony of the situation. His own daughter was employed to dance and entertain his own family without his knowing of this fact. This movie takes turn of a sad and happy ending. Shahab comes to the Kotha despite that he is shot by his elder brother while rescuing Salim. As reiterated above, the movie Pakeeza took nearly fourteen years to shoot because of adverse relationship between Meena Kumari and her former husband Kamal Amrohi, the director. Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi were married when Pakeeza was first conceived. Ashok Kumar was to have played the part of Salim, but the part was later played by Raaj Kumar. The character was changed from a businessman to a forest ranger to suit Raaj Kumar’s muscular physique. Both the film’s composer Ghulam Mohammed and cinematographer Josef Wirsching died during the making of the movie.
It was music composer Khayyam who revealed to me that due to death of Ghulam Muhammad the task of composing background score was first offered to him bur he opted out in favour of music composer Naushad Ali to whom Ghulam Muhammad had assisted for a long time. Thus composer NaushadAli stepped in and composed the film’s background music as well as its title track. Over a dozen of Bollywood’s top cinematographers pitched in when they had time; they however managed to maintain its uniform look. It was mostly shot in Kamal Amrohi Studios in Bombay. Meena Kumari was very ill when filming was resumed and the movie lovers must have noticed that she was shown mostly in lying down posture in most of her scenes. For the dance sequences, Padma Khanna was used as a body double and can be seen in the long-shots. The film, which had been declared a flop when first released, became a success in no time. Pakeeza made news during the Filmfare Awards in 1971 when Pran refused to accept his award for Be-Imaan because he felt that Ghulam Mohammed deserved a posthumous Filmfare award for his songs in Pakeeza. The lyrics of the beautiful songs by music composer Ghulam Muhammad were penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi, Kamal Amrohi and Kaif Bhopali. I remember when this movie was shown on Doordarshan TV; Lahorites went on their roof tops to change antenna’s direction towards Amritsar. Lahore’s roads at that time had very little traffic. This is one of those movies which one enjoys whenever seen whether on VCR, DVD or on any TV Channel. It was interesting to note that Meena Kumari herself designed her costumes for this movie. Ironically this movie was deprived of Filmfare Awards and only one award for Art Direction to L. B. Kulkarni was given. The songs of this movie were rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, Raj Kumari, Vani Jairam, Parveen Sultana and Muhammad Rafi. Its hit songs are ‘Chalo Dildar Chalo’ by Rafi and Lata penned by Kaif Bhopali, ‘Chalte Chalte Mujhey Koi Mil Gaya Tha’ by Lata penned by Kaifi Azmi, ‘the Mujra number ‘Inhi Logon Nei Lei Lina Dopatta Mera’ written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, ‘Rafi-Lata’s ‘Mausam Hei Ashiqana’ penned by Kamal Amrohi, ‘Nazariya Ki Maari’ by singer Raj Kumari (music by Naushjad Ali) penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri, ‘Aaj Hum Apni Duaon Ka Asar Daikhain Gei Teer-e-Nazar Daikhain Gei’ penned by Kaif Bhopali, ‘Thare Rehioyo’ by Lata penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri again.
The other music numbers were ‘Mora Sajan Sauten Ghar Jaeye’ sung by Vani Jairam and ‘Kaun Gali Geyo Sheyam’ by Parveen Sultana. These songs were composed by Naushad Ali. Lata’s ‘Pi Ke Chale’ was a Ghulam Muhammad’s composition by Lata. The title ‘Alaap’ was Naushad Saheb’s composition. All the three songs mentioned above were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri. In 1997, Ghulam Muhammad was honoured, in the ‘Keep Alive’ music show series in Bombay which honours all-time film music composers of India. The only regrettable fact is that Ghulam Mohammad’s talent was acknowledged only after his death.
During the separation period, there was a vacuum in Meena Kumari’s life. She started consuming alcohol like Chotti Bahu did in ‘Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam’. Upcoming star Dharmendra stepped in to fill the void in Kumari’s life. They did some films together also. After Dharmendra went away from the scene, Gulzar stepped in. Kumari is rumoured to have been fond of big cars and after her demise, it is rumoured that Gulzar had a fleet of her cars in his custody. Kumari had acted in his film ‘Mere Apne’ when she was sick. It’s ironic that despite ruling for 30 years as a top heroine, she died in poverty, a situation relived of her birth time. A producer who had to pay some of her fee stepped in and her funeral’s expenses were covered with that money on March 31, 1972, three weeks after the release of her film ‘Pakeeza’.
The writer is the recipient of the prestigious Pride of Performance award. He can be reached at [email protected]