Review : Meena Kumari , author Vinod Mehta

Outlook magazine is one of the few media newspapers, magazines which has honest and correct information on indian intelligence agencies like R&AW, NTRO, hence it is always interesting to know more about the editor in chief of outlook the late Vinod Mehta. In his book Lucknow boy, he mentioned that he had written a book on the film actress Meena Kumari, and since the book was available, this a review of the book which was first published in 1972 shortly after the death of the actress.
Meena Kumari was one of the most famous film actresses in India immediately after independence and is widely remembered for her tragic roles in a large number of movies. However little is known about her personal life.
The daughter of a migrant from Pakistan, Ali Bux and Iqbal Begum, Meena Kumari, whose original name was Mahjabeen, was born in 1932 in Mumbai, the second among three sisters. She started working in films at a young age of 4 as a child actress, as her family was short of funds and continued to act as a heroine after she became an adult. She acted in a large number of films, 77 films, like Baiju Bawra, Phool aur Pathar, sahib bibi or Ghulam and her last film was Pakeezah.
She was married to the writer, director, producer Kamal Amrohi, who was older to her and a Shia muslim, unlike Meena Kumari who was a Sunni. Initially the marriage was happy, however after a decade, due to ego and other problems they started living separately. They also did not have any children together. According to the book, she was rumored to have affairs with others like the actor Dharmender who she groomed, Gulzar. After her separation, she allegedly started drinking heavily, which adversely affected her health, especially the liver. Though she went to England for treatment, after her return to India, she did not follow the advice of doctors and continued her erratic schedule which adversely affected her life.
After the age of 35, the roles available to Meena Kumari were limited to elder sister, mother,widow, however she completed her last film Pakeezah with her husband Kamal Amrohi , which was released in 1972. Her liver related illness worsened and she died on 31 March 1972, in Mumbai just a few months short of her 40th birthday.
The book on Meena Kumari was probably commissioned by Jaico Publishing to take advantage of the popularity of the actress and her movies at the time of her death. Unlike most conventional autobiographies, it is divided into two different parts one a conventional autobiography stating the facts of her life and the second part about how vinod mehta tried to collect information about her, the difficulty in getting any details from her relatives and others who exploited her financially leaving her with very little money. He also mentions that the actress left her diaries for the writer Gulzar, probably because he was kind to her, which angered her husband Kamal Amrohi as they had confidential information.
This book is also a reflection of indian society, where anyone who has money like Meena Kumari is cheated, exploited by relatives and “friends” especially if the person is kind. Unlike most biographies on famous persons, where the person is mentioned by his or her name , vinod mehta mentions her as “my heroine” repeatedly. An interesting book to read for those who wish to understand the hindi film industry/bollywood and hindi movies in the post independence era.

Meena Kumari
Author: Vinod Mehta
Publisher : Jaico Publishing House
First edition: 1972

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