Meena Kumari—The solitary reaper
Sometimes the work left behind by stalwarts continues to glitter pathways even after their earthly departure. Meena Kumari, a name that cannot be adorned with mere words is one such actress. For a name like hers, adjectives would only tone down the dime.
As a child with beaming eyes and curiosity running high on horses, I saw Meena Kumari on screen. My mother, who otherwise was just into books and not into theatrical performances loved her, so I wanted to know why she would watch television just for one woman. I looked at my mother and tried to derive the reason of her being pulled towards this sensation.
With time, I got stuck too - to her face and as I grew up I realised how Meena Kumari was pregnant with art and panache. If you have heard about taking ambition to a new level, then she was perhaps a woman who defined it through. She was so feminine, like God's own poetry - embroidered over her features, she looked like a bright day's delight.
I began to read about her and flooded my father's head with questions relating to her. Consequently, I immersed deep into her writings and felt that she was no less than an inspiration. A poetess so magnificent that her words could penetrate through a stone like a beam making its way swinging in its own thrill.
An actress finer than fine, the most sought after performer, yet solitary. You know it's hard to begin and end when you write about Meena Kumari because she seems endless and everlasting. Enshrined forever as the tragedy queen, well there is no art without pain, they said it right. Adding to her twinkle, the kohl-rimmed eyes brimming with poise, with a range that went far beyond white saris and glycerin.
One of her movies that is imprinted in my mind is 'Pakeezah', written and directed by Meena Kumari’s once-husband, Kamal Amrohi. The couple split during the making of the film. The movie took fourteen years to be finished or shall we say begin, as it was successful in pushing the audiences into a state of amazement.
Fourteen years sound so intriguing, exemplifying absolute dedication. There was all in that movie to be allured by - the cinematography, costumes loaded with zari work, symbolisation and the dialogues written by Kamal Amrohi, that stood out and still resonate in the bricks of time.
Severely ill, Meena was tenacious to complete the film. She was well aware of the fact that she did not have much time to live, yet beautified and glorified the movie with much ease and not letting her young fans (like me) make out the difference between the fourteen long years. A time in which age as well as sickness (she was suffering from liver cirrhosis at the time) must have caused a few creases on her otherwise flawless persona. She looked like beauty personified, making the film a major box-office success.
The film gained a cult status, and Meena's performance drew major praise from all quarters. She posthumously received her twelfth and last Filmfare nomination.
Kumari also wrote poetry like water flows upon stones giving them some finishing touches. This poetess was 'vulnerability wearing a smile'. Facts suggest that she shared a lot of her poetry with men in her life like Gulzar and Dharmendra, somehow I believe she was the catalyst in their lives as they began to write too.
Another performance that I am reminded of is the song "Na Jao Saiyan Chhudaake Baiyan" from the movie 'Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam' which was like another gem in her crown. A big round vermilion mark on her forehead, a curl of her hair caressing her cheek and she careened through the lilting music to evoke the senses and yet be so dramatic. She could light up the screen like no one else can.
However, the story of Meena Kumari is still being painted by her panegyrics and the excitement even today is incredible to watch her on the screens. Such was her magic and appeal. And needless to state, sheer beauty. To characterize the legend that she was as a pitiful, lonely and tragic figure would be unfair because the industry has seen many. The fact that chalks out the difference is her passion and the ability to love and feel so purely.
Meena Kumari can be called a perfect blend of Indian modesty and sensuality, sans an iota of crassness - who also emanated a mystical eastern charm. Her ideology and her intensity radiated on her face. She was bold yet broken, and seemed like a painting that blinks looking at you.
If I could just feel, touch or see her to imbibe the aura by diving into her vivid eyes, I would have been a much happier person.
An enigma of the Indian cinema, who is beyond the clutches of time because she is pure art.