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MEENA KUMARI (1932–1972)


Meena Kumari was a film actor. She was born Mahjabeen Bano was the third daughter of Ali Baksh and Iqbal Begum, formerly Prabhawati Devi; she converted from Hinduism to Islam after marriage.

When Mahjabeen embarked on her acting career at the age of 7, she was renamed Baby Meena. Farzand-e-Watan or Leatherface (1939) was her first movie, which was directed for Prakash Studios by Vijay Bhatt. She became practically the sole breadwinner for her family during the 1940s. Her early adult acting, under the name Meena Kumari, was mainly in mythological movies like Veer Ghatotkach (1949), Shri Ganesh Mahima (1950), and fantasy movies like Alladin and the Wonderful Lamp (1952). She took her stage name from Vijay Bhatt’s popular musical Baiju Bawra, which shot her to fame in 1952. She came to films at a time when talent was superceding glamour; those who came with her were Nargis (q.v.), Nimmi, Suchitra Sen and Nutan (q.v.). Within a year of Baiju Bawra, Meena had starred in three hit films,—Daera, Do Bigha Zameen and Parineeta. She also acted in popular films like Mere Apne and Dushman in which she co-starred with Dharmendra and others.

Her role in Parineeta provided the typecasting she was never quite able to shake off, of a tormented, self-torturing woman; tragedy became her forte, though it hid a grimmer reality as alcohol problems and depression began to take their toll. Though her roles tended to lack distinction, she brought to them a powerful acting skill and poetic sensibility; she was a poet in her own right and after her death a volume of her Urdu poetry was published under her pen name of Naaz. Besides being a top-notch actor, she was a talented poet, and recorded a disc of her Urdu poems, I write, I recite with music by Khayyam.

Her last big hit was Pakeezah, directed by her ex-husband Kamal Amrohi and released shortly before her tragic death. She became the first actress to win the Filmfare Best Actress Award in 1953 for Baiju Bawra in 1962. She won the award again in 1954 for Parineeta. She made history by being nominated for three Filmfare Best Actress Awards for her roles in Aarti, Main Chup Rahungi, and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. ‘A legend when she was alive, and an irreplaceable actress after her death, Meena Kumari’s iconic status will remain untouched for a long time to come. “Gomti ke Kinare” was her last film.’
 
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