Exceptionally intriguing and incredibly dramatic- that was the life of actor Meena Kumari. But, a generation that recalls her as a tragedienne-an actor who specialises in tragic roles, barely knows that her life was actually all about tears and ironies.
She was born at a Mumbai chawl in a family, who unable to pay the clinic’s fee, initially abandoned her.
Even at death, the 39-year-old, who had earned wealth like none other of her times, didn’t have money to pay her hospital bills!
Veteran journalist Vinod Mehta’s book, Meena Kumari — The Classic Biography, uncovers various such lesser-known facets of her life including her fairytale courtship with filmmaker Kamal Amrohi, her slew of failed relationships, and her descent into alcoholism.
Here are some excerpts from the Harper Collins publication that hits the stands once again after 41 years, later this month.
On marriage and love
Excerpt 1: Mr Amrohi would dial my heroine’s number from Scion at 11:30 in the night and replace the receiver at 5:30 in the morning... there is a view that these late night exchanges contributed to my heroine and Mr Amrohi becoming firm insomniacs later on in life.
Excerpt 2: Her marriage was a well-publicised failure.... There were other men in her life, among whom Dharmendra was No 1 and typical. He too, it appears, used my heroine
to establish himself in the eyes of producers and once this was accomplished, speedily left.
On alcohol addiction
If she took to drinking initially, it was because she was exhausted. Dr Saeed Tiurza, her physician, prescribed a peg of brandy as a sleeping pill...Mr Amrohi later discovered that the bottles of Dettol in the Amrohi bathroom did not contain antiseptic but brandy.
Meena Kumari’s real name was Mahajabeen, and her mother’s mother, who had left home after being widowed and remarried, was the daughter of Rabindranath Tagore’s brother.
Kamal Amrohi first met Meena when she was six years old and he was looking for a child artist for a film he was working on. Fourteen years later, he married Meena on a day that’s now celebrated as Valentine’s Day - February 14.