As you all know we are both lovers of all things Bollywood but there are classics and there are classics – but one film that has always touched a chord with us is Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah.
Hollywood had the likes of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich – larger than life stars whose acting prowess and star power was superseded, enhanced and redefined by their melodramatic high-octane personal lives. For us the legendary Meena Kumari is on par from the Indian Film Industry.
From the child artist controlled by her father – who had initially left her in an orphanage at birth – to the superstar tragedienne in movies such as Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi, Dil Ek Mandir Hai, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Chandan Ka Palna, Aarti; Kaajal, and Main Chup Rahungi. Meena was an artist of stature and probably one of the first Bollywood female superstars who could open a movie on the strength of her name alone. Her personal life was marred by tragedy, estrangements, and alcoholism. She eventually died short of her 40th Birthday suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.
We were completely flabbergasted when the late Kamal Amrohi’s son Tajdar Amrohi joined us on our Saturday show from Mumbai to talk about the truths behind the myths surrounding Meena’s epic classic Pakeezah. Yes, it was originally started in 1958 and initially shot in black and white; yes Meena Kumari opted out after her break up with Kamal Amrohi; yes, a body double was used for some of the shots as Meena was ailing- the body double was the vamp Padma Khanna and yes, a group of astrologers did tell Kamal that the film was doomed and that everyone associated with it would die!
But what blew us away was when Tajdar told us of his first meeting with Meena Kumari and how he was completely in awe with his new “Choti Ammi” and how he was distraught at her decline and illness. We were moved when Tajdar broke down in tears when describing how he felt when he met Meena Kumari when he was a young child and how he felt so helpless watching her slow decline.
Our Raj&Pablo Rewind In Time this week is of course Pakeezah. The film is exquisite – on par with Gone With The Wind. The story of a courtesan’s daughter who defies her circumstances, after falling in love with a stranger, who knows nothing of her situation. Her life comes full circle when after rejecting him is invited to perform a mujra at his wedding and all hidden secrets of two khandhans –are revealed.
The film took 14 years to complete; was shot initially in black & white; scrapped due to the estrangement between Meena Kumari and director Kamal Amrohi; restarted in color and finally resumed in the last year of Meena Kumari’s life after a Nargis and Sunil Dutt saw the rushes and initiated a reconciliation. Meena Kumari was paid just one gold guinea; and was seriously ill during its last year of shooting.
The film is a visual spectacular; nothing has been left to chance – three superb actors – Meena Kumari, Raaj Kumar, Ashok Kumar are supported by stand out performances by Veena Sapru as Sahibjaan’s aunt and Nadira as the Madame. The songs are mujra classics – all the costumes designed by Meena Kumari herself.
The just don’t make them like this anymore!
Check out Meena in this vid from the film!
Till next week
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