November 21st, 2009

Meena Kumari & Kamal Amrohi

Meena Kumari with Kamal Amrohi

Meena Kumari with Kamal Amrohi

Three days after Meena Kumari’s death we met Kamal Amrohi at his house, “Rembrandt,” on Pali Hill. The place wore a gloomy look. Kamal Amrohi sat engrossed, listening to the tape-recorded voice of Meena Kumari.

It was an old sponsored program, broadcast over Radio Ceylon in 1958, where Meena Kumari talked enthusiastically on her first ever visit to her husband’s home town Amroha in 1956, four years after her marriage to Amrohi. She was all praise for his household and his people, recalled visiting the shrine of saint Shah Sharifuddin Shah Valayat, and wished she too would be among the fortunate ones to find a place near the shrine after her death.

Meena Kumari spoke of Kamal Amrohi with such respect and love, nobody would have suspected they would be separated in their lifetime. Yet six years later she walked out of his house, never to return. What could be the provocation for her to take such a step? Was it true, as is generally believed, that her marriage to Amrohi was a failure? Did he ill-treat her any time, as alleged by some people?

Amrohi claimed it was a conspiracy by some people to wreck their home and then exploit the star for their own advantage. For 12 years after their marriage there had never been any trouble or differences between them. But once Meena Kumari became a top star commanding a high price, he said, some people became jealous. They apparently wanted a share in her earnings.

There were the producers who wanted Meena Kumari to act in their films. They knew they could not have their way as long as Meena Kumari was with Kamal Amrohi. Together with some of Meena Kumari’s relatives, they hatched a plot to create differences between the couple.

For two years, Amrohi says, these “sympathizers” brainwashed Meena Kumari so thoroughly that she began to believe her husband was an obstacle in her career. They started spreading rumors that he was ill-treating her. It was true, Kamal Amrohi said, that he used to advise Meena against accepting assignments which would harm her reputation. He used to be a little harsh sometimes, he admitted, but it was all in her interest.

Amrohi didn’t want us to mention the names of people who had “conspired” against him.

Within a few months, Kamal Amrohi says, the actress too realized she had been misled. Those days, she lived with the family of one of the “sympathizers”.

When she realized she had been let down, she tried to get Kamal Amrohi over the phone but he wasn’t in town. The friend who picked up the phone later told him that she was sobbing and appeared terribly disturbed. He had tried to locate her and had failed. Meena Kumari finally went away from the house. Some time after this, she moved to a house at Janaki Kutir, Juhu.

Although she lived away from him, Kamal Amrohi said, she always remembered him when she needed help or when she fell ill. In 1967 she called him to her house and pleaded him to re-start “Pakeezah.” They were meeting after three long years. They had dinner together and she gave him her diary to read.

For the next two years Amrohi and Meena Kumari continued to meet frequently. But she never talked of the sad past, neither did her husband. But the actress used to tell close friends – among them the composer Khayyam and a Delhi distributor SayeedBhai and his wife – that God would never forgive those who had wrecked her home.

The resumption of “Pakeezah” almost brought about a reunion. And now the only man in whom Meena Kumari had implicit faith was Kamal Amrohi. After seeing “Pakeezah” at a special show she was all excitement. She regarded the film as his tribute to her.

After the film’s release some common friends had suggested that Kamal Amrohi bring Meena back to his house. But Amrohi felt it would remind her of the past and that would have affected her health. In any case they used to be together most of the day and she seemed content with the arrangement.

Amrohi recalls his first meeting with Meena Kumari. The year was 1938. He was a budding film writer. Sohrab Modi was making “Jailor,” written by Amrohi. They wanted a 7 year old girl for one of the roles. He was asked to meet a Master Ali Bux to see if his daughter would suit the role. One evening he went to meet Ali Bux at his house at Dadar. Bux sent for his daughter, and the little girl came running into the room with mashed banana smeared all over her lips and hands.

Ali Bux scolded the girl and asked her to wash and come. That was Mahjabeen, who years later became Meena Kumari.

Amrohi had liked her but the role finally went to some other girl. Whenever Amrohi passed by Dadar he used to point out the house of his friend and remark that a future heroine lived there.

Years later Amrohi wanted a new girl to play the female lead in “Mahal,” which he was directing for Bombay Talkies. Somebody suggested Meena Kumari’s name. Amrohi didn’t know who the girl was and he summarily rejected the suggestion. Madhubala was eventually selected for the role.

Soon after, on the sets of “Tamasha” at Filmistan, Amrohi was introduced to Meena Kumari by Ashok Kumar. He liked her performance on the sets, but didn’t know it was the little girl Mahjabeen, now grown up.

Then Amrohi was assigned to make “Anarkali”, for Filmkar. Madhubala had been assigned the title role. Due to differences between the producer and the actress’s father, Ataullah Khan, Madhubala refused to act in the film. Amrohi suggested that they sign up Meena Kumari for the role.

Before the shooting began she was involved in a car accident. She was in hospital in Poona for five months. Amrohi used to visit her at week ends. Meena was doubtful if he would still consider her for the role. To reassure her Amrohi wrote on her wrist: “Meri Anarkali” and signed his name below. The film was finally never made.

On February 15, 1952 they were married.

Kamal Amrohi recalled Meena Kumari’s last words before she went into a coma at the nursing home on the evening of Wednesday, March 29. She said “Chandan, I will not live much longer now. My last wish is to die in your arms.” She always addressed Amrohi as Chandan, the name by which his mother called him. And Amrohi called Meena Kumari “Manju”.

The doctors had given up all hopes. They were merely ticking off time. Amorhi sat at her bedside, sobbing. On Friday afternoon around 3-20 he gently touched her forehead, then ran his fingers through her hair. The next moment her heart stopped beating… An Interview with Kamal Amrohi by A.A. Khatib (Source – Filmfare Magazine)

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