Her Career Beginnings
Mumtaz Ali’s (Meenu Mumtaz’s father) errant, drunken ways prevented him from securing a job. Although he was famous as a dancer and character- artist in films, and many in the industry wanted him in their films, they avoided signing him on because he could no longer be trusted to undertake and complete the assignment.
The in-flow of money was reduced to a trickle and Mumtaz Ali started doing stage shows all over the country. He had formed his own group and performed popular Hindi film songs as dance numbers. The show travelled from city to city and was called Mumtaz Ali Nites.
But his addiction to alcohol proved detrimental and often the shows flopped. Mehmood would sometimes accompany his father to these shows. His job was to sit outside and sell tickets and then to make announcements on the stage.
Mumtaz Ali would come on stage drunk and the audience would begin hooting. They would then chase Mehmood, demanding a refund of their ticket money.
Once, during a show in Hyderabad, while Mehmood was still at the ticket counter, he heard the voices of protest from the audience. He realized that he would have to return the money because Mumtaz Ali had collapsed right in the middle of the stage. Before the people from the audience could come out looking for him, Mehmood collected the money, tucked it away in his underwear and ran away. Mehmood desperately wanted the shows to work. He knew that they were the family’s only hope. He would prepare his own small items for the show. He had rehearsed a parody “Suno suno aye duniawalon, film line ki ajeeb kahani. Yahan budhapa nahin chahiye, yahan chahiye nangi jawani” (Listen O People, the story of the film business. People want naked youth here, not old age.)
Once Mumtaz Ali and his troupe were travelling without valid tickets and were caught near Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. He was arrested and presented before the magistrate. When Mumtaz Ali was asked his name he replied that it was ‘bastard,’ and when the judge asked him who he was he began to curse himself. Out of shame, Mumtaz Ali wanted to hide his identity from the judge. But when the judge realized that before him stood the ‘star’ Mumtaz Ali, he was moved with compassion. He took Mumtaz Ali home with him. He even arranged for some shows in the area for him and his troupe, but the shows flopped. His wife Latifunnisa and sons Shaukat and Anwar were present at these shows. The two children would also present little items during the show.
Mumtaz Ali’s three daughters (including Meenu Mumtaz) would stay with Bi Ma (Mumtaz Ali’s sister) when Mumtaz Ali and the other family members went with the shows. Bi Ma treated the three young girls like her own daughters. But there was never enough income. The money that Mehmood earned was not enough and nor was there enough money coming from Mumtaz Ali. The young girls would wear torn clothes. There was never enough to eat either. Mehmood would often go to Gafurunnisa’s (Mehmood’s maternal aunt) house in Byculla and hang around there in the hope that someone would give him a morsel to eat. The family knew of the state of affairs in Mumtaz Ali’s home. They would then take Mehmood to the Aftab Restaurant in Yakub Galli where he would eat to his heart’s content.
All this hurt Mehmood, and one day, he dashed off a letter to Latifunnisa telling her that he had beaten up his sisters and would beat her up too if she returned. The letter had the desired effect and Latifunnisa rushed back from Benares where Mumtaz Ali was staging his shows.
Mehmood thought that if Latifunnisa returned, his sisters would somehow be treated well but Latifunnisa simply packed the three girls and took them with her to Benares.
The women were travelling without valid tickets. An inspector stopped them and demanded to see their tickets. The women simply hung their heads and cried. This moved the inspector who advised them to get off at the next station. It was 11 pm. Latifunnisa alighted at the station with her three teenaged daughters. She did not know the place and waited for dawn. Just then the same inspector approached them. He too had got down at the same station. His house was nearby. “I had to do my duty madam,” he said.
He asked them where they were going and Latifunnisa wept and told him the whole story. The man was moved to compassion at their plight. He insisted they come to his home.
“I remember that night,” says Malikunnisa (Meenu Mumtaz) as she recalls the incident, “All four of us were hungry and thirsty. We had not eaten for so long. The inspector had just been married. He took us to his home and his newly wedded bride fed us with warm rotis and vegetables.”
The next day the inspector arranged for the four women to go to Benares.
The same evening when Latifunnisa and her daughters reached Benares, all the actors working for Mumtaz Ali refused to work. They had been working without any salary, but were now at the end of their tether. The show was about to begin and Mumtaz Ali was the only actor. Malikunnisa said she was willing to work with Mumtaz Ali. At first, he refused. He knew that Malikunnisa was fond of dancing and singing but what he did not know was that she would often shut herself in the classroom during her school days, put together the benches to form a stage and perform alone in front of the entire class. And when the actress Sheela Nayak came to Mumtaz Ali to learn dancing, she would watch her father’s steps closely and then practice them alone before the mirror.
Malikunnisa auditioned before Mumtaz Ali. She danced and sang Mumtaz Ali’s famous song “Main to dilli se dulhan laya re…” and convinced him that she could indeed perform on stage. Then, Malikunnisa’s older sister, Khairunnisa, expressed her desire to sing on stage. By now, Mumtaz Ali knew that he had winners in his family. He introduced the three sisters as Roop Kumari, Roopmati and Roopmala and announced that three star actresses from Mumbai would be presented on the stage that evening. This was the beginning of Malikunnisa’s (Meenu Mumtaz) career in acting. Latifunnisa was against her children acting but poverty forces one do anything, whether one likes it or not.
Joining the Film Industry
When Mehmood and Usman Ali, both the elder sons of the family had left home — the former was asked to leave and the latter had left on his own. It now fell on the young shoulders of Malikunnisa to bear the burden of feeding the family. She spoke to her elder sister Khairunnisa. Both the sisters, Malikunnisa especially, had gained a great deal of experience and self-confidence in facing an audience, having travelled with Mumtaz Ali’s stage shows and worked on stage. They now began doing the rounds of studios to find work.
The monsoon had reached Mumbai after its two-month long journey through the southern parts of the country. Mumbai was water-logged, the sky was gray, and for several days on end, the sun’s rays could not penetrate the dense clouds, adding to the feeling of gloom.
One day, the sisters met Nanu Vakil, the well-known director, at Mohan Studio where he was making a fantasy film “Sakhi Hateem.” The famous star pair Diljeet and Chitra were the hero and heroine of the film. When he found out that Malikunnisa was the daughter of the famous dancer Mumtaz Ali, he immediately signed her on as a dancer in the film. When Malikunnisa returned home that day and gave the fifty rupees she had received as the signing amount to her mother, Latifunnisa was visibly upset. She blamed films and the film world for the state of her husband and her family was in. But she knew that she did not have the luxury of exercising such scruples. The family was in dire straits. But in her own way she protested and cast away her burqa, never ever to wear it again.
“Sakhi Hateem” was followed by a long list of films such as “Society”, “Ghulam Begum Badshah”, “Miss Coca Cola”, “Anjaan” and “Zindagi Ke Mele” in quick succession. Malikunnisa was becoming famous for her dancing skill. Her younger brothers, Shaukat and Anwar, could now go to school.
During the shooting of the film Bandhan (1956), Meena Kumari said to Malikunnisa, “If I am Meena, then you are Meenu.” That casual remark by the famous actress gave Malikunnisa her screen name of Meenu Mumtaz. She soon became a star in her own right. Brother Usman Ali returned home to become her driver when she bought her first black Morris (BML 4428). Khairunnisa was her hairdresser and she too made some money for the family. Meenu bought a flat at Pushpa Park, Malad, with the help of Karim Nadiadwala, a family friend and the family shifted there. She began to build “Mumtaz Manzil” on the plot of land where they had lived for so long.
Meenu Mumtaz appeared in many films of the 50s and 60s, mostly as a dancer. In many films she was paired with comedians including Johnny Walker and in few films she was also cast as the leading lady including Black Cat (1959, opposite Balraj Sahni).
Meenu’s first affair was with the film publicist, Mubin Ansari. Ansari had started a film “Hum, Tum, Aur Woh” with Mehmood as the hero and Amita as the heroine. The film was scrapped just as the affair between Meenu and Mubin ended.
Mubin’s place was taken by Abdul Gaffar Nadiadwala. He was already married when the affair began, “Gaffar really loved me. He even planned to take me abroad where we would get married,” said Meenu Mumtaz. Gaffar and Meenu’s affair could not end in marriage, because the entire Ali family was opposed to it.
Meenu’s third affair with director Sayyed Ali Akbar culminated in marriage. S.A. Akbar, assistant to director Ismail Memon, used to visit Mehmood and Meenu Mumtaz often to obtain their dates for the film Do Roti (1957).Over time, Akbar left his rented house in Tardeo where he shared rooms with Lalit, who was secretary to the stars Pran and Ajit, and came to live with the Ali family at the Paradise Bungalow. Meenu and Akbar fell in love with each other, got married and moved to Altamount Road in Mumbai. After her marriage, Meenu gave birth to two daughters Gulnaaz and Shehnaaz.
Later the couple moved to Kuwait where they opened a restaurant before settling down in Canada – (Source – Mehmood – A man of many moods by Hanif Zaveri)