To most of us, the name Meena Kumari conjures up a 10 x 12 poster of a beautiful face with tears rolling down the cheeks, and that is all… That is probably what I also, like her million fans, thought of her before I met her. I will not say that her friends think so too, for the simple reason that she has no friends. Now, you may wonder at this statement of mine, and I dare say
there are more reasons than one for her not having friends…In any case, she is too busy to afford any, and those like me who think we are her friends have to be satisfied with a short telephonic conversation, fortnightly, until we meet on the sets again!
I have had the pleasure of working with her before, in the film Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, and I can confidently say that I’ve never enjoyed working with any other artiste as much. She is a great artiste. And she knows it. She is also very beautiful…and she knows that too. What is more, she has mastered all the minute technicalities and tricks of polished and mature histrionics, and although she underacts, her sensitive face speaks volumes in silent close-ups…and she knows this too.
But, with all this, she is clever enough to know that it is not enough to give the only good performance, so she is always anxious to co-operate with whoever is in the frame, thus making herself a marvelous person to work with. There is hardly anything she will not do to make every shot perfect, from her own point of view as well as the film’s as a whole.
But this is not all that I know about her… I have never made a conscious effort to try and know or observe her, and may be that is the reason why she is more at ease in my company. One thing is certain—she just despises people who probe into other people’s affairs, and especially hers. She hates the idea of exposing her inner self, even to her near ones, and strictly believes that every individual should have his private life to himself. She has also learnt not to trust people too easily. All this speaks of tremendous will-power, belief in oneself and self-pride.
In that 10 x 12 poster of concentrated womanhood called Meena Kumari, is hidden: an extremist, a thinker, a writer of unlimited imagination, an orthodox idealist, a very determined and self-respecting woman, a God and husband-respecting lady, and a comedian too.
Only the most tragic or truly tragic things can bring tears to her eyes, only the really funny and subtle things make her laugh. She’s got a tremendous sense of humour, although she is too feminine to crack a joke in front of anyone, but nothing funny escapes her. Besides, she is modest enough to laugh at a joke, even if it is naughty, provided it is intelligent and definitely not vulgar. Nothing annoys her more than cheapness and vulgarity…and my God! She has a temper, and believe me when I say this, because I’ve seen her throwing a fit. Please do not ask me how long her temper lasts, as I always run away from the scene when I see drops of sweat on her brow and one of her feet shaking violently…mind you, these are sure signs of the coming outburst! She, however, makes it a point to attack anybody except the person who had irritated her, and she literally screams!
To people who think she is dumb, I’ll only say that she must have just not liked them, and when she does not like anybody, he just doesn’t exist for her. The fact is that Meena is as charming a conversationalist, as she is an intelligent woman. When it comes to giving her opinion about something, she either shuts up or is brutally frank.
Meena totally rejects anything that is definitely ugly. Everything, according to her, must have some beauty or something artistic about it, whether it be an elephant or a worm, whether it be a building or a temple, poverty or even disease.
Luxury-loving, she is at the same time quite hard working on the sets. Comfort-loving too, she will never sit if she can lie down. If two people including herself are occupying chairs and if the other person leaves for a few minutes, Meena Kumari will rest her feet on the second chair.
But Meena cannot do anything in a hurry. From the raising of an eyebrow to walking, all her actions are planned, slow and smooth. No jerks and jumps and irregularities. Everything must be correct in continuity and must, just must, be done slowly. Her actions remind you of a film in slow motion. Of course, she makes up for this slowness by fast thinking. You talk to her about space and before you know it she has a whole story, screenplay and the complete edited film ready for exhibition within three minutes. She has to picturise everything she sees and so she ends up seeing about a million home-made productions, all complete and uncensored.
Then she has a grand passion for good stories and will see to it that you sit and hear each and every one of them. If she is reading a book, you dare not ask her the title unless you want to pass another hour listening to the contents of the whole novel. At narration, she is not a patch on her husband Kamaal Saab, but she has his style mixed with her own way of expressing emotions, and since she knows how to sing (very well), and dance too, it is a most interesting experience to hear her.
She chews about fifty paans a day—and after every paan she drinks a huge glass of water with half a dozen cubes of ice thrown in. And if I am not wrong, she downs at least a bucket of water every day. In any case, she can’t keep her mouth shut, and since she doesn’t usually find interesting company (like mine), she sits somewhere in a corner eating tins full of saunf and supari, and drinking glasses of water after that too, thus keeping her mouth at work all the time!
Want to scare Meena Kumari out of her wits? It is simple. Find a cat any color, any size, and put it where she can see it. If you manage to put it on her lap, you are a genius. She has-only to see the cat, not even touch it, to become the smallest and most miserable little mouse.
Except for her being quite a Jew, and I really mean that she is a little miser, I personally like her very much and have found her a wonderful person to know. But the most astounding truth about her is that she is a lover, and a lover in the true sense of the word. She loves everything that is lovable. Beautiful clothes, antiques, old jewellery, paintings, poetry, music, literature, old fashions, oriental culture, originality, human beings, and she loves love too.
But more than anything and anybody, and first of all, she is wildly in love with her husband whom she admires, respects and fears. What is more, she is terribly possessive of him! Yes, indeed she is. She is very jealous even if he talks to any girl. In fact, I think I am the only living woman she is not jealous of (I hope!) (By Nadira)