Meena Kumari, better recognized as “The Tragedy Queen” for her mastery over emotions, was in real life too, a grief stricken woman. The pain and trauma that she underwent in her tragic life made her perform heartbreaking scenes effortlessly on screen. It is believed that it was her troubled marriage with film maker Kamal Amrohi that ruined her life and she took to drinking and poetry to quench her emotions.
However it was Kamal Amrohi, who immortalized her through his all-time classic film PAKEEZAH. Amrohi was so mesmerized by the beauty and talent of Meena Kumari that he wanted to stun the world by portraying her in a magical way in his film. According to reports, the filmmaker planned the production of PAKEEZAH during their honeymoon way back in the mid-50s, and wanted to present the film to the actress as a gift on their first wedding anniversary.
But destiny had something else in store. What began as a love story soon turned into violent clashes and the duo had to separate. This put the brakes on Amrohi’s dream project. The filmmaker was hell bent on completing his magnum opus, so the ego was foregone, and he went back to Meena Kumari asking her to complete the project. But it was too late by then since the actress, in despair, had taken to alcohol and her health had deteriorated. Nevertheless, heeding to Amrohi’s repeated pleas, Meena Kumari agreed to do the film. But her physical condition was such that the filmmaker had to remain content capturing only her facial expressions, while other scenes were shot using her body double.
Few know that it was Laxmi Chhaya, remembered for dance number Maar Diya Jaye Ya Chod Diya Jaye (from 1971 movie MERA GAON MERA DESH), who did all the song picturization as Meena Kumari’s body double except for the last dance sequence wherein another body double (Padma Khanna) was used in the long-shots.
It was Kamal Amrohi who presented Meena Kumari wearing such a magnificent beauty and grace throughout the film, when actually she had turned grey and pale due to her poor health. The filmmaker himself went to the actress’ house to fetch her for the premiere of PAKEEZAH at Maratha Mandir in Mumbai. Meena Kumari this time around sympathized and agreed. After watching the classic, tears rolled down Meena Kumar’s cheeks and she forgave Amrohi for all his wrongs.
Readers would be further surprised to know that though PAKEEZAH was a timeless classic, next to K. Asif’s MUGHAL-E-AZAM, it was declared a flop when got released on February 4, 1972. However something else was destined for Bollywood’s Tragedy Queen Meena Kumari. She died of liver cirrhosis on March 31, 1972 few days after the release of PAKEEZAH. The emotional wave among Indian audience was such tremendous that the film went on to celebrate Golden Jubilee (shows made run for 50 consecutive weeks) at Maratha Mandir and in many other parts of India.
Pakeezah made news during the Filmfare Awards in 1972 when Pran refused to accept his award for Be-Imaan because he felt that Ghulam Mohammed deserved a posthumous Filmfare award for his songs in Pakeezah.