Meena Kumari is the ultimate tragedy queen of the Indian film industry. She was born Mahjabeen Ali Bux. Her father, Ali Bux, was a Parsi theater actor and music teacher while her mother, Iqbal Begum, was a dancer. She used to live along with her parents near Rooptara Studios. When hard times hit the family, Meena Kumari’s father approached the studios to get his daughter into films. This gave birth to Baby Meena who acted in her first film in 1939 in Vijay Bhatt’s Leatherface.
From a child actor, Meena Kumari graduated to acting in mythological and fantasy films as an adult. She acted in films like Veer Ghatotkach in 1949, Shri Ganesh Mahima in 1950 and Alladin and The Wonderful Lamp in 1952.
However, her biggest hit was the 1952 Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra. She won the inaugural Filmfare Award for the Best Actress for this role where she depicted the ultimate tragedy queen who is ready to do anything for the man she love so that he can make his music better.
She married the film director Kamal Amrohi and became his second wife. However, she continued acting and went from strength to strength with her film like Daera in 1953, Ek Hi Rasta in 1956, Sharda in 1957 and Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi in 1960. She continued playing the suffering Indian woman in all these films.
Though popular for her tragedy queen roles, Meena Kumari has also acted in light hearted films like Azaad in 1955, Miss Mary in 1957, Shararat in 1959 and Kohinoor in 1960. She enacted all these roles with a panache and her acting was unrestrained and free unlike her acting in tragic roles.
In 1962, Meena Kumari acted as the Choti Bahu in an aristocratic family who wants her erring husband to return to her. The film Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam was produced by Guru Dutt. The same year, she received three nominations for Best Actress. As expected, she won the Filmfare Best Actress Award for her role in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.
The film that immortalized Meena Kumari was Pakeezah, a film planned by her and Kamal Amrohi in 1958. When her marriage to Kamal Amrohi ended this film came to standstill. Meena Kumari started resorting to drinking and seeking company of younger men. Pakeezah took nearly 14 years to complete and was released in February 1972. The film did not do so well initially. However, after Meena Kumari’s death on March 31, 1972, the film suddenly picked up and became a huge success that it has acquired a legendary status.