The years following her separation from her husband affected Meena’s attitude towards life very badly. Her own life now meant nothing to her. She knew that alcohol was slowly damaging her liver and spoiling her beauty but for her, there was no reason to be alive out there. She did films like Kaajal, but at last, as ruthless as it is, Bombay had nothing to offer her more than the roles of elder sister and mother type. She changed her lifestyle dramatically. Her every action was meant to hurt herself. She spent money like nothing. And there are things which are better unmentioned.
It was 1968. Her beauty was gone. The damage to her physical health was now visible. Her bank balance was reducing fast. Her friends had left her. She was going to die a sad, lonely and painful death.
And then she got that letter.
Suddenly, she realized that she had a reason to live for. Pakeezah…
But still there was ego…a proud glint of gold beneath all that rust. That ego did not allow her to write back to Amrohi. In 1969, Sunil Dutt got to see some of the scenes of Pakeezah which were shot back in 1964. He was simply awestruck. He cursed Amrohi bitterly for dropping the film and asked him to resume the project. But Amrohi could not think of a Pakeejah without Meena in it. And Meena now was too weak to act in a film. Anyway, Sunil Dutt arranged a meeting between them.
Nothing was said in that meeting. There were tears and only tears. It was the purest form of love one can imagine…when you forget everything else, when you don’t know what to do or what to say…when you need not to do anything or say anything…when only the emotions do all the talking. Meena asked for only one thing, “ Make me look as beautiful as I was..मुझे मेरी खूबसूरती लौटा दो .” And a weeping Kamaal promised her the same. As Times of India writes-
“Not much was said, but streams of tears were shed… Amrohi greeted her with a token payment of a gold guinea and the promise that he’d make her look as beautiful as the day she had started the film.”
Meena agreed to returned to the sets and doctors gave her only six months to live. But she now had a reason to live for. She had to live for her love. She had to live for Pakeezah..
On March 16th, 1969, five years and twelve days after she had left her husband, Meena Kumari reported for work on Pakeezah…
It was a stubborn struggle between death and life. Every evening, when they packed up, none of the crew knew whether the film will still be there tomorrow or not…whether the actress will remain alive or not.
And these were not the only problems. It has been 12 years since the camera was first rolled for Pakeezah. The cameraman whom Amrohi had hired for the film, Joseph Wirsching, a German was not alive anymore. But Amrohi was not a man of many compromises. He roped in 12 top cameramen of Bombay and they rolled their cameras in different parts of the movie each. It was the brilliance of editing that there is a magnificent coherence among the scenes of a film shot by 13 different cameramen. As we know, Ghulaam Mohammad had died a sad death. It was 1969 already….and the distributers demanded a music which was a little more trendy. But Amrohi bluntly refused saying the any pollution in the music will pollute the very soul of the movie and he could not betray a dead man who had given him 12 timeless tunes. He hired Naushaad, the best available musician who had a classical base (Ghulaam Mohammad used to be his assistant once ). Naushaad added to the tunes of Mohaamaad his tread-mark 100 piece Grand Orchestra and those tunes became timeless.
But most harrowing of the problems was the health of Meena Kumari. Her health was under constant watch and her liver was dying rapidly. But it was perhaps her will to live to complete the movie that she was alive. Some of the very serious scenes of the film were shot under heavy doses of pain killers.
Amrohi was stubborn..but he was not ruthless. After all it was the love of his life who was dying to fulfill her dream. The long dance sequences of the Daadra song “ Thade rahiyo O baanke yaar re” were shot using the dancer Padma Khanna as her body double. And if you will notice, in the song “ Chalo dildaar chalo..” her face is not visible for a single time. It was not Meena Kumari on that boat.
The song “Thaade rahiyo…” is remembered for its graceful dance which was directed by legendary Kathak dancer Pt. Birju Maharaaj. The dance is a Kathak and it’s a treat to eyes of a keen aficionado. In the first sequence, Meena takes one step at each “tak” of the tabla and camera is drawn backward a little to match to the distance covered by her in that one step. The graceful face expression, the Bhaaw, the Laya, the Taal and the sound of the Jhankaar of Ghunghroous with each step creates a mesmerizing aura around her…as one watches her in awe.
The movie was finally ready for release in 1971. Amrohi had shot 35,000 feet of reel of which 14, 000 were woven to create Pakeezah. When Meena first saw herself in the trials of movie, she got dazed by her own beauty. Her husband had kept his promise. He had returned Meena her beauty. She now had everything she wanted….but what she did not have was time. She was dying…her condition was worse than ever.
Film was eventually released on 20th of frebruary, 1972. It was declared a flop. And then Meena did the last thing she could do for the movie….she died. She died only 5 weeks after the release. The value of a gem is felt only when it is lost. Crowd flooded the cinema halls and the movie went on to celebrate Golden Jubilee. The film acquired a cult status among the cinephiles of every region of the world in which Urdu and Hindi are spoken and understood and it enjoys that status even today.
Meena was no more to bask in that glory. Her lonely life ended on a winning note. She died…but she gave us Pakeezah.
Pakeezah ends with this dialogue-
“हज़ारों साल नर्गिस अपनी बेनूरी पे रोती है
बड़ी मुश्किल से होता है चमन में दीदावर पैदा “
It means-For a thousand years, the flower of Nargis cries on her ugliness …seldom someone with eyes happens to see her…
Name given to Meena by Kamaal in Pakeezah was Nargis..
And two links for those who want to read more..
- Pakeezah: a Tale Not Told (aryanzzblog.wordpress.com)