This edition of Fragrance Of Yesteryears shines the spotlight on one of most recognizable and beloved faces in India, that of an actress who earned a permanent place in the history of Indian cinema with her immense talent. We're going to talk about none other than the legendary "Tragedy Queen", Meena Kumari.
During a brief cameo in Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zamin, she portrayed a gentle mother who tenderly sings her baby to sleep and leaves the protagonist (played by Nirupa Roy) standing outside of the door spellbound. Audiences, too, stood up and took notice of this shining star who could bring so much charisma to a special appearance. The real turning point in her career was Parineeta (1953), the evocative portrait of a woman given to strong passions, engagingly dramatic and unabashedly erotic all at once. For this role, she won the Filmfare Best Actress Award that year.
A gifted poet and dancer, her enigmatic voice and delicate features pierced many a viewer's heart and satisfied their hopes of a complete woman onscreen - one in possession of style and substance in equal measure. Her eyes shone with a deep sense of melancholy that was well suited to many of the characters she brought to life on the silver screen, giving her the title of "Tragedy Queen" with which she is identified even today.
Unfortunately, life imitated art as Meena was a victim of alcoholism which gradually led to her decline and demise. As Choti Bahu in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), the actress followed step by step the fate of her character in an eerie concurrence between her private life and the one she enacted in the film. She married filmmaker Kamal Amrohi, who directed her in the masterpiece Pakeezah, however the couple divorced in 1964.
Although involved in some happy films, her name is irrevocably linked to the intensity of her dramatic archetypes, chief among which are the following: the woman faithful and firm in her principles (Mein Chup Ke Rahungi, Sharada, Kaajal), the angelic presence that redeems a bandit from his crimes (Phool Aur Patthar), the mother whose nurture brings about virtuous heroes (Ek Raasta, Mere Apne), the victim of society, physically and mentally devastated (Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam), the pure-hearted prostitute who dreams of love (Pakeezah) and many more.