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Kuldip Nayar reminisces about iconic Meena Kumari, Noor Jehan in his last book

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By Naz Asghar

Feb 10, 2019

New Delhi: An unhappy marriage with Kamal Amrohi consumed iconic actress Meena Kumari and led her to the refuge of other men, the last one of whom was actor Dharmendra for whom she retained her love till death, writes veteran journalist Kuldeep Nayar in his last book that was released posthumously here on Friday evening.

” Meena Kumari could not jettison her love for Dharmendra. When she died, there was a photo of Dharmendra on the opposite wall. It is said Amrohi’s own brother, a wealthy businessman got her killed beacuse of ‘shame’ she had brought on the family. This consideration may have made him have her killed despite her standing as an actress,” Nayar says.

The veteran journalist, who passed away last August, has in this book titled, ‘On leaders Icons: from Jinnah to Modi’, recalled memories of his interactions with leading figures of his times who had a decisive impact on the destiny of pre- and post- Independence India and of the Sub-continent. They include leaders from Gandhiji, Nehru and Jinnah to Indira Gandhi, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Dr Manmohan Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi.

The list also includes towering figures from the world of arts and letters like Meena Kumari, melody queen Noor Jehan, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Khushwant Singh whose work left a deep impact on people’s mind.

In his chapter on Meena Kumari, Nayar has recounted how Kamal Amrohi exploited and humiliated her. She was introduced to Kamal Amrohi by Ashok Kumar on the sets of Tamasha in 1951. Kamal offerred her a role in his upcoming film Anar Kali. However soon after signing the agreement, she met with a road accident and spent four months in hospital.

” It was in hospital that her love affair with Amrohi blossomed… and on 14 February, 1952 they secretely got married in a simple nikah ceremony in the presence of a qazi and Meena Kumary’s younger sister Mahlaqa. She was only eighteen and Amrohi was 34, an already married man with three children from previous wife”.

Nayar narrates how Amrohi was abusive and controlling and exploited her for his films.

” Meena Kumari sought refuge in other men and developed infatuation for one person after another. Dharmendra was the one with whom he fell head over heels in love. On the other Dharmendra was casual, definitely not emotionally invloved. She took to drink to forget him and moved from one peg whisky to one bottle”.

Finally she became seriously ill and Amrohi had to suspend the shooting of Pakeezah. When the shooting was resumed after some time, the actress was no longer her previous self, both inwardly and outwardly. Amrohi had no option but to continue using her for his films but he put humiliating conditions on her, says Nayar.

These conditions included returning home every evening by 6:30, not allowing anyone in her makeup room except her make-up man, and sitting in her own care that would take her to work and bring her back home.

Meena Kumar agreed on paper to all the terms but kept on breaking them.

” It was a complex relationship, not least beacuse Kamal Amrohi’s lavish productions, Daera and Pakeezah, and Kamalistan studio were financed by Meena Kumari’s earnings.”

The veteran journalist in this chapter also talks about his amazement over then home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri expressing ignorance about who Meena Kumari was at the set of film Pakeeza which the former was invited to visit at the request of then Maharashtra chief minister during his visit to Mumbai. However, Shastri was honest enough to admit it.

”But all credit to Shastri’s honesty. He began his speech with the remark: ”Meena Kumariji mujhe maaf karna, maine aap ka naam pahli dafa suna hai( Meena kumariji, please forgive me. I have heard your name for the first time. The legendary beauty of Hindi ccinema, the darling of millions across the nation was a figure of embarrassment and sat impassively in the front row.” writes Nayar.

Nayar in this chapter also writes about his interaction with iconic singer Noor Jehan when he stopped in Lahore on his way to Islamabad to interview Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

He recalls with a gratitude how Noor Jehan arranged for him special screening of her film in which she had sung ‘Heer’, a punjabi’s obession as Nayar described the composition’. He was the only viewer in the cinema hall, situated on the road to Sialkot.

Nayar was swept of his feet by Noor Jahan’s reply to the question as to how many songs she had sung so far he put to her at a recording studio in Lahore when he first met her.

” Na gaano ka shumar hai aur na hi gunahon ka”(Neither can I remember the number of records, nor count the number of sins I have committed). The first one you would forgive and the second was up to Allah” was her response.

Nayyar says,”No, she was not trying to be modest. She really felt insecure whenever one of her records was released. Every time a song was recorded she felt as if she was appearing in an exam in where she might fail.”

The book release was attended by senior Congress leader and former Union mister Kapil Sibal, Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri, Janata Dal (United) leader Pavan Varma and diplomat Navtej Sarna among among a large number of intellectuals, writers and eminent people from other walks of life. The panel discussion that followed the release was moderated by senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.

(India News Stream)