Pakeezah: From Meena Kumari’s failing health to director Kamal Amrohi’s split, what went wrong while making this classic
Meena Kumari was just 39 when she died and although her career was relatively short compared to her contemporaries, her legacy as the “Queen of Tragedy” lives on. While the great actor gave heartbreaking performances in movies like Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Baiju Bawra, Sharada, it was Pakeezah, his swan song, which became his most popular work in the years that followed.
Pakeezah released a few weeks before her who passed and when news of his passing broke, audiences flocked to theaters for the last glimpse of the best actor of his time. Her melancholic gaze again attracted moviegoers, and this time there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Pakeezah is a love story that has many obstacles in its path, and these obstacles prevent Sahibjaan (Meena) from being with the love of her life (played by Raaj Kumar) and, just like the problems faced by the character main, the film too, was in deep waters through the 14 years of its production.
It is said that director Kamal Amrohi wanted to make a full scale movie dedicated to his wife Meena Kumari. His original plan was to make a movie about Anarkali, which was later scrapped as he was hired to write the dialogues for Mughal-e-Azam of K Asif, which has earned him a lot of appreciation and awards. But his fascination with old-world courtesans led him to come up with the concept of Pakeezah in 1954, and production on the film began in 1958.
Meena Kumari was just 19 when she married 34-year-old Kamal Amrohi. Kamal’s son, Tajdar Amrohi, shared in a 2017 interview with Filmfare that the film was planned as a black-and-white venture, as movies were back in the 1950s, but with the technological developments of the next decade. , a lot has changed at Pakeezah and the many production delays haven’t helped.
The relationship between Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi had its ups and downs and it was because of these feuds that the production of the film was stopped in 1964. Tajdar shared that an alleged abortion became the cause of their conflicts . “A major conflict between Baba and Choti Ammi started when she allegedly had an ‘abortion’. Choti Ammi was told that if she had a baby, her image would be ruined. And that upset Baba,” he said. he told Filmfare.
Pakeezah had been shot in parts up until then, but as the 1960s entered, Meena Kumari’s alcoholism led to various health issues. Her separation from her husband caused the two to abandon the project altogether, but at the insistence of music composer Khayyam and actor Sunil Dutt, the film was restarted in 1968. Tajdar shared that Dutt believed that it would be a “gross injustice to cinema” if Pakeezah were left behind. incomplete. Meena Kumari had struggled with her health issues and it brought husband and wife together. When Kamal asked Meena if she wanted to finish the movie, she asked, “Kya tum mujhe waisa bata sakoge (Can you show me the same)?” and he assured her that he would take care of everything.
From the start of production until nearly a decade later, Meena Kumari’s appearance had changed a lot. Her cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol consumption had changed her face, her body, she didn’t even have much energy to participate in the dance sequences but Kamal had a solution for everything.
It is well known that actor and dancer Padma Khanna (who later became known for playing Kaikeyi in Ramayan by Ramanand Sagar) was hired as a lookalike for Meena Kumari. Padma’s physique was quite similar to Meena’s and she was thought to be a suitable match. In some of the key scenes, a background dancer from ‘Chalte Chalte Yun Hi Koi’ played Sahibjaan. Playing a dancer, Meena Kumari had to perform a scene where she had to twirl and twirl until she fell but her health wouldn’t allow her to do the same so her close-ups were taken while she was sitting and a body double performed the dance.
In another conversation with Rediff, Tajdar recalled that the premiere of the film took place at Maratha Mandir and the copy of the film was brought in on a palanquin. Speaking about the relationship his father shared with his stepmother, whom he affectionately called Choti Ammi, he said, “He was a very romantic man. And her romance with my chhoti ammi was very worthy. Although they are separated, they felt for each other. But they never divorced according to rumors. They loved each other and chhoti ammi respected my father and never allowed anyone to say anything against him.
Over its 14 years in production, Pakeezah has had an off-screen saga that could be made into a movie. Meena Kumari’s fragile health, the on-and-off relationship between the director and his muse, there was even a period when lead star Raaj Kumar had a tiff with Kamal Amrohi. It is also suggested that Dharmendra was roped off at some point but was replaced due to rumors of his ongoing affair with Meena Kumari. It was probably the filming of the film that intrigued Kamal Amrohi’s grandson, Bilal Amrohi, who is currently preparing a web series on the filming of Pakeezah.
Meena Kumari died in 1972 due to liver cirrhosis and of all the great films she made during her career, Pakeezah continues to be the one that is often acclaimed as one of her best works.
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