Meena Kumari was born on August 1, 1932 in Dr. Gadre’s Clinic in Bombay, India to a Muslim father, Ali Bux, and a Hindu mother, Iqbal Begum (Nee Prabhavati Tagore). She has two sisters Khurshid and Madhu.
Born 1933 into a poor Parsee theatre family of Ali Bux and dancer Iqbal begum in Bombay, Maharashtra, India. Entered films to support family in difficult times. She was six when hired for Leatherface (1939) in 1939 by Vijay Bhatt and named Baby Meena. Later she became Meena Kumari when cast for Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra (1952). She did mythological films with Homi Wadia and then comedies like Miss Mary (1957). She became personified as the archetypal good Hindu wife through many roles, long suffering and always true to the man. She excelled at tragedy and was often shown in a white sari carrying the film with her emotive acting. She was also thought to be the only actress who could sell a film on the strength of her name alone. Her major films are Daera (1953), Baiju Bawra (1952), 0046164, and of course her most well known film, Pakeezah (1972). She was married to Kamal Amrohi with whom she started making “Pakeezah”. They separated in 1964. She was also an accompalished Urdu writer and had several poems published by Gulzar after her death. She battled alcoholism and loneliness and finally died, alone, in 1972.
Mahjabeen wanted to study in school but was compelled to act in Hindi movies as a child artiste, and ended up becoming the sole bread earner of the family. She first appeared in a 1939 movie ‘Leatherface’ and was cast as Baby Meena in the predominantly Hindu movie industry in British India that was yet to see the day as Bollywood.
Meena Kumari went on to act in a total of 94 movies, in a career that spanned from 1939 through to 1972. She become a household name after her performances in ‘Baiju Bawra’, ‘Parineeta’, ‘Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam’, ‘Kaajal’ as well as received ‘Best Actress’ awards for these titles.
In 1952 she got married to Kamal Amrohi. The marriage was harmonious and resulted in joint movie ventures, namely ‘Daera’ and ‘Pakeezah’. Neither knew that the latter would take over 14 years to complete.
A few years after the marriage, Kamal and Meena started having differences, and started to drift apart, and finally divorced during 1964, leaving ‘Pakeezah’ incomplete.
‘Pakeezah’ was finally completed and released on 4 February 1972, but flopped at the box office. A few weeks later Meena was hospitalized in St. Elizabeth’s Nursing Home, but passed away on March 31, 1972 due to liver problems.
Shortly after her passing, the public took a renewed interest in ‘Pakeezah’ and the film subsequently went on to become a hit.