Sunday, December 06, 2009

Meena Kumari & Geeta Dutt - Mirrored Lives

I had written this post originally on the occasion of Geeta Dutt’s birth anniversary on November 23, for the blog section of, the only comprehensive site dedicated to this wonderful singer. Here’s the link to the original post.

When it comes to listing the all time great actresses of Hindi cinema, Meena Kumari’s name would surely figure prominently. Known as the Tragedy Queen for her mastery in portraying sad roles, Meena Kumari demonstrated her acting prowess in a number of films in the 1950s and 1960s. Born Mahjabeen Bano on August 1, 1932, Meena Kumari’s acting career started as a child artiste in Leatherface in 1939. After a few mythological and fantasy films as an adult, Meena Kumari’s big break came with Baiju Bawara in 1952. The film earned her the first Filmfare Award for Best Actress and established her position as one of the leading actresses of Hindi cinema.

On watching a teenaged Meena Kumari lip-syncing to barely-out-of-her-teens voice of Geeta Roy in Sri Ganesh Mahima (Shri Krishna Vivah) in 1950, little would anyone in the audience have realized that that the lives of these two remarkable ladies would uncannily mirror each other over the next two decades.

When Geeta Roy sang for Meena Kumari for the first time, she was already a star, while Meena Kumari was just managing to gain a foothold as an adult actress. In the beginning, Meena Kumari did a lot of mythological films like Veer Ghatotkach, Shri Ganesh Mahima, Hanuman Patal Vijay, where Geeta Roy sang a number of songs. It is not sure how many of Geeta Roy songs in these films were picturised on Meena Kumari.

We do have songs from Shri Ganesh Mahima available now. An absolute beauty of a song, Sakhi Re Mera Man Mache, exemplifies perfect sync between what you hear and what you see. The emotions associated with the first flush of love come alive wonderfully both in Geeta Roy’s voice and Meena Kumari’s enactment.

Sakhi Re Mera Man Naache - Shri Ganesh Mahima (1950) - S. N Tripathi - Anjum Jaipuri

A similar song also appeared in Tamasha, two years later, where the character played by Meena Kumari seemed absolutely on the seventh heaven because her beloved appeared in her dreams. Geeta Roy’s voice captured the nuances of love wonderfully in her rendition. Could it be that real life events in the lives of the two ladies somehow made their presence felt in their performances?

Raat Mohe Meetha Meetha Sapna - Tamasha (1952) - Khemchand Prakash & Manna Dey - Bharat Vyas

It was in the early 1950s when both Meena Kumari and Geeta Roy’s lives started mirroring each other’s. During the recording of a song of Baazi, Geeta Roy met Guru Dutt for the first time and this meeting apparently blossomed into love and ultimately culminated in their marriage in 1953. Meena Kumari’s experience was no different. She too met her future husband, Kamal Amrohi, at work i.e. on the sets of a film. Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi eventually got married in 1952.

With the success of Baiju Bawara in 1952, Meena Kumari established herself as one of the top actresses of that time. In the following year, with her strong performance in Bimal Roy’s Parineeta (based on Sarat Chandra’s eponymous novel) won she won her second consecutive Filmfare award. Musically speaking, the highlight of the film in my opinion was Chand Hai Wohi, sung with great feeling by Geeta. The nuances of a woman unflinching devotion to the man she has secretly married and her inability to reveal her ‘secret’ is brought out brilliantly in this song.

Chaand Hai Wohi - Parineeta (1952) - Arun Kumar Mukherjee - Bharat Vyas

Although Meena Kumari got closely associated with the epithet of ‘Tragedy Queen’, she did a number of light-hearted roles all though her career. One such film was with the King of Comedy, Kishore Kumar. The film was Shararat and it had 2 songs sung by Geeta Dutt for Meena Kumari -  both duets with Kishore Kumar. These songs are a rarity because Geeta Dutt has sung very few duets with Kishore Kumar, and even fewer songs under the baton of Shankar Jaikishan.

Dekh Aasman Mein Chaand - Shararat (1959) - Shankar Jaikishan - Hasrat Jaipuri

The coincidental similarities between the lives of Meena Kumari and Geeta Dutt continued. In the second half of the decade of 1950s, their husbands conceived two films with their wives in the lead role. Guru Dutt planned Gauri, which unfortunately did not progress beyond a few days of shooting. Kamal Amrohi planned his magnum opus Pakeezah, which again went into cold storage for many years, apparently due to the troubled relationship between Meena Kumari & Kamal Amrohi. Thankfully, the project was revived and released almost 15 years after it was first conceived

As the years progressed, the married lives of both the artistes were in shambles. It was at this time that Guru Dutt offered Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam to Meena Kumari. This tale of a woman’s desperation to gain her husband’s love and attention, and eventually finding solace in drinking, couldn’t have been closer to her real life. Geeta Dutt’s personal situation at this time was no different. When Geeta Dutt sang Na Jao Saiyan for Meena Kumari on screen, the resultant feeling was uncannily real, almost as if the actress and the singer were reliving their own lives.

This one song sums up the unique characterization of Chhoti Bahu in the film - a woman who is traditional at the core, but liberated enough to make sexual demands of her wayward husband. Nobody but Geeta Dutt could have brought alive the poignancy of the situation.

Na Jaao Saiyan - Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam (1962) - Hemant Kumar - Shakeel Badayuni

1964 turned out to be an emotionally devastating year for Meena Kumari as well as Geeta Dutt. Geeta Dutt lost her husband under tragic circumstances, while Meena Kumari got a divorce. Both women found solace in alcohol and this fatally messed up their health. Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi did get together again, and Pakeezah was revived. Geeta Dutt had no such luck as her husband was gone forever. She found herself in dire straits soon after and her life got caught in a downward spiral.

Fans of Meena Kumari and Geeta Dutt cannot erase the year 1972 from their memories. First Meena Kumari succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver in March 1972, followed by Geeta Dutt who died of the same ailment a few months later. And like a candle that shines the brightest before extinguishing, Meena Kumari gave us Pakeezah, and Geeta Dutt gave us poignant songs in Anubhav, before leaving the world forever.