My Precious Family Heirloom: A Love for Meena Kumari’s Pakeezah

Bollywood

My Precious Family Heirloom: A Love for Meena Kumari’s Pakeezah

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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akeezah is one of those transcendent, tragic Bollywood love stories, where life mirrors art and art continues to reflect life. Its stellar set of protagonists, led by “tragedy queen” Meena Kumari, had such eventful and poignant lives that it is impossible to part her character in Pakeezah (1972) from what was unfolding in her real life. According to Bollywood lore, the film’s director, the legendary Kamal Amrohi, wanted to emulate Shah Jahan and erect a Taj Mahal for his Mumtaz, Meena Kumari – and the heartachingly beautiful Pakeezah was his eternal tribute.

It’s a no-brainer that a romantic-film nut like me would take to the film as a fish to water… or a leading actress to alcohol. But Pakeezah is also the foundation of a family bond. A love for the film is a kind of family heirloom, passed on from my nani to my mother to me. Before writing this, I called my mom, to clarify a few things. “Don’t you mess this up,” she warned me.

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