Meena Kumari

- Vikram Chandiramani 

At seven, she began her career as Baby Meena with Vijay Bhatt's film 'Leather Face' in 1939. A product of a Hindu-Muslim marriage, Meena led a hard life in a profession where child stardom did not last long. However, a determined Meena stuck on, to become one of the great actresses of the time.

After her father fell in love with her maid, Meena moved out of the house to become filmmaker Kamal Amrohi's second wife and she also made it to doing A-grade films like 'Baiju Bawra' co-starring Bharat Bhushan. Her versatility came to fore with films like 'Parineeta' in 1953, 'Ek hi Raasta' in 1956 and 'Sharda' in 1957, where she played Raj Kapoor's lover, who later on becomes his stepmother.

The 60s marked a new phase with 'Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi' after which, she did only sober roles, which earned her the title of Tragedy Queen.Despite her outstanding performance in 'Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam', the film was a disappointment at the box-office. However, her 'Dil Ek Mandir', 'Kaajal' and 'Phool Aur Pathar' were great runaway hits. But it only deepened the widening cracks in her marriage. It further worsened when at a public function, her husband Kamaal Amrohi was introduced as Meena Kumari's husband. The split finally came in 1964.

Being an emotional gypsy, she relied on the kindness offered by a series of strangers from Dharmendra to Gulzar, often drowning herself in a bottle of brandy or country liquor. Although her films didn't do well her image grew in dimension. After an accident, she damaged her little finger but she cleverly hid it on screen with her dupatta as saree pallu. She spent the last years of her life living the role of the doomed diva. She had lost her looks and was reduced to playing character roles in films like 'Jawaab' and 'Dushman'.

She even recorded an album of her poems, 'Tanha Chand', under the pseudonym 'Naaz'. Her last film 'Pakeezah' took 17 years in the making. Within weeks of its release, on March 31, 1972, she died in St Elizabeth's Nursing home. Her earnings having been drained out by relatives, her doctor had to pay her hospital bills.