At The Edge, In Kerala

 

 

This is actually an adaptation of the response I posted to a critical blogpost, on the aggressive partisan reviews a recent Malayalam movie was panned with … Left, Right, Left. Yes, that’s the name of the movie. It apparently takes up the cause of India’s right … the conservatives who hold sacred both the land and its values — social, religious, cultural and spiriual. Events in the movie allude to Communist and Muslim League group practices since playing out in real-time Kerala society…

 

http://mirrortoindia.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/infusing-hindutva-agenda-in-a-movie/#comments

English: Triprayar_Sri_Rama_Temple; Kerala; India

Triprayar_Sri_Rama_Temple; Kerala; India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

_ _ _

 

 

Manya, first, I felt that you have expressed what you wanted to … rather well. I was without a doubt on that score. Thank you for that.

 

But I, who never watch TV tu-tu-mai-mai ever, also have a sense that your outpouring is basically highlighting the current context that prevails in Kerala : Hinduism and the Sanatan way, which made Kerala “God’s own country,” is no more the hallmark of life in the State. That open, embracing culture, which welcomed the Muslims, Christians and Communists, has been displaced and vitiated by communal identities of the very same communities. All with vehement political upmanship.

 

The reception the movie “Left, Right, Left” received is a consequence, not the cause, of what is happening in the State, in general with Arab money and in particular with this race among Saud Wahabi, the Vatican and the Communists for grabbing and rash-powering their respective followers.

 

So, the movie is making religious and political statements alright that people are reading into it. Saying, it is just a film, is to shy away from its context.

 

The battle with propaganda-ideology critics can only be taken forward on their premises, not backwards … to the days of our innocence.

 

 

Taken from Munnar , Kerala One of the most pop...

Journal : The Movie to Watch

‎#LifeOfPi : The movie does not not prompt criticism or review, unless the bread on your table depends on churning out one !

It’s a once in a lifetime movie and will last that long in its impact.

If you do not want wish to watch a lifetime movie, go and view something else… maybe the absurdity that the khans offer ! I sleep thru them if dragged.

A majority of our human population is either too deprived or too involved at arriving somewhere to appreciate the mystique of existence. Some evolve to recognise it. Life Of Pi is a about one who experiences, imbibes and lives it.

Life Of Pi is one movie I suggested to the family after decades and never blinked an eye till the end. It’s an Ang Lee work, so there’s little risk if you are going to watch it. And, it’s my recommendation … if you have not visited the theatres in ages !

Meena Kumari – A Soul Worth Knowing Twice

 ( This rendering of Meena Kumari’s poem is a paraphrase, not a literal translation. )

 

 

The moon is solitary, the sky by itself

My heart is lonely in all places I met

Hope is dashed, even the stars have set

Just the reek shimmers… all by itself.

 

Is this we call life ? Being alive all about ?

The body lonely, spirit dumped in itself ?

Even with partners who joined on the way

We walked all alone, each unto oneself.

Beyond these lights… now on and off

The house is alone, shrivelled n forlorn

Looking over the path, at wait for ages

After I depart lonely… all in myself.

 

What will you do, why hear me narrate

My story is bland and the tales joyless.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

These words come from a soul whose life’s story is neither bland nor without joy ! She is Meena Kumari, an actor immortalised in some of the most scintillating performances that ever lit up the screens of Hindi cinema.

The first Filmfare Award for Best Actress was conferred on her, in 1953, for her role in Baiju Bawra.

She received her fourth one for the iconic film Kaajal.

And Pakeezah, which released two months before she passed away, is a stellar all – time classic today.


 

Early Years

 

The words, more revealingly, come from Mahjabeen Bano, youngest of the three daughters of Ali Baksh and Iqbal Begum. The family was poor at the time of her birth on August 1, 1932 but Ali Baksh looked forward to having a son. They could just about manage enough influencial references to gain admittance in Dr Gadre’s clinic, in which Iqbal Begum delivered the baby. An absolutely downcast Ali Baksh took away the newborn and left it in a Muslim orphanage ! Hours later, the despairing but repenting father went back to pick up and brought the baby girl home.

 

Meena’s mother was actually a Hindu girl, Prabhavatidevi Tagore, derived from Hindu – Christian parentage, who converted to Islam after marriage. She then came to be known as Iqbal Begum, with the screen name of Kamini – a dancer, actress and Kathak teacher. 

Ali Baksh was a Shia Muslim Pathan with a large heart. He had been cared for by a Brahmin for 12 years and was an adept Hindu-style astrologer. He had interest and skills in music and poetry. He used to play the harmonium and essay parts in the Parsi theatre. He composed music for peripheral films, which paid some for his efforts but never enough to secure the needs for staying in business. The family lived next to Rooptara studios in Dadar, Bombay, and Ali Baksh was forever hopeful of getting a major break in the film industry. But that never happened…

*    *    *

There is lot more to Meena Kumari’s life, not just as an accomplished actress or as one of the biggest stars of Bombay Cinema in the ‘50s and ’60s, but as the human being she was. She rose from dust to reach the heights and was back to how she began when she breathed her last. It’s a life richer in experience than most of us will ever live through.

 

Premium Releases are not a pageful of matter written over a sitting but are comprehensive treatments running into scores of pages, penned on days spread  over weeks… because the subject deserves that space and attention and the effort is worth the reviewer’s while, as it obtains through the exercise.

Premium Review presentations are inclusive, well researched, and an entire range of aspects are straddled over to sketch out what the work or creation, band or person under review could mean to the discerning audience. 
Premium Reviews etch in the reasons for the reader of the review to visit, watch or read, and know for himself more about the subject reviewed. 


I am partial to this blog post when I had watched almost back to back a movie from East, Gudia, and one from the West, Time Traveler’s Wife.

The one from East was directed by Gautam Ghose… and presented what seemed like transcendent existentialism. The Time Traveler was fun, with multiple dimensions potent within a plain love story.

Read it here…

Truth Within, Shines Without

I      GUDIA – [ The (Triumphant) Doll ] – Directed by Gautam Ghose

Trailer :        http://youtu.be/AE9KAsSKqis

Full Length :  http://youtu.be/mwkmTe2dMRs

A gem from another age, it seemed while I watched it yesterday. It portrays the lost art of ventriloquism and uses folk theatre within the narrative set in modern times, with its characterstic consumerism, social conflicts and corrupt politics. The beauty of its tale, its simplicity of structure, and the human complexities it deals with, would have made Satyajit Ray proud.

The movie has a simple story about a puppet doll, Urvashi, literally a demi-goddess of ethereal beauty, that is passed down from the master to his protégé along a series set in tradition. From start to finish, the entire presentation is of intense human interest. The relationships its main characters have with the doll, and with each other, is complicated. In the background is a political clime…

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Journal : Feb 22, 2012 : In Between

This afternoon was hot. The roads and traffic made it worse.

It was strange knowing that our Government discourages long period lease arrangements between tenants and landlords. The fee and duty is prohibitive. Most take to the 11 – month lease, renewing every every year. Which leaves tenants vulnerable to extortion… take it or leave it.

*  *  *

The Kalijar Fort in Bundelkhand is an entire history in itself. You cannot think of it without the convergence it includes of people and events from the wide, wide world within the sub-continent and from abroad, over a 1500 – year span… from South and West India, the Middle East and Central Asia, and Britain. That’s too much of history and far too many people. And the legendary architecture, sculptures, culture, movements, persons, traditions and hearsay !

Though associated principally with the Chandels and that fantastically temple – dense ” city ” of Khajuraho, from 10th Century through the 12th, the connections go back to the Kalachuris of Elephanta and Ellora caves, and the Rashtrakuts, and then from Gujarat Parmars to Kannauj Chauhans and the Pratihars, and the Vijaynagar empire, the Mughals, Afghans, and the British, the Armed Rebellions and Mahatma Gandhi. It takes the wind out of me and leaves my heart filled with humanity.

The Kalinjar Fort was a fortress with unparalleled strength, much culture and uncounted wealth. Together with its twin fort at Ajaigarh, Kalinjar formed a formidable line of defence against attacks from the north. In 1019, Mahmud Ghazni ravaged much of north and west India but had to turn back in the face of stiff opposition from the Kalinjar garrison. The year 1022 saw a repeat, with Ghazni having to remain content with a few gifts from the Chandel ruler, but no fort. Had Kalinjar fallen, Khajuraho would not have survived. And the irony… today, Khajuraho is a thriving well-promoted tourist hub while Kalinjar is a grey area seldom appreciated, remembered or visited.

Kalinjar is a village… er, call it a town, if you were to go there now. But back then, in the 16th Century when history had just taken a massive turn… Humayun  had been defeated and Mughals ousted by the home-grown warrior, Sher Shah Suri, then mounting a siege… Kalinjar sounded a rather freaky death knell. A mortar shell fired at the Fort walls above rebounded and fell on an explosive dump. The devastating consequence killed the raging captain. Humayun returned to the seat of power and the train of  Mughal ascendancy resumed.

It is said that at night the Queen’s Palace is filled with sounds of ankle trinkets that courtesans and danseuse specially wore during their performance !

*  *  *

Original Sin      :     Angelina Jolie, Antonio Banderas

A simple and gripping tale carried on great performances, complementing cinematography, and a summary treatise on love… the crimes, lies and unhappiness it engenders when human beings are without it and the completion its arise brings in the wake.

A perfect picture. A classic movie.

It aids our own process of self – discovery, understanding of ourself and at finding our very own authenticity.

Sure to make it to my list of Premium Reviews.

Journal : MAYRIG ~ The Portrait Of A Mother

:  A Premium Film Review  :

Premium Reviews are not a pageful of matter written over a sitting but are comprehensive treatments running into scores of pages and penned on days spread over weeks… because the subject deserves that space and attention and the effort is worth the value the reviewer himself obtains through the exercise. The presentation is inclusive, well researched, and an entire range of aspects are straddled over to sketch out what the work or creation, band or person under review could mean to the discerning audience.

Premium Reviews etch in the reasons for the reader of the review to visit, watch or read, and know for himself more about the subject reviewed.

Mayrig  ~   The Portrait Of A Mother

I saw Mayrig and its sequel, 588 Rue Paradis, in recent months and have since wanted to review it. It is overpoweringly sublime art, a long poetry of the heart, of love and flowing life and all emotions that engender within us between the two. It is the saga of personal struggle of three generations of a loving close-knit emigrant family, which escapes persecution and certain death, who are forced to survive in a foreign land in very different and largely loveless milieu.

As it reveals, the story is an epic narration in the classic mould. It weaves individual stories with global happenings, and both into the state of times after the First World War. It is about the collective human distrust distinct communities secrete, as was historically between the Moslem Turks and Armenian Christians. It portrays the existential quality of times, the social attitudes and hardships of common people in the first half of 20th Century France. And it deals with the discriminatiing values of native elites in the years post World War II, when the disadvantaged were looked down upon and alien cultural mores were yet shunned.

THE BOOK – MAYRIG 

This book doesn’t say much with it’s title. It is unknown to most readers, unless they are Armenian. It means “mother” in Armenian, and the author starts the book with a simple and sad sentence : “Mayrig is dying.” Then he goes back to his gloomy childhood, and tells a story that astonishes the reader. It is the history of Armenian people; the history of 1915 masacres of 1.5 million Armenians commited by the Turkish government. It is a wonderful piece of literature, an amazing story of Achod Malakian – an Armenian boy, who had to leave his parents’ homeland, adapt to a new society, and adopt the Parade street of Marseilles in France.

The films, Mayrig and 588 Rue Paradis, are adapted from the book ” Mayrig ” authored by the filmmaker himself, Henri Verneuil. The autobiographical book starts with the man at his mother’s deathbed, holding fast to her hand with all the poignancy of a saga behind that moment, reflecting on the story that will no longer be theirs from hereon but his alone. Thence, the journey begins… back to a childhood lovingly remembered, with the fondness we feel for ours and ourself and the tenderness of the mother’s heart at its center.

” It is an odyssey that takes us not only through time but through the complex landscape of relationships and emotional milestones in which the young Achod Malakian, as Henri Verneuil was then known,  grew and attained manhood.

” The steamer to France, the search for a place to live, a poor man’s summer vacation, looking for work, the nightmare of school… these are only some of the themes and places this story will take you. It tells a universal tale of all men and women who, one way or another, are exiled and reborn, heartbroken and hopeful, defeated and triumphant. “

The book is important not only because it is based on real happenings but, too, that the story of one family represents the survival of an entire nation. It depicts with great sensitivity the heritage and life of one man’s rise from a difficult but happy childhood to the very heights of a successful career. It demonstrates how love and care within the family are the cornerstones to our strength and happiness through the hardest of times. And, that nothing is more important for a person in his life than to make his parents contented and proud.

* * *

THE FILM REVIEW 

The review writing hit a block even before its start. There was very little on the web to research from. A Google search for ” Mayrig ” returned more restaurant entries of the same name in Middle East. Hundreds of sites claiming to hold everything about the film had a blank or a four – liner for synopsis. And, an invitation to be the first to write a review !

In brief, Mayrig is a 1991 French film, a semi – autobiographical adaptation for the silver screen, written and directed by French – Armenian filmmaker Henri Verneuil. The film’s principal cast includes Claudia Cardinale and Omar Sharif. It is about an Armenian family that emigrates to France from Turkey in 1921, after the Armenian genocide of 1915. The family boards a ship to escape persecution and the film takes us through their travails, their efforts at setting themselves up in business in Marseilles society, untill the time the son of the family grows up to be an educated young man. The career he chose for himself though, as a dramatist and playwright, terribly disappoints the expectant elders. It is an epic portrayal, with an eventful storyline and a narration fleshing out to fullest the characters constituting the dramatis personea. 

The sequel, 588 Rue Paradis, is where the drama occurs when the adult son recounts his relationship with the aging father, his loving mother, and with his ethnic identity. It starts some forty years after the story begins in Mayrig and takes us back in flashes to the days when he had to give up his cultural identity, including the ethnic sounding name lovingly given by his parents, to gain access to his adopted society and its acceptance of him and his work. He reminisces the part played by his wife in that makeover while climbing the ladder to professional fame and social success. He thinks of his aged parents ( played by Omar Sharif and  Claudia Cardinale ) who still live a modest existence in Marseilles, but with their original names and family identity intact, and of how the material expression of his feelings for them, through tangibles, insults the informal swell of love his elders have always showered on him. He rues the fact that his father dies before he could tell him how deeply and truly he has always felt for him. He subsequently spends much of his time with his mother and buys her an exclusive garden house in her old neighborhood. Later, he returns to Marseilles to buy his childhood home at 588 Rue Paradis, which is full of his happy memories.

Given the high profile star cast of the two movies, it is surprising to know that the films were not dubbed for international audiences or screened with English subtitles until 2006. The two films have since been successfully melded into an interesting whole, and the newly edited and English subtitled version of “Mayrig” was world premiered at the Jefferson Academic Center, Clark University, Massachusetts. 

We will have to make more than one start to review as telescopically complex and complete a presentation as has been made in the twin movies.

* * *

 THE SUMMARY

“Mayrig” is a compelling family drama straddling 40 plus years… a long lyric of emotions portrayed at just the right pitch by actors who fit their part. But it is not they who keep us in ponder or provide the film’s real dramatic heft. In this one, the script is the winner and the director’s deep conviction, rooted in his personal experience, shows in the clear vision of which the acts have been put together and sequenced. The story itself is powerful but it is its understated account, with minimal dialogues and fulsome visuals, that makes for the remarkable effect the film has on us.

The script develops quite a wit, and when Verneuil has something profound to say his film communicates the thoughts and emotions with unmistakable eloquence. It is Verneuil’s personal story, his intensely felt vision, his depth of feeling behind the craft, which infuses conviction into the film and its characters. Verneuil is the director and the film is his masterpiece.

The film is narrated by the adult Azad, the lone son of the Zakarian family. It starts with a recount of the family stepping off the ship on the Mediterranean coast at Marseilles in south-east of France, when the narrator is a mere seven-year old kid. There are nervous moments waiting for the official stamp at the immigration checking counter… Will they be allowd to step up to a new life ? Or, will they have to return to the horrors of the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government ? Snapshots of those horrors, as remembered by one of the survivors, follow. Apkar is a friend of the Zakarian family already in Marseilles, an important character in the film brilliantly essayed by Jacky Nercessian. He is prematurely old, lame of permanent damage in one foot and carries pneumonial tubercolosis in his lungs… all a result of that fateful journey the Turks hounded him through. But despite the extreme encounters with misery and death, the bonhomie remains in his nature. He lives and laughs, and is even cured of the malaise in his chest, in time. Those scenes of the forced march in the desert are grim and convincing, and lay out what was at stake for the Zakarians while they waited at French immigration.

Then begins the long battle at settling down in the Marseilles society of 1920s, a melting pot of diverse populations drawn from Italy, Spain, Algeria and, of course, Armenia. The gold coins sewed in coat buttons are brought out to hire an abode on a road that has a tramline passing over it. The Zakarian family has one male elder – Hagop, Azad’s father, played by Omar Sharif, who goes out to a job in a factory. But the lone kid in the family has three devoted mothers who find work, first at dressing buttonholes and then as seamstress – Araxi, the mother of Azad called throughout as Mayrig, meaning Mother, enacted by Claudia Cardinale; aunt Anna,  the house master chef of all Armenian delicacies and most openly doting of the three, played by Isabelle Sadoyan; and aunt Gayane, the loving nurse forever aligned with Azad’s heart, potrayed by Nathalie Roussel. Azad takes the tram to the best of French schools in the neighbourhood. In time, the family prospers, Hagop learns dressmaking from the ladies, Azad goes to college, and the Zakarians buy out a property where they open shop as dressmakers and reside on the floor above. 

The prequel shows Azad’s progress up to 1940, when he is about 27 years of age. The entire family invests much love and hope in their young son, Azad. The boy meets much prejudice in his teachers and schoolmates, and little empathy or understanding. But he finds the strength within himself to endure it all, without any permanent damage to his psyche or personality. He has a friend or two but no more. His greatest source of positivity however is the love – filled home which eternally secures him. Totally doted on,  there is no sacrifice or effort the Zakarian elders will not make for his education, career, happiness and well-being. That rootedness becomes the foundation for him to build his understanding of the environment and the people about him, and provides the emotional stability necessary for taking personal risks and growing his capacity for life – to experience, learn and persevere. 

Through the narration however, the film does verge on sentimentality but avoids sliding into unabashed sappiness. There is emotion of all hue – longing, love, despair and joy – but sans vanity… which leaves intact their sweetness, depth, and dignified orientation with the story as it unravels. The director succeeds in keeping the pace with great music and brilliant essays by Cardinale and Sharif, and all the actor ensemble, who are able to communicate with look and gesture than words when the it is most needed.

* * *

THEMES 

The great tragedy that befalls the Armenian people in 1915, earlier in 1896 – 97, and later during the the war with Turkey about 1920… the genocide, massacres, fear and persecution… is like a pall in the background to both Mayrig and its sequel. They movingly allude to the millions then slaughtered, robbed and raped, by the Turks and, rather, to all those who escaped and survived the horrer and refused to let it destoy them. Their entire families are murdered or destroyed, and they have to make a life in a foreign country while trying to deal with the ghosts of their past. Their eyes look forward but the thought is never without the knowledge of the children, pregnant women, old and infirm, who were cut with ” yataghans,” the short sabre that Ottoman soldiers were never without. The brutality of Turkish soldiers and the pain inflicted by kurdist bandits made no sense when entire people from large villages are killed in a day, Armenian priests mutilated for life with cut noses, lips or ears, or innocents subjected to extreme cruelty and the honourable heaped with indignities.

The aspects and themes taken up in Mayrig repeat in the sequel : a boy and his family, life in alien surroundings in a strange country among foreign people, human survival horrors, renewal at life afresh, and carrying on with the legacy and the fact of being an Armenian. We meet Azad, the boy in Mayrig, anew, as a rather gaunt – looking middle – aged playwright. His kindly parents are old but are strangely a source of acute irritation to Azad’s non – Armenian wife.

On his way to success, Azad Zakarian has forsaken his Armenian roots, traded his real name for that of Pierre Zakar and changed his city Marseilles for Paris, where he lives an opulent life. When his parents come to Paris to see him, their interaction throws up such strains that he is forced to reconsider his modern moorings and that inscrutable vanity he finds himself projecting before souls who had none.

* * *

THE BACKGROUND 

The film 588 Rue Paradis starts with news of the acquittal of Soghomon Tehlirian, an Armenian who still in citizen of Turkey living in Germany, who had killed Talaat Pasha in Berlin. The announcement is greeted with elation and everybody is rejoicing because Talaat Pasha was the Minister Of Interior, and later the de facto Head Of The Turkish Government, who had set and overseen the execution of the policy which had made the Armenian dispensable and resulted in widespread massacres between 1915 and 1921.

It was a very peculiar trial in which the defendant said he was not guilty because ” his conscience was clear !” He said, ” I have killed a man but I am not a murderer.” He added that he saw his mother’s corpse, done in by the Turkish Government policies drawn by Talaat Pasha and his clique of Young Turks, which just stood up before him and and told him, “You know Talaat is here and yet you do not seem to be concerned. You are no longer my son.” The events in the background of that trial were very close and important to people of Armenian origin everywhere.

Soghomon Tehlirian had witnessed the 1915 massacre at his hometown, Erzinga, in Asian Turkey. Thereafter, his well – off family went through the hell of displacement and suffered much privation. At his trial, he reported that there had been a massacre in Erzinga in 1894 as well. Some 40,000 Armenians were massacred in Adana in 1909. So, they all lived in fear of a repeat. In May 1915, word had spread that all schools were to be closed and that the leaders of the Armenian community and the teachers were to be sent elsewhere in groups. In June early, the people were gathered, stripped of their money and valuables, and marched out. His parents were killed on the first day of march and the soldiers robbed them of whatever was left with them. He had no idea how many days it had gone on. They cracked open the skull of his brother, raped and killed his sister. He was left injured in the leg and a bleeding arm. He escaped and found shelter and care with an old Kurdish woman’s family, but only untill he had healed.

As a fugitive since then, Soghomon came across news of massacres elsewhere, widespread. Without a hat or shoe, he crossed the mountains into Persia and was arrested by Russian soldiers. In 1916, when the Russians captured Erzinga, he returned to his hometown, only to find that just two Armenian families had survived and both had converted to Moslem faith. Of the 20,000 people in the village, only 20 odd had lived. He dug out 4800 gold pieces the family had hidden in the home, which he found shattered and in ruins. He shifted to another town, learnt Russian language for five months and, in 1919, went to Constantinople, where he placed an advertisement for his lost family members. He moved over to Greece, then to Salonika for curing his nervous disorder, and finally to Paris.

At Constantinople, Soghomon had found out the main culprit behind the massacres, the Armenian genocide. It was Talaat Pasha who, along with Kemal and Erver, had been to sentenced to death by a court martial in the city. Kemal was found and hanged. Living in Paris, Soghomon studied French for a year, then went to Geneva before landing in Berlin, where he hired a tutor to teach him German. It was there that he saw Talaat Pasha and discovered the building in which he lived. Soghomon too moved over to a building in Charlottenburg, just across from Pasha’s residence. He was still a nervous wreck, who played mandolin, took dancing lessons and, as the indictment declared, was a student of Mechanical Engineering. One day, he saw Pasha come out of his building, with all the gruesome images of the massacre in his mind and the wrenching loss of his parents and his family members in his heart. He pulled out the loaded pistol he’d concealed with his underclothes, followed Pasha from across the street untill he came level, then crossed over and shot Talaat Pasha point blank in the head. Upon arrest, Soghomon admitted to the act of killing the killer of his parents and the Armenian people.

At the trial, one of the witnesses co-habiting the same building described Soghomon thus : The defendant lived in my building. I have only complimentary things to say about him. He was very well behaved and modest. I have no maid and, therefore, I do all the housework. The defendant always did whatever he could to make my job easier. For example, he used to polish his own shoes. In every respect, he was decent and modest. In her deposition, the landlady said — He was a kind, modest, quiet, and clean young man. He kept everything in order. On the morning of March 15th, the day the incident occurred, the maid came in to tell me that the defendant was in his room crying. A little while later, I thought I would go up to see how he was doing. I was surprised to find him sitting in his room, drinking cognac. Soghomon clarified that he a took a measure of cognac with his tea to overcome his weak physical condition.

At the same trial, one of the female survivor of the genocide spoke of the massacre in these terms : — Only the men were killed this way. When it grew somewhat dark, the gendarmes came and selected the most beautiful women and girls and kept them for themselves. A gendarme came and wanted me as his woman. Those who did not obey were pierced with bayonets and had their legs torn apart. They even crushed the pelvic bones of pregnant women, took out the fetuses and threw them away… They split open my brother’s head. My mother dropped dead upon seeing this. A Turk came toward me and wanted to take me as his woman; because I would not consent, he took my son and killed him. 

PRESIDING JUSTICE — Is all this realty true ? You are not imagining it ?

WITNESS — What I have said is the truth. In reality, it was much more horrible than it is possible for me to relate.

The complete transcript of the trial proceedings is available @ http://bit.ly/w0Al32 . There are undeniable facts on record here, on the religious and political drives that made an entire Armenian population dispensable in the eyes of the Turkish Governement ! Not much different from what the Jews meant to the Nazis during World War II.

* * *

DRAMA, IN THE SEARCH OF SPIRITUAL AUTHENCITY 

Such was the background to Soghomon Tehlirian’s acquittal, with news of which the film 588 Rue Paradis begins. It triggers the flashback in Pierre Zakar’s mind… that comes on the screen… the life of an Armenian family, his own, that emigrated to France. The content of that life plays out – those people, situations, events and times, when the family embarked for new lands, as it adapted to new ways and renewed itself to a settled status in French society. The genocide scenes appear in context, as an Armenian immigrant tells them about what he had witnessed during those desert marches graphically described by witnesses during the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian.

Of all the horror sequenced before us, one in particular stands out. An Armenian man begs the Turkish officer leading the march for a new pair of shoes. His shoes are in tatters and his feet are bleeding. The officer asks him to hop on his horse, promising to get for him a new pair of shoes. He takes the man to the nearest village, to a blacksmith. The blacksmith’s assistants take the man from the horse and carry him into the shop. Before long we realise, they nail the horseshoes to his bleeding feet, amid the man’s wild cries and sky-splitting screams… an instance of brutality and terror that will not go away and, if it did, would never be too far from recall.

The film is the story of Pierre Zakar’s life, of the extraordinary people about him – his devoted mother, dedicated father, and his two loving aunts. It includes tales of his survival through nightmarish schools, fatal illness, difficult career, discordant marital life, and his increasingly distant Armenian roots. Thus ponderous, Pierre rediscovers the abundant love from his past then tugging at his heart. It fills him with an immediate sense of deep loss reflecting in the quality of relationship he now has with his parents, who still live their ethnic cultural affections without the least need to hide, shed or forget. Pierre then knows that he has found his professional and social success at the expense of his cultural roots and familial ties.

There he was, Pierre Zakar aka Azad Zakarian, a handsome man grayed at the temples, deep in thought. He remembers that incident in his childhood when he was invited to a tea party. The invite was not from a friend, but from an acquaintance who was very rich. The little boy, Azad, was not very well to do and was not very clear why he was invited. On the day, his family struggles hard to make him as presentable as a prince. His mother waits outside the house while he goes in and gets humiliated before coming back to her. Never did he let her know of that mortifying shame he had experienced because of his ethnicity.

There is intense drama in the internal being of Pierre Zakar, who then regains the authentic ” Azad ” he has forgotten but had always been. It was Azad Zakarian, son of Araxi and Hagop Zakarian and fostered by aunts Anna and Gayane Zakarian, who had become the renowned writer and dramatist Pierre Zakar believed he was. His plays performed across the world.  He was married a French publisher, into the affluent elite of Parisian society. He enjoyed both wealth and fame, living a rich lavish life with his daughter and son whose second name was Zacharia. He often remembers little events from his childhood and thinks of his Armenian roots, but only in passing back to his current reality as Pierre Zakar, the famous playwright and member of acclaimed social status in mainstream French society of Paris.

But then his father comes over to meet him and is palpably distressed due to the alienation between his son and the family. He suffers a heart attack, making Azad feel accountable. As the revived Azad, Pierre reminiscences of his modest childhood, and more acutely after the death of his father. The person he was, the Azad Zakarian he had repressed, arises. He reunites with his mother, Mayrig, dedicating himself to providing her with a wonderful life. He changes his name back to Azad Zakarian. His children begin to identify themselves with their Armenian roots. His French wife leaves him. He commits more of himself to Armenian culture and fulfilling Mayrig’s dream of restoring the family to the their prior glory in Anatolia before they had fled Turkey. He buys her a place on the same street bigger than that of the ‘friend’ at whose party he was embarrassed as a child. The address of the house is 588 Rue Paradis.

The film ends with Azad Zakarian basking in the warmth and glow of his memories that will inspire his next play…

 

To the audience, the movie comes together with an atmosphere so warm and enveloping that it feels as if it was in our own dream – one after our very heart. There is such profusion of love and generosity in the compassionate exiles that their stark pain is apparent, even without a mention, their conflicts leave us secure, and their vicissitudes do not jarr. Their aching sadness, so exactly captured in the melancholy music that comes to fore in the background, seems sweet and full of hope. It is a story we want to hear, laugh and cry with, be happy and unhappy about. 

And thus it goes… from frame to frame, scene to scene, act to act. Untill its end wakes us up into the exclusive awareness of rare wonder the film was !

* * *    * * *

HENRI VERNEUIL

Director Henri Verneuil was born Achod Malakian of Armenian parentage on October 15, 1920, in Rodosto, Anatolia, Turkey His family fled to France and settled in Marseilles when he was a young child. He later recounted his childhood experience in the novel Mayrig, which he dedicated to his mother and adapted it into a 1991 film with the same name. He followed it up with a sequel, 588 Rue Paradis, the following year.

Verneuil enrolled in 1943 at the Ecole Navale des Arts et Métiers at Aix-en-Provence, where he studied engineering. He then pursued a career in journalism, working as the editor-in-chief of the magazine Horizon in 1944-1946 and as a film critic for a Marseilles radio station. In 1947, he had an idea for a short film set in Marseilles and proposed it to the famous comedian Fernandel. The comic liked it, and thus began a long-lasting partnership which produced such popular film hits as Forbidden Fruit, The Sheep Has Five Legs, and The Cow and I.

Henri Verneuil is seen as one of the most important figures of French cinema. In 1996, he received an honorary Cesar Award, a French Oscar of sort, for his contribution to cinema. His most successful movie is considered to be La Vashe et le Prisonnier (1959). He worked with several famous personalities of French Cinema like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alan Delon. In spite of his considerable success, his most cherished dream was to make a movie about the Armenian Genocide and he accomplished this with Mayrig. 

” Mayrig is the tale of the odyssey of Azad Zakarian’s ( the alter ego of the filmmaker ) family… from persecutions in Anatolia to their arrival in Marseilles, with all the difficulties by the “Middle Eastern” families meet in their attempt to integrate into the French society of that time.

” The narration is carried out through the intertwining of two parallel stories : one, of the Zakarians in the course of their integration into Marseilles society, and the other one, in flashback, of the deportations undergone by the Armenian people in Anatolia.

” The movie has gruesome scenes when it recounts the genocide, where the sadism of Turkish soldiers is portrayed, but it also has the sublime love and boundless empathy and care the Zakarian family members have for each other. The arrival of Zakarians at Marseilles is described as everything but easy : this is apparent from the scene where they discover a colony of coackroaches but decide not to kill them because, they tell each other, “At any rate, if they chose our home, it means that they don’t despise us Armenians.”

” A tender and moving film that by telling about the tiny daily reality of a family belonging to the diaspora succeeds in narrating the story of the whole Armenian people.”

Henri Verneuil died in January 2002.

* * *

Excerpts Of An Interview With Actress, Claudia Cardinale …

How did you get a role in Mayrig ?

I did a film in Paris with Henri Verneuil in 1959 and then, many years after he asked me to do this one. The story and the movie… It was incredible. It was a very long movie: when I started my heroine was 35 years old and when I finished she was more than 80. It was also fantastic because I met Omar Sharif, whom I first met in Tunisia, when I was 15 years old.

Was it difficult for you to be in the role of an Armenian mother ?

No, I was an Armenian mother, as the film director wanted. Verneuil is a marvelous director. He tells you what to do while you have to understand him and do exactly what he wants. That’s important, especially for that kind of story. It wasn’t difficult. I was 52 years also and I played totally different roles – from princess to a courtesan. Each role is a life and I have been living a large number of lives, totally different. I like to change.

When you do a movie in front of the camera you become the other one. And live apart. The most important thing is to separate yourself and the plot, otherwise you may lose your personality. You have to change all the time and to do so you have to be very strong.

Reverting to Mayrig film again… Do you have anything to add ?

It’s difficult to remember every detail. But I do remember that it’s a marvelous story, a real story. My mother was in love with this film. She is not here anymore; she left us 10 years ago. It was often on television in Italy. And she often called me to say, “Claudia, Mayrig is showing on TV.”

It’s sad that Henri Verneuil is not here anymore. It would be fantastic to be together here this evening. I’m going to see this film tonight. It’s a long time I haven’t seen it…

* * *

A Reviewer Writes …

” I am Armenian. Well… my father is Armenian and he was born and raised in France. He then decided to move to Quebec (Canada) to study but ended up staying here and bringing his parents. My mom is French-Canadian. I went to Armenian school and so I speak, write and read it. My grand-mother was one of the survivors of the genocide. She passed away a few months ago at the age of 98.

” What does this have to do with the movie, you ask ?

  Everything. It has everything to do.

” This movie made a lot of sense to me. Yes, the parts about the genocide were heartbreaking but I’m also speaking about the alienation the family feels after moving to France and how they try to adjust their values with the ones from this country they now live in.

” Being Armenian and French-Canadian has caused me many headaches. And though today I am very proud of both cultures, the major differences between them sometimes still leaves me in a place of no man’s land.

” And the love we feel between the family members in the movie is VERY realistic. After the genocide, it is love that saved the survivors from a life full of resentment. Sticking together and loving each other with all of their hearts and souls was the only way to move on. Not forget. We can never forget. But in order to put those dark days behind us and be happy again, we needed this love.

” The way the parents genuinely sacrifice themselves for the happiness of their son is something I am very familiar with. My father did the SAME thing for me and for my brother. Armenian parents are like that. But with this great generosity and unconditional love comes great expectations. Of how we should live our lives. About what we need in order to be truly happy. And they care SO much. They literally live and breathe through us in a way. If we succeed, they succeed. If we are happy, they are happy. If we are sick, they are sick.

” I’m not saying that if we fail, they fail. They are very supportive and as long as you do your best, they are always proud of you. And trust me when I say that we love our parents with all our hearts and are grateful for all that they did and all that they still do.

” I am so proud to be an Armenian. I am so proud of the strength of my people who not only lost everything and had to build from scratch but did it in the best possible way to give the children of tomorrow the chance to hope for something better.

” But being an Armenian gives you a responsibility. In memory of those who died but mostly, of those that survived and made it possible for YOU to be alive today. We have a responsibility to never give up on ourselves and on those who brought us into this world. And this feel of responsibility will be passed on to our children and so on. And as a child of the third generation, I find it sometimes hard to know what part of me wants what it wants because I really want it or because I know that this is what my family wants for me.

” It’s not a bad thing… but it’s a thing and at the age of 26, I’m not done trying to figure it out. So I guess this movie helped me in a way… It helped me understand myself. Understand where I come from. And where I’m going…”

* * *

 SYNOPSIS OF A STUDY ON ORAL TRADITION AMONG GENOCIDE SURVIVORS

Children of Genocide survivors tell primarily historical narratives which exhibit detachment of their parents’ experiences and memories. Grandchildren of Genocide survivors tell narratives which have liturgical aspects in which their grandparents are seen as Christian martyrs. Great-grandchildren of Genocide survivors tell narratives that have acquired a mythical connotation as the stories are intertwined with family history and political aspirations regarding the Turkish government. These findings are a result of narrative analysis and comparison in which the tools of linguistics, discourse analysis, and literary analysis were used to observe pronoun utilization, narrative evaluations, repetition in discourse, and evocation of details and imagery. While certain sociologists have questioned the relevance of the past within the present with respect to persecuted people and traumatic events in history, this study illustrates how this particular event has, through time and space gained significance within the younger population of the community. The findings lend insight to the historical progression of memory through time, as well as the longevity of a diaspora community. Furthermore, this study is a testament to the emotional reverberations of genocide, and the specific role and place that oral histories occupy within education.

* * *

CINE PRESENTATION OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE

The best-known novel to deal with the Armenian Genocide was written by an Austrian Jew, Franz Werfel, in 1933. The Forty Days of the Musa Dagh was translated into over twenty languages and became an international best-seller. The novel is about the siege of the mountain village of Musa Dagh, where a group of exhausted and poorly armed Armenians were able to resist a Turkish attack for forty days before being rescued by French warships. Its potential as a Hollywood epic was immediately seized upon. Yet, despite repeated attempts by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ( MGM ) to translate this important story onto the screen, Turkish pressure on the U.S. State Department prevented the film from ever being made.

Besides some scenes dealing with the Armenian Genocide in Elia Kazan’s 1963 classic America, America, the historic event was not really touched upon again until the French-Armenian director Henri Verneuil, born Achod Malakian, the son of genocide survivors, told his autobiographical version of the event in his 1991 film Mayrig, starring Omar Sharif and Claudia Cardinale. However, even the presence of such a star – cast and substantial production budget, Mayrig failed to find international theatrical exposure. Indeed, the only other dramatic feature films that have dealt with the after effects of this trauma — Don Askarian’s Komitas and Henrik Malian’s Nahapet — have received only limited distribution despite their artistic merits.

In both these later films, the viewer is engaged by the eponymous survivors as they try to deal with the burning memories of the genocide. Nahapet ( the very name means the head of a large family group ) is seen at the beginning of the film as he crosses the border from historic Western Armenia into the fledgling Caucasian state. His memories come flooding back throughout the film, most poetically in a flashback where hundreds of red apples fall off a gigantic tree ( or family tree ) on the banks of a river, where they rot, turning the sky – blue waters bloody. Eye – witness accounts tell of thousands of bodies floating down the river Euphrates during the genocide, and Malian’s cinematic interpretation of this horror is stunning in its beauty and restraint.

* * *    * * *    * * * 

Journal : Jan 03, 2012 : Of One Soul – Meena Kumari

Journal : Jan 03, 2012 : Of One Soul – Meena Kumari.

Journal : Jan 03, 2012 : Of One Soul – Meena Kumari

Meena Kumari was a big fan of Marilyn Monroe.

Meena Kumari’s life brings to fore the great divide between those few who are richer in experience, even if complex or tragic, and most of us who live with a linear fulness or emptiness, without those devastating upheavals that bring heaven and hell together. Clearly, this journal entry would be long… if we are to appreciate her life and its context, which raised a destiny’s child to become an exceptional actress and a poet who lived by her heart and departed in its shine.

( Her poems here are freely paraphrased, and are not literal translations. )

The moon’s solitary

The sky rests in itself

This heart’s lonely, I find

Every time and place we met.

Hope’s dead

The stars have set

Just the reek shimmers

Within … of itself.

Is this life, we call

Breathibg mere

Being alive just

Through this all —

The body lonely ?

Spirit dumped upon itself ?

Even with partners

I met on the way

We trod alone

Each to ourself.

Beyond these lights

Now on, now off

The house will stand alone

Shrivelled and forlorn

Looking over the path

And interminably wait

After I finally depart

Utter, in my loneliness.

Why insist, my dear

Why hear me narrate ?

My life’s story is bland

The tale wholly joyless.

These words come from a soul whose life’s story is neither bland nor without joy ! She is Meena Kumari, an actor immortalised in some of the most scintillating performances that ever lit up the screens of Hindi cinema. The first Filmfare Award for Best Actress ever bestowed was conferred on her, in 1953, for her role in Baiju Bawra. She received her fourth one for the iconic film Kaajal. And Pakeezah, which released two months before she passed away, is a stellar all – time classic today.

The words, more revealingly, come from Mahjabeen Bano, youngest of the three daughters of Ali Baksh and Iqbal Begum. The family was poor at the time of her birth on August 1, 1932 but Ali Baksh looked forward to having a son. They could just about manage enough influencial references to gain admittance in Dr Gadre’s clinic, in which Iqbal Begum delivered the baby. An absolutely downcast Ali Baksh took away the newborn and left it in a Muslim orphanage ! Hours later, the despairing but repenting father went back to pick up and brought the baby girl home.

Meena’s mother was actually a Hindu girl, Prabhavatidevi Tagore, derived from Hindu – Christian parentage, who converted to Islam after marriage. She then came to be known as Iqbal Begum, with the screen name of Kamini – a dancer, actress and Kathak teacher. Ali Baksh was a Shia Muslim Pathan with a large heart. He had been cared for by a Brahmin for 12 years and was an adept Hindu-style astrologer. He had interest and skills in music and poetry. He used to play the harmonium and essay parts in the Parsi theatre. He composed music for peripheral films, which paid some for his efforts but never enough to secure the needs for staying in business. The family lived next to Rooptara studios in Dadar, Bombay, and Ali Baksh was forever hopeful of getting a major break in the film industry. But that never happened.

Not much is known about those early years of the future star of Hindi cinema. They were staying in Rooptara Studios, then leased by Vijay Bhatt, and remained hand to mouth. Mahjabeen’s elder sisters would go to school in the morning and the parents to their work in Vijay Bhatt’s productions. The baby would be cared for by the cleaning woman attached to the studio, Sita Tayi, untill the sisters returned from school. Later, the eldest one, Khurshid, took care of the youngest in the family. The family soon shifted to a flat nearby, in Dadar itself.

Mahjabeen used to be very competitive in school, becoming irritable when her test scores were less than that of her friends. But the Baksh family, perpetually hounded by their want for necessities they did not have, began discussing how Mahjabeen could earn for the family even as a six-year old. The little girl baulked at the suggestion; she wanted to study, read and write. She used to carry her books even while travelling with her parents on outstation shoots. Ali Baksh was also against the idea of Mahjabeen working in films. That was the social norm too : women from good families did not work on stage or for the screen.

But Prabhavati Devi would have none of that; it was a necessity, an immediate means to make ends meet. Sometime back, they had to give up their flat in Dadar because they could not afford it, and had to return to their earlier quarters in Rooptara Studios. Meena felt it all, from the pain settled in the eyes of her parents, but more in the termination of her studies. Later, even while she was well into her work in films under the tutelage of Vijay Bhatt, she would enroll in a Urdu school, and with an English teacher, in an attempt to remedy the deeply felt loss and make herself ‘ literate.’

Meena’s parents met Vijay Bhatt for work opportunities for their children in his projects. He went over and observed from afar the three Baksh girls at their informal play, acting out roles they had seen their parents rehearse. Vijay Bhatt offered Mahjabeen a child’s role in his production, Leatherface, that released in 1939. The role required her to work with a cat, which she was very afraid of. But she went through with her deliveries in the film and made her parents proud.

Meena’s looks and talent brought more opportunities… and started the unstoppable phenomenon called Meena Kumari. Ever since that ugly beginning against her wishes, she remained the one bread earner of the family and was steadfast in her care for the family till the very end. But she was never without that intense love – hate relationship with films seeded then.

Blistering frenzy would have drawn one to these ruins

Who otherwise would light a lamp in storms booming

Every speck must hold his prayers pure

Each form to God he must have cured

Must have quenched the thirst of burning thorns

Lovingly held on palm the waters… dripping hot

And if he would find a stone shining gold

It’d remind him of his heart broken pure

Before the traveller wipes off the blood spatters…

One who made a garden of these rocky barrens.

Meena Kumari acted in 94 films before her death in 1972, months short of her 40th birthday. Sans a normal childhood, she was immersed in work over next four years, mostly in Vijay Bhatt productions : Adhuri Kahani, Pooja, Nai Roshni, Bahen, Kasauti and Garib (1942). Vijay Bhatt became her mentor and, on the sets of Ek Hi Bhool (1940), rechristened Mahzabeen as ” Baby Meena, ” as which she was known until she grew up to be a young lady and assumed the name we now identify her with.

In 1939 itself, an up and coming writer called Kamal Amrohi met Ali Baksh in his Dadar home, for someone to play a child’s part in Sohrab Modi’s Jailor. After the preliminaries, Ali Baksh sent for his daughters and one came running immediately, barefoot, with traces of mashed banana all over her face. Ali Baksh apologised for the unmade appearance of his daughter, scolded the girl and asked her to wash and come, remarking that the little one looked pretty otherwise. Amrohi agreed and promised he would recommend the girl to Mr. Modi. As it turned out she did not get the role. But Kamal Amrohi went on to become a film director, with whom Meena fell intensely in love and married 13 years later !

More films followed : Pratiggya, Lal Haveli, Duniya Ek Sarai, Piya Ghar Aaja and Bichchade Balam (1948). In Ramnik Production’s Bachchon Ka Khel (1946), Baby Meena became the heroine – Meena Kumari – performing with credit and winning recognition from all in the industry. The phase continued with several hits on the box office, including some mythologicals and fantasies : Veer Ghatotkach, Shri Ganesh Mahima, Magroor, Hamara Ghar, Anmol Ratan, Sanam, Madhosh, Lakshmi Narayan, Hanumaan Pataal Vijay , Tamasha and Aladdin Aur Jadui Chirag (1952).

Think not of how the ‘morrow unfolds

Who can say what the moment holds…

Hold your tears, let others not cry or weep

How else would it affect, whatever calamity

Tame the river and dam the flow

As in our palm, sans hullabaloo

When we turn to hope our instant each

The infirmities vanish, we march on free

If our nights are calm, spent in peace

Days break clear, centered, inevitably

Let us speak of today and hear of now

Why think of next on the morrow’s brow.

The year 1952 was especially tumultuous. It saw the release of her well received film Baiju Bawra, directed by Vijay Bhatt. It became a huge commercial and critical success and catapulted both its lead actors, Bharat Bhushan and Meena Kumari, to stardom. The film was a musical, set up in Mughal India of 16th Century, with classical Hindustani melodies wonderfully built into it. The intense story line had everything of human interest… joy and sadness, oppression and rebellion, defeat and victory… and relationships of all hues.

The superhit movie established or enhanced the careers of all the artists involved, Meena amongst them. Meena Kumari won the first ever Filmfare Best Actress Award and the music director, Naushad, one of the best composer ever, received the inaugural Best Music Director Award for the song. This was to be Naushad’s first and only Filmfare Award. Mohammed Rafi, the exquisitely melodious voice in those memorable songs, remained the undisputed best over the next two decades. And, the world noticed the young lady of unblemished beauty, Meena Kumari. It was at this point that Meena saw the opportunity frontiers she could step up to.

In a proud moment of glory on 21st March 1954 at the Metro Theatre in Bombay, only five awards were presented at the Filmfare inaugral, and Meena Kumari was associated with four of them : two each for her films Baiju Bawra and Do Bigha Zameen. The fifth was for the Best Actor, conferred on Dilip Kumar for his performance in Daag. When Meena rose to receive her award, the theatre filled with thunderous applause and ovation to herald the country’s leading lady of celluoid. At this historical juncture of her career, her tremulous voice remained true to her emotions while accepting the award. A nation had showered her with love and appreciation and returned their devotion to her. Many years have come and gone and many others have graced the stage to accept the award but none yet have captured the spirit of triumph and victory as Meena Kumari did that night. With her that night was Kamal Amrohi. The industry had found a winner… a hard working and soft spoken actor of great sensitivity, capable of carrying challenges on her own and delivering big – time successes.

Meena Kumari was introduced to Kamal Amrohi by Ashok Kumar in 1952, on the sets of Tamasha, when too she met actress Madhubala for the first time. Later, while working together in Amrohi’s Anarkali, their relationship flowered. It deepened when, after just a few scenes of the project had been canned, Meena suffered in a car accident and was laid up in Sassoon Hospital, Poona, for five whole months. Amrohi used to visit her during the weekends. Meena was doubtful if he would still consider her for the role ! To reassure her, Amrohi wrote on her wrist : “ Meri Anarkali ” [ ‘ My (love) Anarkali ‘ ] and signed his name below. The Anarkali project however was abandoned after the first schedule.

My past…

This dark abyss of my loneliness

In concert like this chronic breath

With me in life, living as I

As this pulse… throbbing…

Which numerous moments lacerate

Deepen with their rocky probes

As they descend, stay and depart

While the agonal blood flows

Seeking someone… for refuge

For the deep want… to call

A mate, one with this soul.

Soon after marriage, Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari produced a film called Daayera (1953), an ode to immortalise their own love story. The movie was rejected by the audience and was declared a major flop. But it remained closest to the couple’s heart. At a time when there were no zoom lenses or trol¬leys, Kamal Amrohi achieved spectacular effects without them. It was lauded in The Times of India, a major daily, as a ‘poem on celluloid’. A judge of Allahabad High Court wrote a letter to the daily, saying ‘I’m not upset that Daayera has flopped but that the man who made it will never make such a film again.’ Kamal preserved that letter till the very end.

Kamal and Meena planned another film, Pakeezah, an epic saga of human life and character, attitude and relationship… a massive tome which took 14 years to complete, from 1958 when planning began to 1972 when it was first screened in theatres all over. The scenes in the movie’s popular song “Inhi logon ne…” were originally filmed in black and white, but were later reshot in color on Meena Kumari’s suggestion ! We will shed more light on the movie and those years a little later.

In 1953, Meena starred in six films, including Daayera. The movie Dana Paani had Bharat Bhushan, the male lead from Baiju Bawra. Gossip was rife about his affair with Meena Kumari, for which he received many a threat on himself and his wife, presumably from Kamal Amrohi or his assistant, Baqar. But Do Bigha Zamin, directed by Bimal Roy, had a socially powerful theme and proved a trend setter at neo-realism. Meena’s role in the film was secondary, as the kind and helpful landlady who writes letters on behalf of the hapless wife of a marginal farmer struggling in a distant land. The film’s commercial success was moderate but it was celebrated as the first Indian fim to win the International Prize at Cannes in 1954. Foot Path was Meena’s first with Dilip Kumar. Naulakha Haar was forgettable but Parineeta with Ashok Kumar, got her the second Best Actress Award and the Best Director Award to Bimal Roy. It remains the most faithful rendition of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel dealing with very complex happenings in a girl’s life, in which she secretly bethroths a wealthy brat, her childhood heartthrob, and publicly weds a self – made man, who saves her family abode and their honour.

During the rest of the 50s decade, before she came to be looked upon as a great tragedienne and actually known as the ” Queen Of Tragedy,” 27 of Meena Kumari starrers were released. The film Baadbaan had a stellar star cast of Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar and Usha Kiran. Directed by Phani Majumdar, it was the first ever film in India to have been produced by a workers’ cooperative. Meena matched the boisterous Kishore Kumar and rollicked in the rather obscure Ilzaam, the first of six films with Kishore Kumar. She pranced gaily with Robin Hood Dilip Kumar in swashbuckling Azaad, the top grossing Hindi film in the year of its release and one of the biggest Hindi film hit in the decade. She paired up with Kishore Kumar again and made expressive eyes in the light-hearted Miss Mary, which was entertainment pure… an out-and-out comedy that kept one on the edge. Shararat was again a fun movie with Raj Kumar and Kishore Kumar in double role, with that memorable Kishore song “Hum Matwaley Naujawan…” Bandhan had Motilal and Pradeep Kumar, with songs by Hemant Kumar. It won the National Certificate Of Merit For Second Best Feature Film. In Ek Hi Raasta she was Sunil Dutt’s widow whom Ashok Kumar marries after defying societal norms. She was the love angle, and later the step mother, to Raj Kapoor’s character in Sharda, which did reasonably well on the box office. It was a very difficult role to essay and had been refused by all leading actesses of the day. The finesse which Meena vested in her role earned her the Journalists Award For Best Actress. Yehudi, with Meena again paired up with Dilip Kumar, was set in ancient Rome at a time when Jews were severely persecuted by the State. Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan saw her play opposite Rajendra Kumar, the jubilee star.

Those were heady days for Meena Kumari… In a sponsored program broadcast over Radio Ceylon in 1958, Meena gushed enthusiastically about her first ever visit to her husband’s home town, Amroha, in north – west region of Uttar Pradesh. She and Kamal Amrohi had been there in 1956, four years after they were married. The area is rich in culture, architecture, mangoes, sugarcane and fresh water fishes… Deprived of such exposure through her life in Bombay, she exulted with joy and gratitude, and referred to her husband with high regard, love and extreme respect. Nobody then would have suspected that the couple would be estranged two years later, in 1960.

It is said that they never formally divorced but separated in 1964. Meena did not come home after her shoot and never stepped in their Pali Naka home thereafter. She stayed in actor Mehmood’s house for a while, who was married to her sister, Madhu, before moving to one in Janaki Kutir, Juhu. Kamal rushed to Mehmood’s house to reconcile their differences and escort her back. But Meena refused. Afterwards, their respective egos took over. They never spoke a word against each other, never had a formal divorce, and always loved each other till the end.

What could have provoked her to take such a step ? Was it true, as is generally believed, that her marriage to Amrohi was a failure ? Did he ill-treat her, as was widely alleged ? It is said that Amrohi did not want children with Meena Kumari because she was not a Shia Sayyed. They raised Kamal Amrohi’s son, Tajdaar, who was greatly attached to his Chhoti Ammi (younger mother). Due to their strong personalities, however, Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi started to develop conflicts, both professionally and in their married life. ” It is true,” Kamal Amrohi confessed. ” I used to advise Meena against accepting assignments which would harm her reputation. I used to be a little harsh sometimes but it was all in her interest.”

It was all on account of excessive love !

What is this glow ?

Clothed in ashen colours ?

A corpse of ice stiff, wearing

As if, a body of lava made-in ?

A dumb desire, a want silent

Illrepute for burial garment ?

Every drop is holy, of soiled tears

As infirms mob at panacea Kauser.

What’s this din, soundless stretched ?

Notorious den under glitzy shade ?

What is this Paradise that starts startled ?

A wait eternal embodied, named Silence ?

And what is this bound on my feeling boundless ?

Where walls n doors, to spirit’s rove and travels ?

A long sensual journey to valley of radiance

I find inscribed at every turn just two names

Call it Death, if you

Cannot say : Love.

Tajdar later recalled how their marriage came in for a lot of criticism from the conservative people of Amroha. By marrying an actress, a boy of the Sayyed family was perceived as having tarnished the reputation of their aristocrat family. Kamal made her promise that she would quit acting once she had completed the projects on hand. However, when the time came she pleaded, ‘ I’ve been in the limelight since I was four. I can’t give it up now.’ He couldn’t say no to her, but he laid two conditions — one, she wouldn’t take on films which, in his judgement, were below her dignity ; and, two, when they were to attend social functions together, she would travel with him in his car and not the other way around.

In 1955, the couple went to the Filmfare awards function. Meena had won the Best Actress award for her ‘ Lalita ‘ role in Parineeta. In the rush to get away after the show, she left her gold purse on her seat. Kamal saw it but did not pick it up for her. Actress Nimmi picked it up and returned it to Meena. Meena was surprised that Kamal hadn’t noticed. But Kamal told her that he had. He didn’t pick it up for her because… ‘ Today it’s a purse, tomorrow you might ask me to pick up your shoes.’ On another occasion, when Meena asked him to hold her purse for a moment, he is said to have scolded her in public revealing his dominating – male values common in conservative bourgeois and feudal families.

Both were great artistes with massive egos. Clashes were common and their separation was inevitable. There were rumours about Meena being fed just leftovers from previous day. After they separated the mongering got wilder. It was said that Kamal used to regularly beat her up. Tajdar informs that both were mere gossip and not true. But, without doubt, Meena felt oppressed by the feudal attitude and high – handed behaviour that Kamal brought to their relationship. He was the possessive master; she was not prepared to be the acquiesced slave. She perceived the cruelty and lived the paranoia. She earned millions but Kamal will only allow a monthly allowance of Rs 100 to her. She desperately wanted to help her sister, Madhu, when Mehmood earned practically nothing, but felt constantly thwarted. Kamal’s lavish productions, Daiyra and Pakeezah, and his Kamalistan studios ( 1958 ), were mostly financed by her earnings. There were too many and far too restrictive do’s and don’ts she had to observe. And, she was watched over. Kamal had issued strict instructions, and had people deployed, to prevent any other man meet Meena Kumari on the sets. His assistant, Baqar, slapped her once when she insisted on letting the budding poet – lyricist, Gulzar, into her make up room !

Let there be someone who can immediately spot

Turn sudden with longing and unexpectedly call :

” My Cohabiter ! My Cohabitee !

Co-owner of my melancholy !

Friend to my unfinished being !

All wounds that are yours

Are pain to me, one n all

“Your groan links to my sigh.”

You are a deserted mosque

I, your on high muezzin’s call

That issues and travels far

To meet its own isolation

And tip toe masked, to pray

Offer namaaz, on the heart

Of this barren land, prostate

To God knows who !

Meena Kumari enjoyed doing films with Kamal untill the release of Chandni Chowk (1953). Reportedly, a few ( competing ! ) directors had approached Kamal Amrohi with film signing offers for Meena Kumari which he had refused… declaring that Meena Kumari was not going to sign any more movie contract for the next four months for lack of dates. Afterwards however, Meena Kumari signed Chandni Chowk and Bandhan on her own, which made industry bigwigs feel cheated and ill – disposed towards Kamal Amrohi. They starting meeting Meena Kumari personally, when Kamal Amrohi was not present with her.

The professional drift between Kamal and Meena only accelerated with time. In 1959, during an interview, Meena Kumari was asked about her relationship with Kamal. She responded with :

“ One can never understand a person without spending time with him. Perhaps, there are people about who are not able bear with my success. Hence they are paving my way with thorns.”

Perhaps, Kamal Amrohi had started feeling inferior her. But at that juncture, when the biggest of banners were vying for her dates, there was no way to stop, to turn away from all that she had assiduously built up. She held Kamal with the same respect and regard as before but felt the need to remove him from the professional relationships she had in the industry. Equally, perhaps Kamal Amrohi was not jealous of Meena’s success but merely overprotective and worried, even insecure, of the gossips about an ongoing affair between Meena Kumari and Bharat Bhushan, and later with several others.

Meena’s loving and generous heart was irreparably stung by the distrust implicit in Kamal’s attitude which pushed her over the edge to alchohol and other paramours. Meena felt too little love in the relationship and not enough freedom in her life. Kamal felt he was giving both in excess. Their conflicts led to irreconciliable alienation in 1960 and actual separation four years later. Meena Kumari, once a happy woman, became depressed and found solace in liquor. During those years of separation from her husband, she associated with other men with intimacy… her relationships with Gulzar, Sawan Kumar Tak and Dharmendra were well known.

Her thoughts here reflect her condition and her rebellious resolve :

The days pass in bits and parts

Night avails in shreds n pieces;

We’re each endowed in accord

With heaven’s cover, its reaches.

I’ve wished to know this heart of mine

But have heard the laughs on each try

As if yelling of my loss once more

Of rout, failure, life down ‘nd beat.

But what of defeats, of attacks oblique

Move all time I must, keep on walking

I have the beau after my heart

And this unrest too ever since.

It starts but is without consequence

When my story is without that name…

When one co-traveller dissolves

In the dark folds of my mane

Ill-repute, yes, I do embrace, but

Am lost no more, not misplaced.

Why heed not calls of youth in my heart

Pick at its joyous yields, smile and laugh

Not all are otherwise destined

To avail their life… its reward.

Flowing tears pause to tell the eye

It’s not a goblet that melts in wine.

Is the day set or groom’s party on the boat drowned ?

No dirge from the shores I hear, not a soul’s howled !

Kamal Amrohi is portrayed by Nida Fazli, Kamal’s lyricist in Razia Sultan, as a prurient, eccentric and vengeful man… Fazli wrote that Dharmendra was made to don black grease-paint in Razia Sultan because Amrohi could never stomach the fact that Dharmendra had had an affair with his wife. That, Amrohi was fond of women and pretty faces and insisted on seeing a pretty face every time he woke up after taking a nap in his office. That, he even behaved badly with Sohrab Modi, who had given Kamal his first breaks to his script – writing career in Bombay film industry.

In the 60s, Meena Kumari essayed roles that were dangerously close to her own tragic life, after her separation from Kamal. The intensity and power in those celluloid tragedies were derived from her own personal situation and emotional make up in those years. The conviction and strength of those characters she portrayed, in a series of films, earned her a repute as ” the great tragidienne ” and the endearing crown of ” Queen Of Tragedy ” popularly bestowed on her.

The decade started with the release of Kohinoor and Dil Apnaa Aur Preet Paraayi, which were yet carryovers from her more happy days. Kohinoor was a typical fairytale, very commercially presented as an entertainer for the family. It had ample comic moments and Meena Kumari showed a huge knack for fun in them. The songs were very melodious, and Dilip Kumar got the Filmfare Best Actor award for it. Dil Apnaa Aur Preet Paraayi was a more emotionally intense comedy with great performances, especially by Nadira. It earned the Best Music Director Award for Shankar Jaikishan. It was a romantic musical with links to the medical profession and the beautiful Himalayas. And Meena looked ethereal in her role as a sensitive and caring nurse. Both movies were very well received.

The year 1962 proved to be a watershed. Meena Kumari created history, and remains unique to this day, by being the sole leading lady to have been nominated at all slots for the Filmfare Best Actress award in 1963. The nominations were for her roles in Saheb Biwi Aur Ghulam, Aarti and Main Chup Rahungi. She won for Saheb Biwi Aur Ghulam, which was conferred with 3 more awards, but her performances in the other two movies had equally impacted the audiences.

Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam was perhaps the most perilous mix of the reel and real. Meena poured her own life into her role. She confided to Gulzaar that she would shed tears and dull her senses with liquor while essaying the role. Produced by Guru Dutt and directed by Abrar Alvi, the story was set in Bengal during late 19th Century British Raj years, when the prosperity of feudal principalities was on the decline. They ‘ lords ‘ still lived in grand palaces and the goings on in one such was presented through the eyes of a simple architect, essayed by Guru Dutt himself. The film had other great actors – Waheeda Rehman, Nazir Hussain, Rehman, Harindranath Chattopadhyay and Sapru – but everything recedes in the background from the moment “Atulya” ( Guru Dutt ) comes across the immense beauty and sadness of “Chhoti Bahu,” wife ( Meena Kumari ) of the youngest “Choudhary” ( Rehman ). Struck with the magnetic countenance, Atulya quite unawaredly becomes the confidante of Chhoti Bahu. The decadence of the Choudharys, their straying ways, and the tragic lives of their love-starved spouses is then revealed. Constantly denied, Chhoti Bahu becomes the drinking companion to her husband, merely to retain his company for herself. Thenceforth, the entire story is overpowered and taken over by the loveless being of Chhoti Bahu, her struggle with the indignities she suffers. But she remains steadfast by her husband even when he is paralysed. Untill she is abducted by the elder Choudhary and is killed and buried.

The reality which Meena gave to her character stirred the collective consciousness of the nation then, especially women folk who could easily identify with it. Her portrayal of Chhoti Bahu is perhaps the greatest performance ever seen on the Indian screen.

May such frenzied ardents pass your way

Kept on their shoulder is their own grave

With adorned ruins of heart, they squat and wait

Spring bloom will take this path, mayhap one day

These flowing rivers, these dissolving shores

May someone crossover, may one beyond go

Even you looked at me, I too looked you up

You lost your heart and I – my life, my verve.

Aarti, directed by Phani Majumdar, had a vengeful Ashok Kumar, simple and unemployed Pradeep Kumar, and scheming Shashikala in pivotal roles. The film was the first venture of Rajshri Productions. It too dealt with marital discord, gender equation and attitudes, negative alpha behaviour, and the medical profession. The Bengal Film Journalists’ Association acknowledged Aarti as one of the top ten Indian films of the year and conferred the Best Actress Award on Meena Kumari. Main Chup Rahungi had the hugely romantic song “Chand Jaaney Kahan Kho Gaya…”, exquisitely rendered by Mohd Rafi. But its storyline had the same woman’s strife and struggle… an unwed mother, who followed her heart, then finds herself abandoned by the wealthy and flambouyant heir. She goes away during her pregnancy but returns to handover the child to the care of an orphange, in which she starts to teach. The male lead was played by Sunil Dutt, who won the Filmfare Best Actor Award the next year.

Kinare Kinare (1963) starts with Partition in ’47, whereafter Chetan Anand and Meena Kumari remain in the frame untill Dev Anand enters. The film went unnoticed except that the experience prompted Dev Anand to observe, ” Meena Kumari was the most beautiful actress I have worked with.” Almost all songs in Dil Ek Mandir were raging hits. Meena was paired with Rajendra Kumar, who essays the role of a medic, but it was her husband in the movie, Raj Kumar, who won the Best Supporting Actor Award. The movie was the 5th grosser in 1963. Akeli Mat Jaiyyo was convoluted and forgettable, though it had Rajendra Kumar in double role. Sanjh Aur Savera (1964) with Guru Dutt was a weepin melodrama. Guru Dutt commited suicide shortly after the film was released. Gazal was a light Muslim story with good songs and a very good star cast. Sunil Dutt gave a great performance in the role of a simple poet who falls in love with the voice of a girl. Meena Kumari was awesome in her performance as a girl who loses her voice just when she is a about to hear a good news. In Chitralekha, Meena is a courtesan with bewitching beauty, of whom the stately prince ( Pradeep Kumar ) is smitten. Ashok Kumar was a Yogi oscillating between lust and spirituality, who falls for her physical charms. Admonished by the lady, the yogi commits suicide while the prince abdicates the throne and comes to marry her. But despite having a great story and cast, the script and unsuitability of the performers to their respective characters led the film downhill on the box office.

Production of Pakeezah started in 1961 but without dates from Meena Kumari. Her shots were taken in 1964 but it all came to standstill for years when Meena separated from Kamal Amrohi. It remained stalled through most of the sixties untill actors Nargis and Sunil Dutt saw the rushes and told Meena, ‘ You must complete the film.’ Also, it was no small matter that by early 1964 a whooping sum of 40 lakh rupees were already spent ! In 1967, Meena called Kamal to her house and suggested restarting production. They then met, after three long years. ” Not much was said, but streams of tears were shed.” Amrohi greeted her with a token payment of a gold guinea and the promise that he’d make her look as beautiful as the day she had started the film. They had dinner together and she gave him her diary to read.

In March 1964, when Meena had left home, Pakeezah was more than halfway complete. Five years and 12 days later, she reported again on the sets of Pakeezah. Over the next two years, the estranged couple met frequently but they never spoke of their sad past. The actress used to tell her close friends – composer Khayyam and Delhi distributor Sayeed Bhai and his wife among them – that God would never forgive those who had wrecked her home with their misplaced sympathy, advice and encouragement. It was a clear admission of her own error at precipitating that tragic pall upon her life, for which untill then she had held Kamal and his ways alone responsible.

My love

In the afternoons

When sea waves rise

Resonating with the beats of my heart…

I obtain my strength

To bear this separation from you

From the life glorifying rays of the Sun.

Meanwhile her films Purnima, Kaajal, Bheegi Raat (1965) and Pinjre Ke Panchhi and Phool Aur Patthar (1966) released. Purnima had the lilting evergreen ” Humsafar Mere Humsafar…” and Dharmendra, but fared average with the audiences. Kaajal with Raj Kumar, Dharmendra and Padmini, was an extraordinary movie, with a story too complicated to summarise in a few words. It held our interest with its fair share of deaths, disasters and romances leading to chaos, doubts, suspicions and separations that end in guilt, regret, penance, reunions and fulfilment. The emotional appeal of the film, its music and the songs, was so strong that it kept the viewer engrossed till the last scene. Kaajal garnered for Meena her a fourth and last Best Actress award. Bheegi Raat yet again brought Ashok Kumar and Pradeep Kumar together, with Meena portraying their love interest and Shashikala the spurned vengeful woman. The movie did well on the box office. Pinjre Ke Panchhi did not have a star cast but Phool Aur Patthar, with Dharmendra, was a blockbuster, the top grosser in 1966. It celebrated its golden jubilee, catapulting Dharmendra to stardom.

Phool Aur Patthar also served to set Dharmendra and Meena Kumari up as a popular cine couple. They went on to act in more movies like Chandan Ka Palna, Manjhli Didi and Baharon Ki Manzil. The first two had a lukewarm reception on the box office. Baharon Ki Manzil was an engrossing suspense – thriller in which Meena Kumari plays a young mother’s role and then had a recall of identity that was different from what everyone about took her to be. Dharmendra stood out in his performance as a psychiatrist. It was Meena Kumari, in the central role, who looked alcoholic, a litlle loose physically and a shade tired… and not upto expectations.

The roles Meena essayed in later movies were character parts, main and challenging, but not leads. Heavy drinking had badly damaged her liver and, in 1968, she fell seriously ill. She was taken to London and Switzerland for treatment. Upon recovery, she settled her debts and made peace with her estranged sister, Madhu, whom she had not spoken to for two years. Her good looks had waned. The roles she then played were no longer ‘central’ from box office perspective : Abhilasha (1968), Saat Phere (1970), Jawab (1970), Mere Apne (1971), Dushmun (1971) and Gomti Ke Kinare (1972). Jawab, in common with the fate of Mera Naam Joker and Prem Pujari that year, bombed at the box office at first but was later both well received and regarded. In Mere Apne, Meena shone forth as an old widow who chose to live with a loving street kid than with relatives who merely saw her as housemaid and a nanny to their child. Being motherly and caring, she is loved by all, even by the violent youth of the locality. Directed by Gulzar, her understated histrionics in the film as the lady of peace and the peacemaker between two warring youth groups remains memorable. As is her role in Dushman, the super hit of 1971. She excelled at portraying the silent, implacable widow of a farmer who had been run over by a drunk truck driver. The frozen stares projected her absolute condemnation of the culprit. The nuances she brings on her countenance conveyed her unrelenting hardness and fire in her heart.

Gomti Ke Kinare went nowhere with the audience and proved to be an absolute flop. The producer of her 1968 film, Abhilasha, was a builder who gave her a bungalow in lieu of her fee for the film. During her last days, while Gomti Ke Kinare was still being made, the producer Sawan Kumar Tak went bankrupt. Meena Kumari sold off the bungalow and paid a huge amount to Sawan Kumar. The film was her last release.

The urgent resumption of Pakeezah in 1968, at Meena’s initiative, can be seen as a dire move of someone who had suddenly woken up to her rapid burn out. Compared to the movies that were then being made and the roles that came to her, there was a grandeur in Amrohi’s filmmaking – an epic scale and magnitude of treatment – which alone held the promise for Meena to raise a landmark. And, post their reconciliation, the only man in whom Meena Kumari had implicit faith was Kamal Amrohi himself !

The evocative songs and the background music already created for the film provided the right ambience of the period in which the movie was set. Kamal Amrohi’s eye for details brought great depth to the lavish sets. A deliriously lush and romantic film, the script was pregnant with opportunities for Meena in her dual role, first as the love of Shahabuddin and then as her courtesan daughter. As the blonde-haired Nargis, she seeks to escape the brothel by eloping with her lover, essayed by Ashok Kumar. But the patriarch (Sapru) of Shahabuddin’s family refuses to accept her… and Nargis flees to a graveyard. On her deathbed, she writes to him a letter asking him to come for his newborn daughter. But it is her sister who arrives, finds her dead, and brings the baby back to the brothel house. The girl grows up and, after many struggles and much strife, finds her love in Salim, nephew of Shahabuddin. Salim heeds nothing of the Patriarch’s outright rejection of his love. He marries Sahibjaan and names her Pakeezah, the Pure !

But it wasn’t just Meena Kumari who was desperate to restart the making of Pakeeezah… as a letter that Amrohi wrote on 25th August 1968 to his estranged wife proves :

“…only Pakeezah’s completion remains unsettled. You have made a condition that unless I give you a divorce you will not complete Pakeezah. Even this knot can be untied…I will free you from your marital ties. After this if you wish to help complete ‘your Pakeezah’ I would be most happy to do so. This is my request, that Pakeezah on which the fortune of many people depends, and which has the good wishes of so many people should not be felt uncompleted if possible. […] You have better means. You have power. You have box-office appeal, and most of all Pakeezah needs you personally…Pakeezah that is like a sinking ship will reach ashore under your care.”

When the film was resumed in 1968, several financiers asked Kamal Amrohi to replace the music with one that was more contemporary and trendy. Amrohi said that he would have agreed, if Ghulam Mohammed was yet alive. But he could not betray a dead man who had given him twelve beautiful songs. In keeping with the times though, he kept only six songs in the film.

Kamal Amrohi’s mastery of his craft and his literary brilliance shows throughout the movie. He sketched all the set designs and camera movements, and personally selected every costume, right down to the bangles worn by the minor characters. He enlisted the help of erstwhile Bombay Talkies’ cameramen, German Wirsching and R D Mathur, and composed a series of eloquent tableaux to stage the scenes. Pakeezah’s chandelier – heavy, fountain – adorned Gulabi Mahal is draped with curtains and inhabited by statuesque women with trailing dupattas. There is a visual maximalism that is deliberate; the fancy setting seems surreal. Its splendour fills the eye and stirs the senses. But we are never without the sense of the heart beating at the film’s core.

The dialogues were terrific, as how it prevailed in 19th and early 20th Century Lucknow. They were just appropriately hued for the occasions in the narrative. Salim’s first words for Sahibjaan, about her feet actually, are simple but so soft and touching as to melt our hearts. Salim’s ripostes to the Patriarch are controlled and understated, but scathing. And, it quivers with pathos when Sahibjaan declares herself as the dead who are merely alive.

Amrohi effectively used two sound motifs throughout the film — the train’s piercing whistle, which reminds Sahibjaan of her admirer and hope; and a soulful rendering by Lata Mangeshkar which mirrors her moments of sadness. Kamal used symbols to great effect for expression, economy, and to add to the film’s integrity. The bird with clipped wings and the snake in the house serve as external signs of the struggles in Sahibjaan’s life. At times, the semiotics is heavily underlined — a torn kite on a tree is shown when she returns to the house in helplessness and defeat.

Raaj Kumar made his presence felt in the film : with the likeable steadfastness of his character as well as with impeccable dialogue delivery and his own screen presence. But Meena Kumari’s failing health necessitated that some of the dance sequences and scenes be shot without her. Amrohi shot the entire song “Chalo Dildaar Chalo…” without showing her face. Her understated performance and moist eyes, sparkling with unshed tears, had a hypnotic effect. The dances were extremely well choreographed, but cleverly hid Meena’s inability to dance… she walked and moved ever so gracefully in the song “Chalte Chalte…” even as two other girls danced in the background. All the high energy dance sequences were captured in long shot, and each of them were performed by Padma Khanna, who acted as a double for the specific purpose.

During the dubbing, Meena was barely able to stand on her feet nor had the breath to pack power in her dialogues. Yet, she strove to give her best. Kamal Amrohi had shot 35,000 feet of film of which 14,000 feet was retained. At the premiere on February 4, 1972, among all the big-wigs of the industry, Meena Kumari sat between Raaj Kumar and Kamal Amrohi and watched that magic Kamal had weaved on celluloid. She was excited, overjoyed, and very pleased with what she saw. When Khayyam complimented her with, “Shahkar ban gaya !” … that is, ” the film has become priceless, ” … she was in tears. She regarded the film as Kamal Amrohi’s tribute to her.

But the film’s opening on 20th February was a disaster, causing panic among its producers and financiers and grave disappointment among all involved. But Meena was happy with what she had seen on the screen. The restart of production four years ago had almost brought about her reunion with Kamal, whom she had never stopped loving. Now, she felt the love bond ever more clearly. Common friends suggested to Kamal that he bring Meena home, in Pali Naka. But Amrohi felt it would remind her of the past and that would adversely affect her health.

It was a past most telling captured in her words, in how hurt she was when they had separated :

“Divorce me, even with that rage in your eyes. But return to me my youth, too, along with the alimony !”

In any case, post Pakeezah, Meena and Kamal used to be together for most of the day and she seemed content with the arrangement. It is said, they remarried. But her malaise was beyond cure by then.

You ask, so hear how my life is spent

Night as hand-out, dawn in alms lent

Oh, to live is not to breathe mere…

Thout heartaches, tears, sleeves wet

See their nights how besotted lovers pass…

Eyes open pierced, mirrored dreams of glass

This sore, my loss deep is the enemy

The ache too is what my heart seeks

Even a moment’s separation, if it occurs, starts

The hunt for hub, my frenzy for lost fragrance

My destination sometimes,then

Prelude to journey it becomes.

While despondency prevailed at the indifferent reception of Pakeezah at theatre counters, Meena Kumari died of cirhosis on 31st March, 1972. Suddenly, as the news spread, people began flocking at theatres all over and soon the film was declared a huge box-office success. It has since acquired a legendary status and is today regarded as perhaps her best, and one of the greatest film ever produced for Hindi screen.

Pakeezah did not receive any Filmfare Award, but for a consolatory one for Art Direction. The veteran actor, Pran, turned down his Filmfare Award that year in protest, even though the Filmfare Best Music Director Award had been won by Shankar-Jaikishan for Be-Imaan, for which film Pran had himself been awarded as Best Supporting Actor. He felt that merit had been ignored when late Ghulam Mohammed was not awarded for his music in Pakeezah. It is reported that Kamal Amrohi was told that he and his crew would receive a special award for Pakeezah for a consideration. He refused to “buy an award” without a second thought.

Pakeezah was the inaugural film telecast by Doordarshan, India’s state-owned television station, when it began broadcasting from Amritsar ( in Punjab ) in the early 70s. It was specially beamed towards Lahore nearby, in Pakistan. Thousands flocked at Lahore, from as far as Karachi, hundreds of miles away, to see Pakeezah. It was a flood… the crowds stampeded the streets of Lahore to get to the television screens placed at strategic points on virtually every street corner !

At her death, Meena Kumari was in more or less the same financial circumstance as her parents were at the time of her birth. It is said that when she died in a nursing home, there was no money to pay for her hospital bills. It was remitted by the doctor who cared for her in those last hours.

She was buried at the Rahematabad Qabristan located at Narialwadi, Mazgaon, Mumbai.

Meena Kumari wished this epitaph to be on her grave :

She ended life

With a broken fiddle,

With a broken song,

With a broken heart,

But not a single regret.

Her confidante, Nadira, had recalled, “I bathed and dressed her for the last rites. Without money or work, Meena would not have been able to face life. It’s better that God took her away.”

* * *    * * *

Meena Kumari’s poems are all about love, and its impossibility as she discovered in her own life. She looked for it, went ways to find it, and wept for it.

” In fact,” she said, ” love is my biggest weakness, and greatest strength too. I am in love with love. I am craving for love. I have been craving for it since my childhood.”

Perhaps she had it but never found it. Or, perhaps, it was the childhood itself she was craving for, which she never had.

” Appa! Appa! I don’t want to die.”

Meena Kumari cried out from her deathbed to her elder sister, Khursheed.

I would imagine that when she closed her eyes, on that terminal day on 31st March of 1972, her heart was still open.

* * *    * * *

This night

This loneliness

This sound of heartbeats

And this silence dense…

The poetry of love

Composed and rendered

By these stars setting in quiet…

Desolation lying on the this eyelid of Time.

This last pandiculation

Of feeling of love

Sounding the shehnai

Of death in all direction.

* * *

Everyone calls you over…

Come, if even for a flash

Do up my eyes closing

With a dream –

Of love.

* * *    * * *

” Enshrined forever in our hearts as the tragedy queen, kohl – rimmed eyes brimming, long – suffering, traditional ‘Indian woman’, we forget that Meena Kumari was one of the finest actresses of her time, with a range that went far beyond white saris and glycerine. She was one of the few actresses of her time who could carry huge cine projects on her own star power. She had very few films with the ruling troika of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand. And while she immortalised the roles of the alcoholic Choti Bahu and the heart wrenching Sahibjaan, we only need to watch Kohinoor, Azad or Miss Mary… to realise that it was unfair to slot Meena Kumari as a tragedienne. Her comic timing was impeccable, and her range as a dramatic actress was truly remarkable.”

* * *    * * *

Journal : Jan 01, 2012 : 9.00 AM : Digest & Movie Review

Woke up to some warmth in the morning. It was warmer than had been over the past some days. But then it rained at places and the sky remained overcast.

There were friends of the younger son who had slept over and are still to break their slumber. They fell short of booze last night and borrowed vodka from my stash.

The elder one had a basket of emotions to handle, before his departure for Johannesburgh on Monday. We talked about us for sometime. Mother was with us. We slept well past midnight.

  • Life is. The ” shoulds ” are for us to exert for. For sure, and now. The past is behind the moment; the future is potential in it… in the now. One by one, in the now, one ” should ” applied at, at a time.
  • The important thing is for us to be able to choose our thoughts. It’s a skill… God ! Yes, a skill, not a religion, that is acquired, like any other, with practice. Only, it is unusual for us to do; we are used to going downstream, after the thought is upon us and we are with it. Hence, to remain upstream, before the thought emerges, is truly uphill; and clearly, scarce. Most people I know do not have it. One, yes, a singular, who has, took a life time to acquire.

We learn to choose to think during our schooling years. But thoughts are informal ” matter ” to the mind. They rush in to fill… anytime, all the time. They arise on the back of emotions rolling incessantly, of feelings sensed subconciously, whereof thoughts are automatically triggered. Then, the conscious faculty becomes aware of the thought, but not before being already taken up by the accompanying emotion – the subconscious and the subrational flare in our vitality.

We can choose our thought, even the informal ones, without the subrational emotion and its the vital surge. Yes, we can choose the thought … in the rational light of the intellect, in the full knowledge of the meaning it includes, known or unknown. In time, the thought in the mind will release its meaning and spill out in the form of emotion.

We can choose our thought… to examine it. Or, just to be happy !

     If only we would.

  • Anna Hazare is ill but reportedly better. Arvind Kejriwal has once again made an impassioned plea for true democracy, in which the will of the people is represented in the Parliament, not the machinations of the party high commands.

Our Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, ought to realise that people are no longer touched by promises and prophecies. They want it for real, here and now.

Pranab da must understand that in a country where the opposities are equally true, where the national language is actually ” foreign ” in large parts, regional aspirations are a measure of the good health of our nation, and not something of an inconvenience to be rued over.

Mr Chidambaram and Congress Party leader, Rashid Alvi, need to understand that nothing they say to the public is believable any more. They stand discredited and are regarded as untrustworthy.

As it is said, you cannot fool all the people all the time !

* * *   * * *

              Dec 02, 2012

  • Three earthquakes… in Japan, New Zealand and Indonesia… greet the new year day ! Fortunately, no damages are reported.
  • Dropped the elder one at the airport early morning. It was foggy, very severely in patches. Missed the turn to the terminal and had to u – back. Sadly, one can no longer give company in the lounges until boarding is announced. We, mother and myself, could wait just enough in the passageway, to see him wheel away the luggage towards the terminal entrance, before a stern voice on public address system order us to turn the wheels of our car.

Back at home, she discovers Montecristo cigars and Marlboro cigarettes in his drawer. The woman would normally be cool while I smoked anything.  But this once, she brought the two packets to me and said with an indulging smile, ” Here, you could smoke these !” I noticed something soft in her look and accepted the gift with conspicuous joy.

  • Madhu Koda, former Chief Minister of Jharkhand now in jail, grafted INR 35 billion, US$ 700 million approx. The Income Tax department has sent a notice for INR 12 billion towards tax and penalty. So, the swindler can keep the balance INR 23 billion of ill-gotten wealth ? !
  • The Times Of India never fails to join the debate when people opine or suggest that there are dresses which are immodest, which show skin enough to drive perfectly normal men to drooling, some drooling men to coveting, and few coveting men to molesting and raping.

The daily states it loud : ” Nothing can justify rape or molestation.” We all will agree. But I also appreciate the immediately empirical facts about human behaviour : Immodest dresses prompt unacceptable behaviour among few men.

  • There are two broad personality qualifications which prevent one from having the skill or power to choose one’s thought and disposition.

–  One… lethargy, indolence and indifference; and

–  Two… passion, desire and frenzy.

Also, the time of the day could matter ! It is common knowledge that the early hours between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. facilitate the best.

  • The Right To Food Bill is the next most important legislation on the table. But provisions in it are being opposed by the states. It may block its passage in the Parliament, as it happened with the Lokpal and Judicial Accountability bills.
  • The Prime Minister has expressed the hope that media will do away with ” paid news “ on its own. Well, sir, what will compensate the media owners toward loss of revenue such news generate ? And, even before that, what is your own and your party’s crdibility in the matter, being the pioneer and past master at planting motivated and expedient news ?

  • Sunil Gavaskar, the batting legend says, ” Alarm bells are ringing for India.” I am not sure. Do bells sound when there is no one to hear it ?

* * *   * * *

Movie : Imagining Argentina – My Impressions

 

Antonio Banderas has a furrowed brow in the best of the times. In Imagining Argentina, a powerful and disturbing political drama, his look best serves the part of the passive but tortured head, Carlos, of a children’s theatre company in Buenos Aires in late 70s, when Argentina was under a repressive military dictatorship. The leading lady, Emma Thompson, comes across as authoritative, as his character’s journalist wife, Cecilia, with her tight demeanour, pursed lips and hard stare.

As is well known, I have no ability whatsoever of reviewing a movie that involves multiple technologies, abilities and skills. So I will borrow those from more knowledgeable reviewers while weaving my appreciation of the art, the story and style, and what it meant to me.

This is a riveting film but not of the ” popcorn ” kind. It is a labour of love. Imagining Argentina is about the best and the worst within us,  narrated with passion. It does present suspense, devotion and romance, but also a few probing insights into human nature that give credit to its makers. Considering how the information and advertising space is occupied, whether in print or as broadcast on air and the web, it is not surprising that the movie has received little publicity.

I found the narrative beautiful; it kept me on the edge of my seat. The acting is just right to convey the storyof how more than 30,000 people – families, husbands, wives, sons and daughters – disappeared during those years between 1976 and 1983, when the dreaded regime was overthrown. The director, Christopher Hampton adapts the storyline from a prize-winning novel, takes poetic license weave the desperate, helpless and unhappy conditions under which an entire population lived. He imagines, with some realism and a lot of daring. The rather passive protoganist, Carlos, suddenly discovers the ability to see everywhere… all those places of rape, torture and execution, where people and children snatched from their homes were illegally held for weeks and months, if not shot. Carlos could hold the hand of a boy, whose father has disappeared, and divine the parent’s fate. He set up a tent of sorts, drawing the multitudes… heartsick relatives – sad, anxious and weeping – just wanting to know what’s become of their loved ones. Carlos says it, like he sees it, even when he sees their death. That is his single means to rebel, defy, and oppose the all – powerful military dictators and their fascist enterprise.

Hampton, an Oscar winner for his Dangerous Liaisons screenplay, is far more skilled with words than visuals. The conversations between Carlos and Cecilia are smart, allowing Banderas and Thompson to sparkle. It speaks of a conversation they had before they were married, which Cecilia recalls to remind him of a detail he’d forgotten. She tells him, she was explaining to him her desire to be a journalist and asking difficult questions from everybody involved, especially the powers that were. She says, “You said, ‘Ask me a difficult question.’ ” And, she reminds him, she had responded, ” ‘Will you marry me ?’.” The effect, of how she had proposed to him, was magical… to both Carlos, in the movie, and the audience that included me !

Hampton could have been more creative in portraying Carlos’ visions, to distinguish them from scenes carried the story forward. His imaginings are portrayed in the colour and style, not in black and while or grainy, which make it difficult to separate that which was in his visions from the mainstream reality which the director captures in the film. The doubt lingers : Is Carlos on the level or is he a charlatan ? Or, is he gone mad with his personal grief, the loss of his wife and daughter ? On the other hand, the technique offers to the audience the opportunity to regard Carlos’ visions as real, as events truly happened then. An opportunity that I availed.

Carlos can’t see Cecilia as clearly as the strangers he’s asked about by others. On an elusive search to rescue her, he journeys to the countryside, hither and thither, and chances upon an elderly couple, memorably played by Claire Bloom and John Wood, who survived a Nazi concentration camp. It’s from them that he learns how to live with a reality that oppresses, denies, denudes, enslaves, restricts, tortures, rapes and kills. ” Imagine an alternate reality… ” the couple suggest, one that will pervade the mind and suffuse the heart, raise the spirit and strengthen, in contrast to the reality in our sight and experience. Thornton’s work does that in Imagining Argentina, in Carlos’ clairevoyance which becomes a metaphor for rebellion that wins over the neat hordes of subhuman spirit.

In another marvelous conversation, Claire Bloom’s character explains why they keep so many birds on their estate. Hampton neatly ties this in with an ending that’s fills the despairing heart with hope. It’s wonderful, to say the least.

Imagining Argentina adds a postscript listing the number of people who have “disappeared” around the world, including 90,000 in Iraq. It brings the reality of the subject matter closer to us. Despite its several flaws that critics point out, the human – interest film does a fine job of highlighting a major cause of misery that we serve to ourselves. It helps us imagine what it is like to loose our loved ones on account of unbridled drive for power that humans have, and its unchecked misuse that snatch our relatives and friends away from us, you and I who are left behind… feeling and living the dark misery over and over again, in vain.

The movie suggests… if you are living a pervasive nightmare, there is no alternative but to re – imagine it ! For life – giving empathy and positive memory are powerful personal means and long – reaching political instruments in themselves.

* * *   * * *

Argentina’s Dirty War and the regime of Generals from 1976 to 1983 is one of the darkest secrets of history. It has been examined by poets and journalists, by writers such as Colm Toibin and Lawrence Thornton. And yet the silence about this period is deafening, especially since the amnesty which released the perpetrators from all responsibility of that terrible time and their terrifying deeds.

Imagining Argentina is a red flag bravely waving.


In 1976 the intellectuals – professors, journalists and writers – began disappearing… kidnapped and taken to secret hideaways, tortured, raped, and disposed off… all in the cause of protecting the viability of the military regime led by General Videla that projects the ruse of communist avalanche it has sworn to battle against and protect the people from. But fascism and communism are close cousins and, as Argentina’s history of the period shows, it is easy to trip over to the fascist position through battling the communist scourge.

This episode of Argentine history should be remembered as part of human evolution tale.

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