When Meena Kumari nearly missed 'Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam'
new Delhi: It is considered one of the most brilliant portrayals in Hindi cinema by any actress but not many know that Meena Kumari nearly missed playing the lead role of 'Chhoti Bahu' in Guru Dutt's 'Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam'.
Dutt wanted to make a commercial film and decided to adapt 'Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam' and when it came to casting, he thought only Kumari could do justice to 'Chhoti Bahu'.
"And do you know she nearly missed it? Guru Dutt sent word that he would be interested in hiring my heroine. Was she available? The answer from Rembrandt (the house she shared with husband Kamal Amrohi) was no, she had her hands full with pending commitments," writes veteran journalist Vinod Mehta in 'Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography'.
The book, published by HarperCollins India, was first written in 1972 but Mehta decided to bring out the second edition to commemorate her 81st birthday on August 1.
Guru Dutt then tried an Indian girl living and acting in London but "she was entirely unsuitable". Desperate, he completed the entire film by 1962 except for the role of Chhoti Bahu.
In a memorable passage, Mehta narrates how Kumari finally accepted the role that came to define her.
"Negotiations with Meena Kumari were resumed and this time they were more successful. Forty-five clear and consecutive days were offered and the fee raised by 25 per cent."
As Chhoti Bahu, Kumari beautifully evoked the image of a long suffering wife, who took to alcohol to please her philandering husband. Ironically, it was her addiction that took her life at the age of 39.
The film sealed Kumari's reputation as the 'great tragedienne of Hindi cinema', an adjective, Mehta believes, she took rather seriously. But, the role did not come easily to the actress who was haunted by this doomed woman.