Contrary to popular belief, actresses do not have it easy. Following are three hauntingly beautiful women from the subcontinent who’ve had tragic lives. They teach us much more than the perils of stardom. Each of them yearned for warmth, comfort and support during their lasts days. Sadly, they died in vain.
Meena Kumari’s tragedy started with her being left on the hospital stairs the day she was born because of her father’s financial distress. On his return, she was covered with ants and thus started the pitiable tragedy that was her life.
Her beady, yet heavy eyes, remained an attraction for many and resulted in her making history. Meena’s films were nominated for the best actress award in 1963 and she finally won it for “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam”.
Kumari’s captivating presence and charm caught Kamal Amrohi’s attention. The screen director and writer was 16 years older than Meena at the time, with three kids ,while Meena was only 18. Soon after, they got married and Meena became the most sought after Indian actress while Kamal’s movies continued to flop.
Kamal’s “manliness” did not approve of her success and it caused constant rifts among the couple. Meena sought separation from Kamal Amrohi in 1964.
It was her insomnia which caused her physician to recommend her a peg of brandy as a cure. The recommendation resulted in her addiction and her eventual death.
Surprisingly enough, her movie Pakeezah (which was essentially a tribute from Kamal Amrohi to the woman he loved) took 16 years to reach the big screen. She was ill throughout the shooting and died shortly due to liver cirrhosis after the premiere of the film.
She was repeatedly abused both physically and emotionally by Kamal, which he obviously denied but enough people were eye witnesses to Kamal’s accusative behavior.
Many are not aware of Dharmendar and Meena Kumari’s short romantic spell. She was also the one who gave a boost to his career since she was an already established actress when Dharmendar was introduced.
It’s reported that once a drunk Dharmender was not allowed to board the flight so he interjected the airport staff saying, “…but I must get back to Bombay. I must Meena, she is waiting for me”. However, his love wasn’t faithful. Dharmendar was allegedly never loyal to Meena, he was not only vile and unkind but also used her influence to get fame.
The popular TV actress Roohi Bano was born to the famous tabla player, Allah Rakha in Karachi. She’s known for her roles in Zard Gulab among others. Roohi was a witness to the birth of Pakistani television from the 1970-1980’s. She joined the industry when she was doing her MSc in Psychology from Government College Lahore and is considered one of the most acclaimed talents Pakistan has produced to this day.
Her first appearance was in a TV quiz show as a student and went on to please the masses with her obvious charisma. However, her later life was full of affliction and anxiety.
Roohi was married twice, both of which were unsuccessful. After Roohi’s only son was murdered right outside their house in Gulberg Lahore she went MIA. She locked herself up in a room and disappeared after the burial for years. According to the News International, earlier the same year Roohi’s mother was found dead in Karachi bearing burn injuries. During this time, the actress started showing signs of schizophrenia.
Following an unsuccessful murder attempt in Lahore, Roohi was shifted to the Services Hospital Lahore. She finally died in Turkey after being on ventilator for ten days fighting kidney failure and schizophrenia.
Born to a fairly progressive family in Junagarh, Parveen Babi received education at Mount Carmel High School, Ahmedabad followed by St Xavier’s College from where she graduated in English Literature.
She revolutionized the Indian cinema, to say the least. She was the highest paid actress of her time alongside Zeenat Aman. Her acting career spanned over 15 years with back to back hit films. She’s starred alongside heroes of the 1970/80’s that include Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor and more.
Parveen had been shooting for Kalaa Paani and Amar Akbar and Anthony when she fell in love with the famous director, Mahesh Butt in late 1970’s. Maheesh was married at this point but decided to move in with his lady love. Their love flourished like a fairy tale and nothing could have possibly gone bad until one day… as Maheesh recalls, he saw Parveen crouched up in a corner of the house with a knife in her hands gesturing him to be quiet, “Don’t talk! The room is bugged. They’re trying to kill me”.
Soon after, Parveen was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and a life of constant turmoil followed. Her attacks became frequent and strange. She allegedly accused Amitabh Bachan and a few others of conspiring against her in order to kill her. Mahesh stood by her side even when she forced him to eat her food before she ate it, just so she knew they weren’t trying to poison her.
On January 22nd 2005, her neighbors reported inactivity upon sensing the newspaper and the milk had been sitting outside her house. She was found dead lying on the floor inside her apartment. Reports said that she had already passed away 72 hours before the police showed up. Her stomach had traces of alcohol but no food, so it’s also assumed that she might have starved herself to death.
The actual cause of her disparaging mental health is still unknown however multiple claims have been made. Was it her traumatic love affairs? Her chaotic breakups? Or the pressures of stardom? No one knows. Even after death, nobody came to her claim. When Maheesh heard of her sudden mysterious death, he offered to bury her because he believed he owed it to her.
These women illuminated the screen with their glorious presence and entertained millions of people across the borders. They were unapologetic about their sensuality and paved way for what cinema is today. We owe it to these brave women to remember them as the glorious goddesses that each of them were.
Maryam’s a Communication and Design major and an English and Comparative Literature minor at Habib University. She thoroughly enjoys reading South Asian Literature and is a Partition Literature enthusiast, who is often found admiring the origins of cultural theory.
While one may occasionally find her at events catering to art and culture in Karachi, she would much rather be home binge-watching British comedy.
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