Meena Kumari was known as the ‘Tragedy Queen’ of Hindi cinema for frequently appearing in tragic roles on the screen but the late actor’s life also went through many upheavals. The actor passed away at the age of 39 and during her last days, the popular actor was struggling financially. Such was the state of her finances that there wasn’t even Rs 3,500 in the bank so her body could be released by the hospital.
Director Bimal Roy’s daughter Rinki Roy Bhattacharya, in an interview with Rediff in 2014, shared that the financial condition of the famed actor was extremely bad when she passed in 1972. She shared, “When this actress of high calibre, the reigning Goddess of cinema breathed her last on the afternoon of March 31, 1972, at 3:25 pm in St Elizabeth’s nursing home, she did not have Rs 3,500 required to release her body.” Rinki shared that the doctor had to step in and pay so the family could bury the remains. “It was a miracle when her physician bailed out the family,” she shared.
Late singer Lata Mangeshkar, who shared a close bond with the Pakeezah actor, also recalled an anecdote where she met Meena during her last days. Lata had given the voice to many of Meena Kumari’s hits and was also the voice of her character Sahibjaan in Pakeezah. In a 2021 interview with Rediff, Lata was quoted as saying that she went to meet Meena when she learnt about her health.
Meena greeted her warmly and offered her tea but the singer sensed that she was “in no position to offer me anything except her warmth in that condition.” She shared, “I came to know she was extremely ill. When I reached her place with flowers, she said, ‘Allah, aap yahan aaye, main badi khush-kismat hoon’ (God, you came here, I am so lucky). We chatted. She asked me for tea, though I sensed she was in no position to offer me anything except her warmth in that condition. She passed away a little later.” Lata recalled that even when they met at an award function in 1968, Meena was starting to look “thin and pale.”
Filmmaker Saawan Kumar Tak, who saw her as a muse, claimed in an interview with Filmfare that he paid the bill of Rs 15,000 to the hospital during her last days. He also shared that he shouldered her coffin upon her passing. “I once footed the bill of Rs 15,000. I sold my Standard car for this. She died a few weeks after that. I gave her kandha (shouldered her coffin). Meenaji faced much heartbreak in her life. Roses and handsome men could not take away her tragedies,” he said.
Meena Kumari had been struggling with her health in her last few years. Her health deteriorated even further because of her drinking and in 1972, shortly after the release of Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah, the actor passed away due to liver cirrhosis.
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