Meena Kumari (1 August 1933 – 31 March 1972), born Mahjabeen Bano, was an Indian film actress, singer and poet under the pseudonym "Naaz", also known as The Tragedy Queen and often called the Cinderella of the Indian films.
Indian film critics regarded Meena Kumari as a "historically incomparable" actress of Hindi cinema. Meena Kumari made waves as an actor beyond compare in the 60s, Kumari got the author-backed roles and her male co-stars were said to be wary of starring opposite her. During a career spanning 33 years from her childhood to her death, she starred in about 92 films of a variety of genres, many of which have achieved classic and cult status today, such as Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Pakeezah, Mere Apne, Aarti, Baiju Bawra, Parineeta, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Foot Path, Char Dil Char Rahen, Daera, Azaad, Miss Mary, Sharada, Dil Ek Mandir, Kaajal, Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan, Majhli Didi, Phool Aur Patthar, Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan, Yahudi, Halaku, Baadbaan and Kohinoor. Kumari was also a playback singer, as a child artist till 1945, later as an actress and as a heroine in Duniya Ek Sarai, Piya Ghar Aaja and Bichchade Balam.
Vinod Mehta (writer of Meena Kumari - The Classic Biography) was told by a director: "Even Dilip Kumar (the tragedy king) found it difficult to keep his calm in front of her". Raaj Kumar would often forget his dialogues while working with Meena Kumari on set. Madhubala was also a fan of Meena Kumari and said: "She has the most unique voice. No other heroine has it." Satyajit Ray described Kumari as "undoubtedly an actress of the highest calibre". Amitabh Bachchan said " No one, not any one, ever spoke dialogues the way Meena Kumari did .. no one .. not anyone to date.. and perhaps never will " Legendary Music Director Naushad said on the record " Hindi film industry may produce great actresses but there would never be another Meena Kumari". Meena Kumari empathized greatly with Marilyn Monroe, the fact that Marilyn's husband, Arthur Miller, had some passing similarities to Meena's husband Kamal Amrohi, made the identification closer. It is said that throughout her life, Meena Kumari had a love–hate relationship with the movies.
Meena Kumari won four Filmfare Awards in the Best Actress category and was the recipient of the inaugural Filmfare Awards (1954) Best Actress Award for Baiju Bawra and had a consecutive win in the second Filmfare Awards (1955) for Parineeta. Kumari made history at the 10th Filmfare (1963), by receiving all of the nominations for Best Actress and won for her performance in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. In the 13th Filmfare (1966), Kumari won her last Best Actress Filmfare award for Kaajal.
The greatest hallmark of Meena Kumari lied in her ability to depict the struggle of Indian women existing especially in the 50s and 60s. Kumari's onscreen persona is described as a perfect example of real traditional Bharatiya Nari by the Indian film fraternity, such as Mohammed Zahur Khayyam and Javed Akhtar. She gained a reputation for playing grief-stricken and tragic roles, and her performances have been praised and reminisced about throughout the years. Her portrayal of "Sahibjaan", a nautch girl with a golden heart in Pakeezah under Kamal Amrohi's direction became a historical document. In her performances beauty, aristocracy, and tragedy all blended into one. Her role as Chhoti Bahu, in Guru Dutt's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is considered to be one of the best performances in Indian Cinema. The role of Chhoti Bahu, in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam was dangerously close to Kumari's own tragic life. Like the character of Chhoti Bahu, in real life too, Meena Kumari became addicted to alcohol. Kumari's life and prosperous career were marred by heavy drinking, troubled relationships, an ensuing deteriorating health, which ultimately led to her death from liver cirrhosis in 1972.
She is also known as Mahjabeen Baro.
Three weeks after the release of Pakeezah, Meena Kumari was seriously ill. On 28 March 1972, she was admitted to St Elizabeth's Nursing Home.