strange incident called meena kumari

Pakeezah and its central actress Meena Kumari are today symbols of queer culture in India. The immediate question is, whether the story of a generational love story of a prostitute deceived in love, played by a woman in a heterosexual marriage that has seen widespread media scrutiny, has anything to do with the pulse of gay politics in the country- How can it be given? Our. The answer lies in perceiving strangeness that exists beyond pathological orientation, but rather as a condition—something that combines politeness and an enduring sense of aesthetic pleasure.

It should come as no surprise that for many years, the woman who called a begging lover “raat gayi baat gayi” after a fiery one-night stand would be nothing less than a gay icon in a country like India. Homosexuals who blossomed into their dolls in post 377 India may not be aware of the extent to which criminalization of identity can lead people to covert the expression of their deepest desires and longings. Even today, the gay community is dominated by men with repressed perceptions of sexuality—who choose to seek comfort in the forbidden privacy of one-night stands with men who will ghost them the next morning on a sea of ​​apps.

Queerness, especially in a country like India, is largely characterized by cultural experience, which sees the quirky experience as little beyond an alluring aesthetic. There have been registers of desire in our country more bizarre than freedom of expression, longing and longing, best proven in exile or secrecy. Such situations are made even more problematic by the existence of national cultural icons like the Meena Kumari, with whom an entire section of the population identifies.

The production of Pakeezah itself was an amazing event for the audience. Fourteen years in the making, the film was considered Kamal Amrohi’s memorial to the personality of Kumari herself. Meena Kumari, who agreed to do the film at the cost of a prodigious guinea, separated from Amrohi herself during filming. The last film to be released during her life, in the years following the shooting of the film, Kumari appeared on the sets incorrectly due to her increasing alcoholism. Will gay men (based on knowledge of their constitutional criminality) need more registers of identity?

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Meena Kumari Meena Kumari on the sets of Pakeezah. (Photo: Express Archives)

Sample Guru Dutt’s illustrious Sahab, Bibi Aur Ghulam, where Kumari played the iconic little daughter-in-law. In the fading days of feudalism in our country, Meena Kumari immortalizes the largely meta character of the wife, who immerses herself in substance abuse and the company of a younger man, while her husband is in the company of a prostitute. chooses. The classic Na Jao Saiyan Churake Baiyan has been shot entirely on Meena Kumari. Dutt fills his frame with extreme close-ups of the actress’s face. We watch her quivering lips as she urges her lover not to leave her. She is clearly under the influence of alcohol and her eyes twinkle. Yet in that fleeting moment there is the presence of an eerie desire that is unmistakable to the queer eye. The song never delves into sexiness (though it has a high incidence of masochism), but Kumari does it in monochrome on a campy pitch of perfection. It’s a performance in every sense of the word – her hair runs across the frame of her body and across our screens, her bangs run down her thick arms and her eyes twinkle. Still there is pain in his eyes. It is the handiwork of Kumari and her will and compassion that makes her the smartest avatar in the cultural currency of our country.

Beyond drag parties and pride parades and Zeenat Aman’s scenes and Hema Malini’s feathered vanity, quirkiness has also been about sexuality juxtaposed with a disgusting sense of pathetic. The expression of a desire that is indescribable, especially in a society that has no vocabulary to understand it, provides a double understanding of the same. The first is to see desire as something so explosive that it in itself induces a literal death drive. Saheb, this drive for the Choti Bahu in Bibi becomes apparent at the end of the song itself, where she ends up admitting that her pursuit of passion will cause her to either live or die at his feet.

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Even in Pakeezah, the growing nature of this desire takes the form in open examples of masochism. Sample the Teer-e-Nazar song. The raga is an echo of the first song Chalte Chalte. That song was about the beginning of a relationship. A kind of clarion call. Nothing less than an expression of love. But this song means something else in the finale song of the film. The idea of ​​feet still exists. There, the feet were there to facilitate walking through life together. But here the feet, as they deliberately dance on pieces of broken glass, become a site for self-pain that alternates in the absence of pleasure from your own unfulfilled desire.

It is at this point that Pathetic enters the scene. We feel that the final song has always been laced with images of violence. The name itself alludes to images of archery and hunting, followed by the (my favorite) phrase Zakhm-e-Jigar. Yeh perhaps Zakhm Kahin Lagta Hai, Par Dard Kahin Aur Aur Hota Hai (the wound is in one place, the injury/pain is the other) has Bollywood opening scenes of the incident. While the song itself talks about an injured, or rather ailing heart, it is the legs that are literally injured intentionally – making the outward manifestation of the heart’s internal disease.

Meena Kumari Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari on the sets of Pakeezah. (Photo: Express Archives)

In a way, this strange sequence becomes a cultural memory of thousands of anonymous men who laid down their lives in the face of social boycott. Of all the men who fell in love with straight men or who would never violate odd-standard boundaries for a life of unequal desires. Despite the aesthetic trap of such projection of excessive, all-consuming desire, these films of Kumari, also known as The Tragedy Queen of India, struck an emotional chord.

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The younger daughter-in-law descends into the well of alcohol or the source of Sahibjaan’s longing and longing for Salim is the calculation of her own deep loneliness. The younger daughter-in-law is abandoned by her husband and Sahibjaan is denied marital bliss because of her status as a prostitute. Loneliness and unfulfilled desires therefore become the register of queerness in a country on the verge of globalization – where consumerist product advertising will soon jeopardize the image of a happy married life to drive domestic notions of consumption. And this is where Kumari steps in with her body of work.

It is in them that we trace Chandramukhi’s lineage from Devdas who speaks of a joyous passion that threatens to kill. Of Silk from The Dirty Picture, who chooses a Cleopatra-esque end to her career in an attempt to gain a glimpse of dignity through a profession built on her humiliation. But despite the bleakness of modern queer politics in app-driven hook-up cultures, little is known about Kumari’s fictional tragedies at the big victories of her own career. Despite several attempts, Amrohi could not re-cast Meena Kumari, who eventually shot the film to fulfill her more than 14 years of stardom. But is it really her monument to him? Or is it little more than a monument to its own making for the longing and sighs of a bizarre lifestyle steeped in excesses? Methinks, the last couplet of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 is the only viable answer!