contd from page one....
It is a similar blend of devotion, pain and purity that weaves its way into her delineation of the beloved and the mother-figure too. In S.J. Row Kavi's Bhabhi ki Chudiyan (1961), Geeta the foster-mother to her young brother-in-law, Mohan (Sudesh Kumar) is more than the mother the orphan could ever have had. As he sits and watches her paint the traditional rangoli pattern (graffiti made on festive occasions) in the courtyard of the modest family home, the clanging of her bangles fills his life completely. Mohan is never able to find happiness with another woman, for his sister-in-law's piety, domesticity and devotion have created an image of a nonpareil that cannot be matched by another earthly love. Here, the mother image born out of Meena Kumari's indefatigable nurturing of the family towers above all other relationships. So much so that Mohan is never able to form another satisfying bond with the opposite sex. Tireless and totally undemanding, Geeta spends her life and even relinquishes it in catering to the emotional and physical demands of her family.
This image is repeated in Dulal Guha's Dushman (1971) and Gulzar's Mere Apne (1971), albeit with a pronounced accent on righteousness. In both these films, Meena Kumari embodies the voice of conscience that surfaces amidst the moral blight of the men and brings back the prodigals to virtue. In Dushman, her propriety sets straight the man (Rajesh Khanna) who murdered her husband. Khanna, an alcoholic, a womaniser and a truck driver with tardy morals, is forced to stay with the widow and her family as punishment meted out by the courts. The sentence comes as a godsend. For the widow's virtuousness and unwavering propriety cures him, not only of his profligate ways, but it cleanses his soul too. The blackguard, under the benign influence of the maternal widow, metamorphoses into a shining white soul who works hard, doesn't drink, doggedly looks after the welfare of the victimised family and can never ever think of harming another living creature. In short, the ideal mother-figure metaphorically gives birth to an ideal, new man.
In Gulzar's Mere Apne, the mother-figure weaves her cleansing magic, not on an individual, but on groups of individuals. The old woman and her talisman of goodness makes her an oasis of peace in the midst of a city torn apart by gang warfare. When everything fails to cure the anarchic hoodlums of their overriding lust to kill, plunder and loot, it is the mother-figure who manages to purge the city and the humans of their evil. The warring gang leaders (Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha), prototypes for the nation's wayward youth, are brought back to order, ethics, family and country by Meena Kumari's motherly tutorials on the good life of glorious virtue.
Reverence then was the only virtue permissible to Meena Kumari's celluloid image. For Meena Kumari represented a rarefied concept of traditional womanhood that was divested of all its physical antecedents. If beauty, not sensuality, was the defining characteristic of her physicality, then pain, not pleasure, was the predominant emotion which she opted for. Purity was the keynote of this metaphor for melancholia, where suffering and self-sacrifice became more pleasurable than satiation and self-appeasement.
It wasn't incidental that Meena Kumari perfected the role of the virginal nautch-girl in Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezah.
For it was only Meena with her metaphorical sanctity and overriding penchant for tragedy who could infuse body and soul into cinema's biggest oxymorn. Naturally, a prostitute had to be pure, if she was played by Meena. The fact that she was the most popular dancing girl who caught the fancy of all the nawabs and the nouveau riche of the city hardly posed a threat to her intrinsic chastity. Despite being in a profession where display and artful seduction are inevitable, the hero (Raaj Kumar) was only allowed a fleeting glimpse of the dancing girl's foot in the first encounter. Even the sheer physical beauty of the screen diva was meant to be revered, not savoured in a more physical manner. At the most, the lover could dream of embarking on a sublime voyage to the moon with the moon-faced beloved 'Chalo dildar chalo, chand ke paar chalo', (Let us go beyond the moon, beloved) enthused Raaj Kumar on a love tryst, when he has the woman all to himself in sylvan surroundings. An overture that is fit and proper for a woman, whose femininity can only be serenaded from a distance. Through poetry and verse. Not passion.