Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezah is not just famous for its opulence and grandeur but also for its behind-the-scenes events thet were equally dramatic and are instrumental in making the movie a success.
The film that stars Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar, Raaj Kumar, and Nadira, completed 47 years in February and is considered one of the most remembered Bollywood romances. While Meena Kumari was much much adored for her performance not everyone know that she missed out on many scenes and a body double trained by the late actress matched her steps.
Set in Lucknow, the film tells the story of a courtesan, Sahibjaan and her romantic endevours. The film was Kamal Amrohi's most ambitious project that had a personal connection. The movie was dedicated to his wife Meena Kumari and was ostensibly based on his own love story with the actress that had its ups, downs and many turbulence over the years and even during the filming.
The actress was diagnosed by liver cirrhosis. She was so ill during the shoot that after every shot, a unit hand would rush to her with a chair. During the shoot of the last song, Teer-e-Nazar, Meena Kumari's condition was so critical that she collapsed on the sets. Padma Khanna, who was personally trained by her for the scene, and whose body dimensions matched that of Meena Kumari was brought in as the body double.
Kamal’s son Tajdar Amrohi revealed in one of the scenes where Sahibjaan runs away from her nikah with Salim (Raaj Kumar), a background dancer was used to play body double. During the last song Aaj hum apni duaon ka asar, had to twirl around and drop in another fellow actor's arms. That was strenuous for her. Her close-ups were taken in sitting position. The song Chalo dildar chalo didn’t focus on her face even once but yet had a surreal quality.
Besides acting, Meena Kumari also designed the costumes for the film. Voluminous, elegant and just appropriate for the era; the iconic outfits still hold a place of their own in the minds and hearts of the viewers.
Not many people know that the film was in the making for over fourteen years. During its initial making, the film was supposed to be in black and white but so much time had passed from the mahurat to the final filming that the makers had to change it into color. Filming for the film again has to be put on halt because of troubles in Meena and Kamal's relationship. It was only after a meeting set by Sunil Dutt and Nargis that Meena Kumari decided to finish the film.
In a saddening turn of events, Meena Kumari passed away on March 31, 1972, shortly after the film's release.