When Lal Bahadur Shastri asked 'who is Meena Kumari'!
At a function in a Mumbai film studio where "Pakeezah" was being shot, the then home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri failed to recognise Meena Kumari when she garlanded him and asked journalist Kuldip Nayar sitting near him who the woman was.
Meena Kumari was at the height of her success as an actress when this incident took place.
This interesting account of Meena Kumari's encounter with Shastri on the film sets finds mention in Nayar's new book "On Leaders and Icons: From Jinnah to Modi", which he finished only weeks before he passed away last August.
The function was attended by leading personalities from the cinema world.
Many top actors were present. Meena Kumari garlanded Shastri. Amidst loud applause, Shastri asked me in his soft voice who the lady was. Meena Kumari, I said in amazement. Shastri expressed his ignorance. Yet never did I expect him to admit this in public, Nayar wrote.
He, however, praised Shastri for his innocence and honesty.
Shastri made a brief speech on the occasion.
He began his speech with the remark, Meena Kumariji, mujhe maaf karna, maine aapka naam pahle dafa suna hai' (Meena Kumariji, please forgive me, I have heard your name for the first time). The legendary beauty of Hindi cinema, the darling of millions across the nation, was a figure of embarrassment and sat impassively in the front row, the book said.
Shastri was given a tour of the film studio. For him, it was like going through a routine exercise. Shastri's speech made no comment about the sets or the film itself, Nayar wrote.
In the iconic movie directed by Kamal Amrohi and released in 1972, Meena Kumari played the lead role of a golden-hearted nautch girl from Lucknow. Raaj Kumar, Ashok Kumar and Nadira were also in the film.
In the book, published by Speaking Tiger, Nayar recounts his experiences of meeting many of the men and women who shaped the destiny of pre- and post-Independence India, revealing hitherto unknown aspects of their personalities and shedding light on many key events in the country.
He also mentions about Faiz Ahmed Faiz's flawless recitation of his poetry even after consuming a full bottle of Black Dog whiskey.