There's something refreshing about Vinod Mehta's no-nonsense approach to writing that makes it seem as if he's having a chat with you, glass of whiskey in hand, at a party
It lends his biographies -- a disarming tone that cleverly hides the research gone into it.
The approach leads to some disappointment too -- when Mehta points out, in this instance, that he isn’t qualified to write a Meena Kumari’s biography, when he adds that most of his friends and colleagues met her while he didn’t, or when he abandons form and chooses to meander through half the book instead.
still, Mehta’s prose is never purple, and he uses his journalistic skills by teasing out anecdotes that one would expect film historians to have uncovered eons ago.
Revised four decades after its initial publication and the passing away of its iconic subject, it’s important not because Meena Kumari deserves more attention but because it highlights a dearth of research into the lives and times of those who helped create one of India’s all-consuming obsessions: Hindi cinema. Her colourful story deserves a second coming.
The photographs (especially one with a young Dharmendra) are another reason. Meena Kumari --born Mahjabeen Bano -- would have turned 81 this year, were she to survive her life of fabulous highs and staggering lows. Although her body of work is all that matters, this biography, despite its many flaws, compelled this critic to watch Pakeezah again. That is a compliment.
-- Meena Kumari, Vinod Mehta, Harper Collins, Rs 350.