When LB Shastri failed to recognize Meena Kumari


10 Feb 2019

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 recognize 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.

Here's what happened.

The book

Nayar had shared the anecdote in his last book

Nayar had shared the anecdote in his last book

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 at the age of 95.

He wrote that Shastri was invited to the shooting of Pakeezah, in which Meena Kumari was the heroine.

What happened?

Shastri asked about Meena when she garlanded him: Nayar

There was much pressure from the Maharashtra chief minister to attend the shooting and Shastri couldn't say no.

"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.

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Shastri's speech

Heard your name for the first time: Shastri to Meena

Heard your name for the first time: Shastri to Meena

Nayar, however, praised Shastri for his innocence and honesty. Shastri also 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). This left the legendary beauty of Hindi cinema in embarrassment," the book said.

Studio tour

Shastri's spech left Meena embarrassed, recalled Nayar in his book

Meena, the darling of millions across the nation was a figure of embarrassment and sat impassively in the front row, Nayar's book said. Following the speech, 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.

Meena played a golden-hearted nautch girl in the film

In the iconic movie Pakeezah, directed by Kamal Amrohi and released in 1972, Meena Kumari played the lead role of a golden-hearted nautch girl from Lucknow. Veteran actors including Raaj Kumar, Ashok Kumar, and Nadira were also in the film.


Nayar also mentioned Faiz Ahmed Faiz's flawless poetry recitation

Nayar also mentioned Faiz Ahmed Faiz's flawless poetry recitation

In the book, published by Speaking Tiger, Nayar recounts his experiences of meeting many men and women who shaped the destiny of pre and post-Independent India, revealing hitherto unknown aspects of their personalities and shedding light on key events in the country.

He also wrote about Faiz Ahmed Faiz's flawless recitation of his poetry even after consuming a full bottle of Black Dog Whiskey.

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Kuldip Nayar

Lal Bahadur Shastri

Meena Kumari

'Meena Kumari

'Meena Kumariji

Ashok Kumar

Black Dog Whiskey

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri

Independent India


Kamal Amrohi


Meena Kumariji



Raaj Kumar

Speaking Tiger

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