To me, these were the finest actresses that Indian cinema ever produced. I would add Suchitra Sen to the same class. But unlike their illustrious Bengali counterpart, the first two ran remarkably parallel lives. Watching Mahanati last week, I could not help reflecting on how similar the biographies of Savitri and Meena Kumari were. The same unhappy childhoods in search of a father figure, phenomenal talent in every aspect of acting, a rapid rise to the top, equal and often higher billing than the most popular heroes of the time, several heroine-oriented films, a disastrous marriage in search of a love that was never going to be (in this of course, Savitri was more spirited than Meena Kumari – she never clung to anyone), a growing dependence on alcohol and a rapid decline to a point of no return. Both played elderly women towards the end of their careers even though they had not reached 40! And both died young. Meena Kumari actually had no money even for her funeral. Savitri from what I know was relatively better off though financial pressures were daunting.
There were a couple of scenes in Mahanati that were straight out of Meena Kumari’s Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. The first is the repeated close up of the old safe, full of cash and jewellery. The second is of course the scene by the bed where the husband asks her to take a drink. Even the seating of the characters was the same in the two films. Years ago, I have read in an article that Savitri pointed to a photo of Meena Kumari and said, her eyes brimming with tears, that their lives were the same. I have remained an ardent fan of both.
So today’s story is on Missamma (Telugu)/Missiamma (Tamil) and Miss Mary (Hindi), all produced by Vijaya Vauhini Studios. Wikipedia has excellent entries on all three films. NT Rama Rao played the hero in the Telugu, while Gemini Ganesan was the hero in the Tamil and Hindi films. Savitri was the heroine in Telugu and Tamil while Meena Kumari acted in Hindi. The Telugu/Tamil versions made in 1954/1955, were super hits as was the Hindi one, made in 1957. The supporting cast in all the versions (and I have seen all three) was excellent. Missamma/Missiamma/Miss Mary was one of the few comedy films that Savitri and Meena Kumari acted in. I personally think they had excellent timing in comic roles as well and this was sadly not exploited. My songs for today are
Raavoyi Chandamama in Telugu
O Raat Ke Musaafir
The Telugu and Tamil versions had music by S Rajeswara Rao and lyrics by Pingali Nagendra Rao/Thanjai N Ramaiah Das. The Hindi version had music by Hemant Kumar and lyrics by Rajinder Kishan. The songs in Telugu/Tamil had Ghantasala/AM Rajah and P Leela and P Susheela. The Hindi one had Rafi and Lata.
This article is part of a series where I look at old film songs, chiefly in Hindi and Tamil. The earlier stories can be read here.