Lyricist and writer Gulzar has recalled how late actor Meena Kumari was persuaded for his first directorial film Mere Apne (1971) ‘though she was grievously ill’ then. In an interview, he said that she was in the last stage of her illness when the film was released.
Written by Gulzar, Mere Apne was a remake of the National Award-winning Bengali film Apanjan, directed by Tapan Sinha. It was one of Meena Kumari’s last few films before she died at the age of 38 due to liver cirrhosis.
In an interview with The Quint, Gulzar said, “Chhaya Devi had portrayed the old woman in Apanjan, she was fluent in Hindi, and could have replayed the part. But Sippy saab was keen on casting Nimmi… With due respects, I disagreed and insisted that Chhaya Devi would be more appropriate. He told me to think about someone else, and that’s when I suggested the name of Meena Kumari. NC Sippy’s elder son Romu, who preferred to be on the production side, was instrumental in persuading Meenaji to be in the project though she was grievously ill those days.”
“The film had shaped out quite closely to the way I had conceived it. Only we couldn’t picturise one song, Roz Akeli Aaye Roz Akeli Jaaye, Chand Katora Liye Bhikaran Raat… on Meenaji. She was in no condition to come to the sets, she was on the last stage of her illness. As far as I know, Mere Apne was the last film she shot for. She would often joke with the young actors, ‘This director is pushing you so hard, at least you can ask him to host you a beer party’. Alas, that party never happened because she was gone,” he added.
The film, which was a hit, also featured Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha in lead roles. Deven Verma, Asit Sen, Asrani, Danny Denzongpa, Keshto Mukherjee, AK Hangal, Dinesh Thakur, Mehmood and Yogeeta Bali were also a part of the film.