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31 March 2012

Miss Mary (1957)

01.08.1932 - 31.03.1972
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of one of Hindi cinema's most-talented, and one of my all-time favourite actresses. Mahjabeen Bux, born of a Muslim father and a Hindu mother, attained fame as Meena Kumari, tragedienne unparalleled. Yet, her early roles were anything but dramatic. While she entered films as Baby Meena (Leatherface, 1942), her earliest adult roles were rather inconsequential; she played the second lead, as friend or sister to the heroine. 

Her big break came with Baiju Bawra in 1952, when she was 20 years old. The role of Gauri won her the very first Filmfare award for Best Actress. (Incidentally, she was already married to Kamal Amrohi by the time Baiju Bawra released.) The next year, she won her second Filmfare award for Parineeta. In the next two decades, Meena Kumari would become one of Hindi Cinema’s finest actresses, playing author-backed roles, one of the few heroines who could claim to draw an audience on the strength of her name. 

The 50s saw her switch between playing strong, dramatic roles and spirited, frothy roles, straddling both genres (and everything else in between) with consummate ease. Her biggest hits were not with the ruling troika of Dilip (with whom she acted in four films), Raj Kapoor (her co-star in two films) and Dev Anand (she did three film opposite him), but with people like Ashok Kumar (with whom she did 16 films), Pradeep Kumar, and Kishore Kumar, etc. In later years, Meena was to gracefully acknowledge Ashok Kumar's role in helping her hone her histrionic ability. She also credits Raj Kapoor for teaching her how to modulate her voice, using a small, tinny tape recorder on the sets of Sharda.

It was Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960) that saw the beginning of her ‘tragedy queen’ image. She got typecast into the pathos-soaked roles in which she shone — her tear filled, kohl-rimmed eyes and seductive voice provided perfect foil. But she also had excellent comic timing. I reviewed one of her ‘light’ films earlier; and even though I like quite a few of her dramatic roles, I would like to remember her this way — light-hearted, romantic, laughing...
Directed by: LV Prasad
Music: Hemant Kumar
Starring: Meena Kumari, Gemini Ganesan, Kishore Kumar, 
Jamuna, Achala Sachdev, Om Prakash
Rai Saheb (Jagdish Sethi) has established a primary school in the name of his lost daughter Lakshmi. Now, on the occasion of the school's 16th anniversary, he  intends to expand the school to encompass a middle school; he has also advertised for a married couple who can take charge of it. He and his wife (Achala Sachdev) have another daughter, Sita (Jamuna) but have not lost hope that they will find their Lakshmi one day.
Raju (Kishore Kumar), the son of Rai Saheb's closest friend, has been brought up in their home. He has delusions of being 'India's number one detective', has been trying to trace Lakshmi for a long time. He keeps wandering around in various disguises purporting to search for her. His only clues, apart from her childhood photo, are that she was wearing a leaf-shaped locket, and that she has a black mole on her right foot.
Mary (Meena Kumari)  teaches music to the daughter, and Arun (Gemini Ganesan) tutors the son of a government employee. When their employer is suddenly transferred, both find themselves unemployed. Their employer, a kind-hearted man, gives them letters of recommendation for a clerical post at his friend's office. Unfortunately, neither of them get the job.
Mary's father (Shivraj) has borrowed money from John; he wants to marry Mary in lieu of the debt. Mary does not give him the time of the day, and he threatens to file suit if she won't marry him. Mary is furious; she can't understand why her father will not sell an old locket and pay off his debts. After all, what is a locket with a Hindu god doing in a Christian home?
Just when Arun is despairing of ever finding a job, he finds Rai Saheb's advertisement. His joy is shortlived when he realises that in order to get the job, he has to be married. Spotting Mary, with whom he is always squabbling, he perusades her to pose as his wife for a couple of months. After all, she needs a job too (and besides, John is driving her crazy with his 'repay my debt or marry me' scenario). After thinking it over, Mary agrees, with conditions.
Arun has also made friends with a jovial beggar, Nakdau (Om Prakash), who takes great pleasure in his 'job' of conning people. He doesn't see any reason he should work (he earns enough, begging) but Arun persuades him to come along with them as their servant.
They receive a very warm welcome, too warm for Mary - Rai Saheb's wife insists on calling her daughter, admonishes her for not wearing sindoor  (since she's a married woman), and informs Arun that there is a yogi in the next village whose powers will bless them with a son.
That is not all she has to put up with - Raju, who has 'Lakshmi' on his brain, wants to know whether Mary is adopted. Mary is not amused. As she complains to Arun, how on earth does he expect her to put up with this for two months?

Arun manages to calm her down - it's not that big a deal, and besides, if she doesn't comply, they might be suspected. They end their first evening amicably enough, after having established that neither will take a decision that concerns both, without first checking with the other. 
Rai Saheb and his wife continue to overwhelm the two with attention, while Sita dances and flirts with Arun much to Mary's irritation.
Meanwhile, Raju, sure that Mary and Lakshmi are one and the same, is busy trying to pump Nakdau for information about his supposed employers. Nakdau keeps him dangling, all the while conning him out of money in exchange for the 'secret'.

The next day Rai Saheb comes to the school again - it's their older daughter's birthday and he wants Arun to send Mary over. Mary agrees reluctantly.
Upon reaching there, however, she is aghast at being given expensive gifts and being 'dressed up' against her will. Their attention begins to irritate her, and she comes home in a snit. She can't help feeling flattered, though, when Arun compliments her on her 'traditional' look. Their budding friendship lasts only a short while. When Sita comes to their quarters the next day to learn music from Mary, the latter is annoyed at her flirting with Arun. Assuming that Arun is encouraging her (or at the very least, not discouraging her), Mary sings Yeh mard bade di sard bade, much to Arun's irritation. Not to be outdone, he follows her song with his version. 
This behaviour doesn't endear Arun to her any, and when Sita tells them that her mother has invited them over for dinner, Mary refuses outright.
She doesn't want to be treated like their daughter anymore, and blames Arun for everything including their fake marriage.
Poor Arun can't win. When he goes alone, an indignant Raisaheb excoriates him for leaving his 'sick' wife alone at home.  The resulting chaos rnds in Mary telling them the truth - only, they don't believe her. Arun and she continue to bicker, neither realising the truth - that they are both attracted to each other. Sita's flirting sets Mary's back up, especially when Rai Saheb, thinking he's humouring her, offers to fix Sita's marriage with Arun. Arun, on the other hand, is wary of setting Mary's temper off. 

Sita's flirting hurts not only Mary, but also Raju, her fiance. He is equally unhappy with Sita's growing attraction to Arun. He begs Mary to help him and their solution to their mutual problem leads to one of the best comic sequences in Hindi films. Raju gets to show off his 'dancing' skills (it may not be much of a dance as dances go, but Kishoreda is fantastically graceful when he moves.) Pay close attention to the lyrics - they move from jazz to nursery rhyme, interspersed with complaints about his lack of singing ability. Classic!
The tension between Arun and Mary is not lost on Rai Saheb and his wife. Mary has handed in an application for leave, and she is refusing to discuss this with Arun. When Rai Saheb and his wife come to mediate, they find the two embroiled in a terrible quarrel. From something that Mary says, Rai Saheb gets the idea that she is pregnant. In a bid to cool them both down, Rai Saheb and his wife lock Arun and Mary up in the bedroom which leads to:

Will this drastic step make Mary and Arun stop squabbling and admit they love each other? Will Sita marry Raju or Arun? What about John? Will he throw a monkey wrench into the works? Finally, is Mary really Lakshmi, Rai Saheb's long-lost daughter? Even if she is, will she accept it??

Miss Mary is a routine story, lifted out of the slough of mediocrity by the acting. Meena Kumari is (un)surprisingly uninhibited, graceful, and spontaneous; she is extremely pretty, wonderfully snippy (she even stamps her foot and pouts when she doesn't get her own way), and, like fine champagne, sparkles (that's the only word that describes her in this film). She also makes such wonderful faces, and looks astonishingly pretty while doing so.
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Kishore Kumar and Gemini Ganesan provide able support. Kishore's Raju spends all his time trying to prove that Mary is Lakshmi. He, along with his partner in crime, Maruti, provide the 'comedy' track, which, while not over the top, was not really necessary. The situational comedy was rather decent in itself, with Meena doing all that was necessary to provide the laughs in a 'non-comic' situation. Gemini Ganesan was required to provide eye candy, and he did that wonderfully.

Hemant Kumar came up with a plethora of wonderful songs for this movie - who can forget such classics as Brindavan ka Krishn Kanhaiyya or Sakhi re sun bole papeeha us paar or So gaya sara zamaana?

My personal memory of Miss Mary was when I saw it first in Madras in the late eighties. My cousin, two years younger, watched it with me when they showed it on television, then turned to my aunt and said, almost in shock, “I didn’t know Meena Kumari did movies where she never cried!” Well, she did. And she did it well.

  • Miss Mary was the remake of Missamma (Telugu; Missiamma in Tamil), both made in 1955 with Savitri in the lead, while Gemini Ganesan reprised his role (in Tamil) in the Hindi remake.  
  • Jamuna, who played the younger daughter, played the same role in all three languages.
  • Missamma was the remake of Manmoyee Girls' School, originally adapted from a play by the same name in 1935. Ironically, Miss Mary's success encouraged another Bengali remake in 1958 - a remake of a remake, bringing the circle to a close. Ironically, Monmayee Girl’s School  was remade the next year, because old classics were seeing a resurgence in Bengal with the rise of Uttam Kumar.                       
*Edited as per Raunak's correction.


  1. Another one I've heard so much about, but haven't seen. And I do love Meena Kumari in this type of role (I love the variety of clownish-but-pretty faces you've screencapped). Sigh.

    I've seen the songs - especially Ae raat ke musaafir - lots of times in the good old days on Chitrahaar, and somehow Gemini Ganesan (whom I didn't like the look of, from those songs) has always made me steer clear of Miss Mary

  2. Lovely review!
    Just like Madhu, I haven't seen the film, but would love to.
    Dev Anand acted with her in four films. In Kinare Kinare and Tamasha she was cast opposite him, but am not sure of the other two (Baadban and Sanam).
    The songs are all so famous from this film. My favs being sakhi re sun bole and o raat ke musafir. The latter was the fav song of my aunt and she would often sing it to me. That was so sweet of her.
    BTW is her being Christian relevant to the story line?

  3. Oh, do watch. It's available online, but I wouldn't suggest searching for it. The print is not very good, as you can see from the screencaps (the sharper ones are from the songs that have been uploaded on YouTube). Gemini Ganesan was not bad at all. (If you can watch Bharat Bhushan, you can certainly watch GG - he's a darn sight better.)

  4. harvey, are you sure she was opposite him in Tamasha?  Suraiya played the lead in Sanam. And I'm not sure about Baadbaan. Anyway, now that neither of us are certain, I'll change the 'one' film in the copy. :))

    Mary's being Christian is relevant because it affects her pretence as a Hindu wife. Other than that, there is no 'Christian bad, Hindu good' or vice versa in the film. Both sides ask for a greater tolerance toward everyone, irrespective of religion. (I thought it was a good peg.)

  5.  I asked about the Christian issue, because it smacks of reconversion kind of thing. You know sort of bring them back to Hindu fold, BJP-like thing. But if you say that it isn't then I believe you.
    Good to know that it is online, will look it up.

    I think they were cast opposite each other or at least Meena's character is in love with Dev's

    She got to lip sync to Lata's, Asha's and Geeta's voice in the film

  6.   Read this:
    If this is true wonder what Suraiya and Kishore Kumar do in this movie? I have at least seen one video from Tamasha, where KK sings, but not a single one with Suraiya. Is this an imdb mistake painstakingly copied by others?
    I also remember seeing Dav and Meena together in Baadban or reading aobut the fact that they were cast opposite each other.

  7.  My mistake about Suraiya!

  8. The photo here gives the impression that Meena and Dev were a pair in Baadbaan.

  9. There is no talk of conversion at all. Everything seemed very matter-of-fact. GG's Arun even quotes the Bible to her telling her that every religion has the same root beliefs. Something that her father says earlier about there being different paths to God. Apart from that, religion plays no role at all. Not in their romance, not in her 'real' parents accepting her - other than her total incomprehensibility about why *anyone* would want to dress up with so many ornaments, so many flowers, all the sandal-haldi stuff - which I, as a Hindu, can absolutely understand! Even Arun's response: it's traditional, it's meant to be auspicious, and you look beautiful - is very matter-of-fact; not as a 'You're a Christian, and you don't know what it's all about' sort of way. Actually, very nicely handled. Do watch it and tell me what you think.

  10. So then, Meena was cast opposite Dev in Tamasha. Doesn't the story as related sound *exactly* like Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaaye??
    She looks so pretty in this song:
    I don't think Suraiya is there in Tamasha at all. She's definitely not listed on IMDB.

    And Baadbaan, according to IMDB, at least had only her name listed  - so she could have been the heroine. Sanam is the only one I know where she is definitely NOT the heroine.

    *Going off to edit the copy*. Thanks, harvey.

  11. Harvey, I think Kishore Kumar plays 'faithful servant'. :)

  12. They probably were - if IMDB is right about the casting.

  13. Thankyou Anu for this review. I was wondering who would review or post comments on her anniversary. Richard too has done.

    Meena Kumari is my favourite actress, and I get into deep discussions about her crying LOL!!
    But I must say (as I said over st DOs) that it was on entering her 30s that she got herself typed into these kind of roles which was a good reinvention of herelf otherwise she would have been put aside as she couldn't do chirpy, frothy roles at that age with her heavy figure. She would have promptly been replaced with younger fresher actresses.
    As such, she continued for a long time.

    Even Asha Parekh had to move on to roles like Main Tulsi Tere Aangan ki, Kati Patang etc

    Miss Mary was one of her fun films of younger days. I'm in the middle of watching Footpath. She doesn't have much to do in the film though.

  14.  " Doesn't the story as related sound *exactly* like Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaaye?? "
    that was my thought as well!

  15. Thanks, pacifist. I saw Richard's post in the morning. :) I think she was a very fine dramatic actress. Apart from the south melodramas, I honestly don't think she did much crying. In any case, I like her. I don't need reasons. :))

  16. Miss Mary was one of  the first DVDs I owned, and it was more for the reason of watching Gemini Ganeshan and Kishore Kumar together in a movie :) Also, I guess this has to be ( and am sure to many ), one of Meena Kumari's "diffraant" roles where you could almost see the relief in her eyes of doing a bubbly-happy role. Amongst all the remakes, Miuss Mary also has a Malayalam one too - a cheesy trainwreck of the same name - with Jayabharathy in the role of Meena Kumari. One interesting factor common to all the versions, I guess, was the presence of some really melodious compositions and even the Malayalam one was no exception. Thanks so much Anu, once again, for a trip on the "way-back-then" machine :). Always a pleasure, reading through.

  17. Well, Miss Mary itself can be called a remake of a remake
    like the 1958 bangla version considering that Miss mary was a remake of
    Missamma, which itself was a remake of the original  bangla film Manmoyee Girls School, released
    in 1935.Isn’t it. What do you think?


    By the way, Manmoyee Girls School has an interesting
    history. The Bangla play by the same name was written in early 1930’s by
    Rabindranath Maitra (not Tagore. Tagore is not the only Bengali to have
    Rabindranath as his first name.). Jyotish Bannerjee made a film based on this
    play in 1935, which starred Kanan Devi, Tulsi Chakraborty and Jawhar Ganguly.
    Both the play and the film were big hits.

    Now, Manmoyee Girls School was remade in Telugu and Tamil in
    1955 as Missamma, which in turn was remade in hindi as Miss Mary in 1957. The
    bangla version that came in 1958 was not made because Miss Mary became a
    success. It was made because back in the 50’s with the advent of Uttam Kumar,
    quite a few old bangla classics of the 30’s and 40’s were remade for the new
    generation with their favorite star Uttam Kumar in the lead. Interestingly, all
    these remake films starring Uttam Kumar were huge hits.

    Coming back to Manmoyee Girls School, it was also remade in
    Marathi as Jhakli Mooth. Again,as recently as 2011, came another bangla adaptation
    of the film, this time titled ‘Bar Bou Khela’. Importantly, leaving aside the
    last bangla adaptation, all the films became huge hits. I have also heard that
    Gujarati, Malayali and Kannada versions of Manmoyee Girls School also exist.


    Today, looking back, one can say that the story of Miss Mary
    is quite average, but considering that it was written about 80 years ago, I
    think that the story was very good for it’s time. Miss Mary is definitely a
    delectable watch especially for it’s music by Hemant Kumar. Then, there is the
    comic genius Kishore Kumar. And, then there is Meena Kumari, who is always
    fantastic in all her films till 1966.


  18. cinematters, LOL. Hey, I thought the Malayalam film had Sheela in this role? It was Prem Nazir in Gemini Ganesan's role, no?
    Thanks for the compliment.:) Keep reading.

  19. Definitely, Raunak - Miss Mary was the remake of a remake. In fact, my husband had pointed out that I should change the trivia, where I had said that it was a remake of Monmoyee Girl's School.

    I think the story was quite modern for something that was written in the thirties. I mean, imagine a young man and woman who live together, who are not married, and there is no hue and cry raised about how immoral they are! :))

  20. YES,i also exactly thought on the same lines.To live together without being married in those days would have probably led people to lynch the couple and set their house on fire.But nothing of that sort happens in the film.In fact it seems that nobody even cared for that.That was definately modern.

    And,Thanks for the trouble you took for editing the post.

  21. I had to edit it; I do not want to be guilty of continuing to perpetuate the same errors. I want to ensure that what I write is true to the best of my knowledge. So. Thank you.


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