I Agreed to do ‘Meera’ for the Love of Lord Krishna: Hema Malini

Hema Malini on her devotion for Lord Krishna and her special bond with Gulzar’s 1979 film ‘Meera’

4 min read
Hema Malini in a scene from Gulzar’s <i>Meera</i> (1979)

In 1979 Gulzar directed Hema Malini in a film called Meera. The film released on May 18th and was a disaster at the box-office. Gulzar consoled Hema that it will be a film she will always remain proud of, and this has proved to be true.

Film poster: <i>Meera </i>(1979)
Film poster: Meera (1979)

Hema believes that films come to actors with a larger message of life. One evening when Hema returned from her shooting, filmmaker Premji was waiting for her at home. He had been keen to make a film with Hema for many years, but nothing had worked out.

Premji had a couple of scripts but Hema was not drawn to any. “If you would be interested in making a film on Meera I would love to play the part,” she told him. The very next day Premji signed up Gulzar to write and direct the film. But problems hounded Meera from the day of the mahurat

First, Lata Mangeshkar opted out of the project because she had recently cut an album on Meera bhajans and didn’t want to repeat herself. Then, music directors Laxmikant and Pyarelal left since they didn’t wish to work without Lata. Undeterred, Gulzar went ahead and signed Pt Ravi Shankar for the compositions and Vani Jairam for the playback. But Hema was not convinced. Lata Mangeshkar had sung all her songs beginning with Sapno Ka Saudagar, and she felt that her performance would not be the same without Lata’s ethereal playback. She personally requested Lata to sing for the film, but the nightingale held on to her own and Hema made peace with Vani Jairam.

Hema Malini in a scene from Gulzar’s <i>Meera</i> (1979)
Hema Malini in a scene from Gulzar’s Meera (1979)

Bhanu Athaiya designed the costumes for Meera. Hema reveals that it was a humbling experience to watch her devotion translate into her craft. She would spend hours checking out the fabric and the drapes. For an outsider, the costumes may seem to be a clear division between the princess and the saint, but Bhanu worked extremely hard and was passionate about everything she did.

She made me wear saffron till I leave the palace, then gradually it alters to yellow, fawn and beige, when I finally surrender to the Lord. Unlike stars of today, we could not bully our dress-designers into giving us what we felt suited us better. Even the size and the length of the tulsi mala I wore in the film were determined by the designer. That is why I say that the characters I portrayed belonged as much to my directors as to my designers.
Hema Malini, Actor
Vinod Khanna in a scene from Gulzar’s <i>Meera </i>(1979)
Vinod Khanna in a scene from Gulzar’s Meera (1979)

The shooting of the film began soon after, but Premji was still to confirm a hero. No leading actor was willing to play King Rana, perceived as a weak man in literature. Finally, Vinod Khanna, who owed his break in films to Gulzar’s Mere Apne, agreed.

Hema Malini prays to lord Krishna in a scene from <i>Meera</i> (1979)
Hema Malini prays to lord Krishna in a scene from Meera (1979)

The film’s problems however were far from over. Because of the subject and the casting, Meera turned grossly over-budget and producer Premji felt that he would not be able to afford Hema Malini’s astronomical price. But they managed to work out a settlement. Every evening, Premji handed an envelope to the actress, which she placed inside her cupboard unopened.

I had agreed to do the film for my love for Lord Krishna and for my guruma. Whatever I got I took it as a blessing from them and have not used that money to this day.
Hema Malini
My favourite scenes in the film are all those moments where I’m in argument with my guru. The content of the conversation and the social message imparted via the dialogues is very powerful. But the most dramatic shot comes in the climax when Meera, tied in chains (resembling Jesus Christ), is presented before the court. As she walks into the room, her larger-than-life shadow casts over the guru and he feels frightened. It was a highly cinematic shot dramatically projected by the director.
Hema Malini

(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 12 books. Twitter: @bhawanasomaaya)

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