Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam was one of the most successful ventures of Guru Dutt and Abrar Alvi. The character of Choti Bahu enacted by Meena Kumar was highly complex and took a great deal of effort from her side. Talented and dedicated as she was, she gave everything she could to the role but it is said that in turn, the role took a lot out from her too.
She was so involved with the character during the shoot that she ended up crying in one scene and no amount of consoling would get her to stop. Abrar Alvi mentions that although she was a popular actress, most directors chose her simply because of her “star” status but this role brought out the best in her and was one of the best performances of her career in the industry.
There’s a note in Meena Kumari’s diary that says “I am sick to death of Choti Bahu” that shows how deeply affected she was by the role.
Sathya Saran in her book also mentions another well known fact. She lived a life of absolute poverty. Her husband and her own family ill treated her and took everything that belonged to her, as Abrar Alvi says in the book. He lived next door to her and she often came to his wife asking for food since there would be none left for her at her own house. Sometimes were so bad that she had to make do with leftovers or bread and tea.
The inhumane treatment pushed her towards alcoholism and loneliness. It was as if Choti Bahu had come to life.
For those of you who aren’t aware of the character, it is about a woman who does everything to appease her husband and please him in every way that occurs to her, but is spurned by him. It is a beautiful depiction of a woman’s untold desire to be loved back and her sorrow of having been abandoned by the person she loves and idolizes.