Throughout his career, Kamal Amrohi directed only 4 films. Mahal in 1949, Dayera 1953, Pakeezah 1972 and Razia Sultan in 1983. Pakeeza was the dream project of his life. He was in deep love with his third wife Meena Kumari. He met Meena Kumari during the filming of Tamasha. Veteran actor Ashok Kumar introduced them. They fell in love and married on 14 February 1952, on Valentine's Day in a much private ceremony. He wanted to present Meena Kumari on the screen as no one had done before: beautiful, sad, sanguine, dejected, calculating, sexy, he ambitioned to capture as many dimensions of her as he knew of. ‘Shah Jahan made Taj Mahal for his wife, on that grand scale he wanted to present Meena Kumari on celluloid.
The immortal singer K. L. Saigal discovered Kamal Amrohi and took him to Bombay to work for Sohrab Modi's Minerva Movietone film company, where he started his career working on films like Jailor (1938), Pukar (1939), Bharosa (1940), A. R. Kardar's film (Shahjehan 1946). He made his debut as a director in 1949, with Mahal, starring Madhubala and Ashok Kumar, which was a musical hit, with songs by Lata Mangeshkar and Rajkumari Dubey.
He wrote scripts for the movies made by Sohrab Modi, Abdul Rashid Kardar and K. Asif. He was one of the four dialogue writers for the latter's famous 1960 movie, Mughal-e-Azam, for which he won the Filmfare Award.
"Dayera" was produced and directed by Kamal Amrohi released in 1953 starring Ashok Kumar and Meena Kumari. The film was a musical hit but not a commercial hit. After the failure of , as an idea was roaming in Amrohi’s mind. The concept, he says, was irretrievably fixed with his love for his wife. He hoped to create a film which would be worthy of her as an actress, and worthy of the love he felt for her as a woman. Thus the creation had only one central character and around the fortunes of this character, the fate of the film revolved.
The mahurat of Pakeezah was done on 18 January 1958. Initially, it was launched as a Black & White venture. Later, with colour technology coming in, Kamal Amrohi started it all again in the new colour format. But soon after that, when Cinemascope also got introduced, Amrohi now wanted to shoot it in Cinemascope. So he brought the required lens from MGM on a royalty basis and started shooting. However, after a while, an error was detected in the shoot being done with the new lens. The matter was reported to MGM, who after studying the problem, didn’t collect their due royalties and also gifted that lens to Amrohi as an appreciation gesture. The film was still being made, when in 1964, Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari got separated due to their mutual differences. The project came to a halt for some time when it was more than halfway complete.
Even after separation, Kamal Amrohi persuaded Meena Kumari to complete the film but Meena Kumari told him that she will work only he give her the legal divorce.It took five years for the shooting to resume in 1969 after Sunil Dutt and Nargis persuaded Meena Kumari to complete the film. By this time Meena Kumari has diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and was in serious critical condition under observation.
Kamal Amrohi organized a great reception on 16 March 1969, he gave his wife a peda (sweet) as a peace offering and made a documentary film on her arrival at the studio. Meena Kumari was determined to complete the film and, was well aware of the limited time left for her to live, went out of her way to complete it at the earliest.Her condition became so bad that during the filming of the last song “Teer-e Nazar,” she collapsed. A body double, Padma Khanna, was used who was personally trained by her for the scene. Throughout the song, Padma Khanna's face remained veiled and the veil was lifted at instances to show Meena Kumari's face.
When the project got resumed in 1969, Amrohi was confronted with another difficulty; Ashok Kumar, who was the original hero getting no younger. He had to find a younger leading man for his film. Many names were thought at that time, it was Raj Kumar who fina;;y did the role.
After finalizing Raaj Kumar, the role was modified from being a businessman’s character to a forest officer according to the strong built & impressive persona of Raaj Kumar. During the making of the film, composer Ghulam Mohammed and cinematographer Josef Wirsching died, leaving director Kamal Amrohi at a loss. Eventually, though, composer Naushad was brought in to compose the background score; and after Wirsching's death, over a dozen of Bombay's top cinematographers stepped in as/when they had a break from their other assignments, and they maintained an even look.
When Pakeezah was resumed in 1969, many exhibitors suggested Kamal Amrohi to change the music according to the then famous trend and style. To this, Amrohi said that he would have readily done this if only Ghulam Mohammed was still breathing alive. But, now he cannot betray a man, who gave him such melodious songs, after his unexpected and untimely death. So he kept his music intact but used fewer songs as planned to keep up with the fast-changing times.
Kamal Amrohi saw in Pakeezah an epic, a larger-than-life film with hundreds of extras, with expensive and exotic sets, with the superhuman effort made to preserve period flavour; and all this he wished to do with the collected professional proficiency he had acquired in nearly two decades.
On 3 February 1972 the film released with a grand premiere at Maratha Mandir theatre in central Mumbai and the prints being carried on a decked-up palanquin. Meena Kumari arrived to attend the last premiere of her life. Kumari let Raaj Kumar, for the benefit of the press, kiss her hand and went in to see the film.[Meena Kumari was seated next to Kamal Amrohi during the premiere. When Mohammed Zahur Khayyam complimented Meena Kumari with "shahkar ban gaya" (it's priceless), she was in tears. After watching the film, Meena Kumari told a friend that she was convinced that her husband Kamal Amrohi was the finest film-maker in India. Kumari regarded the film as Kamal Amrohi's tribute to her.
The film finally released for the general masses the following day on 4th Feb 1972. The film received a warm reception from the audience, it was Meena Kumari's untimely death on 31 March 1972 which acted as an ultimate push and made it one of the top grossers of that year. Pakeezah was house-full for 33 weeks and even celebrated its silver jubilee. Meena Kumari's performance as a golden-hearted Lucknow nautch girl drew major praise and the film is since then considered a classic cult film and has a status much similar to K. Asif's 1960 magnum opus, Mughal-E-Azam.