Madhubala was a popular Hindi film actress who starred in several successful films in the 1950’s. Many have achieved classic and cult status today. With her contemporaries Nargis and Meena Kumari she is widely regarded as one of the most influential and beautiful actresses to have appeared on the screens of Indian cinema.
|Birth name||Mumtaz Begum Jehan Dehlavi|
|Born||February 14, 1933
|Died||February 23, 1969
Early life and work
Mumtaz Begum Jehan Dehlavi, famously known by her screen name Madhubala, was born in Delhi, India on February 14th 1933. She was Muslim and an ethnic Pathan, the 5th child of a conservative Afghan family of 11 children. In search of a better life for his impoverished family her father Ataullah Khan relocated them to Bombay. There they struggled for over a year, when Mumtaz entered films aged 9 under the name “Mumtaz”.Her first film was Basant (1942). She then went on to act in several films as a child artist. It was the celebrated actress Devika Rani, impressed by her performances and potential, who changed her name to Madhubala. Her talent was clearly evident and she soon garnered a reputation as a reliable and professional performer. By the time she was an adolesant her uncommon good looks and tall, lithsome figure, meant she was already being groomed for lead roles.
First success as a leading lady
Her big break came when film maker Kidar Sharma gave her a chance to act opposite Raj Kapoor in Neel Kamal (1947). Until that point, she had always been billed as “Mumtaz” but this was the first film to credit her as “Madhubala”. She was only 13 years old but Madhubala had finally arrived on the Indian screen in a lead role. Though the film was not a commercial success she was noticed and her performance well received.In the next two years she blossomed into a captivating beauty (film media and fans referred to her as the “Venus of the Screen”). However it wasn’t until she starred in the coveted lead role in Bombay Talkies production of Mahal in 1949 that Madhubala became a fully fledged star and household name. Audiences and critics alike enthused over Madhubala’s enigmatic screen presence and beauty. Though she was only 16 at the time, it was widley acknowledged that her subtle and skillful performance upstaged her seasoned co-star, Ashok Kumar. The film became a popular success and the song “Aayega Aanewaala” heralded the arrival of two new superstars both Madhubala and playback singer Lata Mangeshkar.
Madhubala’s heart problem was discovered in a routine check-up in 1950. During this time she frequently coughed up blood on the sets. She was born with a cardiac defect commonly known as a hole in the heart. At the time, heart surgery was not widely available. Her illness was kept a secret from the industry for many years, enabeling her to continue working and to establish herself as an A-grade star. Madhubala’s family were extremley protective and at the studios when filming, she would only eat home prepared food and drink water that came from a specific well in an attempt to minimise risk of illness or infection. Eventually her condition would take its toll and sadly abbreviate her life and career but for most of the 1950’s Madhubala performed successfully despite her illness and physical limitations.
In the early 50’s Madhubala attracted interest from Hollywood. She appeared in many American magazines such as Theatre Arts. In their August 1952 issue, Madhubala was featured in an extensive article with a full page photo, entiled “The Biggest Star in the World – And she’s not in Beverly Hills”. She was presented as a mysterious and etherial woman of mythical beauty with a legion of fans.During this period, on a trip to Bombay and its film studios, the renowned and respected film maker Frank Capra was pampered and hosted by the elite of the Hindi movie industry. However the one star he really wanted to meet was conspicuous by her absence, Madhubala. Holding a magazine with Madhubala on the cover Capra asked “Is she really as beautiful in life? I can give her an opening in Hollywood…”. A meeting was proposed between Madhubala and Frank Capra but her dominating father declined and put an emphatic end to Madhubala’s potential Hollywood film career. His apparent disinterest was possibly fuelled by his fear of losing his source of income and financial support.
Madhubala the Star
Madhubala had many successful films following Mahal. Keen to secure herself financially, Madhubala acted in as many as 24 films in the first four years of her adult career. Her co-stars at the time were the most poular of the period: Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rehman, Pradeep Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Dev Anand. Madhubala also appeared along side many notable leading ladies of the time including Kamini Kaushal, Suraiya, Geeta Bali, Shyama and Nimmi. She worked with some of the most prolific and respected filmakers: Mehboob Khan, Guru Dutt, Kamal Amrohi and K. Asif. She also ventured into production and made the film Naata (1955) which she also acted in.During the 50’s Madhubala proved herself a versatile performer in starring roles, the most memorable of which were as contrasting as they could possibly be. She was convincing as the sweet and traditional Kamal in Sangdil (1952) and followed it up with a comic performance as the spoilt and capricious Anita in Guru Dutt’s classic satire on modern marriage Mr & Mrs 55 (1955). In a contoroversial move she had a memorable double role as twin sisters in Kal Hamara Hai (1959) and was equally believable as the cigarette smoking cabaret dancer Bella, and her more conventional saintly sister Madhu.Suddenly in the mid-1950s her films, even major ones like Mehboob Khan’s Amar (1954), fared so badly commercialy she was labelled “Box Office poison”. She turned her career around in 1958, with a string of successes: Phagun opposite Bharat Bhushan, Howrah Bridge opposite Ashok Kumar, Kala Pani opposite Dev Anand, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi opposite husband-to-be, Kishore Kumar and Barsaat ki Raat opposite Bharat Bhushan again in 1960.She went on to star in the most expenisve and successful film of the decade Mughal-E-Azam (1960) the crowning glory of her career and perhaps the decade of film making in India.
Personal life and a controversial court case
Madhubala had a long and intense affair with actor and frequent co-star Dilip Kumar. They first met on the sets of Jwar Bhatta (1944), and worked together again in the film Tarana (1951). They also became a popular romantic team appearing in four films together. She made a very rare public appearance during their courtship, when she was escorted by Dilip Kumar for the premier of his film Insaniyat (1955). During the 8 year shooting of Mughal-e-Azam (1960), they had wanted to marry, but her inability to leave her family and controlling father who dissaporved of Dilip Kumar, finally caused an end to their relationship.Madhubala’s romance with Kumar lasted six years, between 1951 and 1957. Their association was ended following a highly controvercial and widely publicized court case. Her father Ataullah Khan claimed that B.R. Chopra, the producer of the film they were currently working in, Naya Daur (1957), was aiding Dilip Kumar in his relationship with Madhubala by arranging a long outdoor shooting. He claimed the remote location and schedule was unneccsary and could instead be filmed on sets in the studios in Bombay. Madhubala obediently supported her father despite her commitment to Dilip Kumar. Kumar testified against Madhubala and Ataullah Khan in favor of the producer B.R. Chopra. The case was lost by Madhubala and her father amid much negative publicity and she was replaced in the film by Vyjayanthimala. Up until that point Madhubala had worked hard to gain a reputaion as a reliable and professional performer with much good will in the industry. Her image was badly damaged after this episode. Madhubala and Dilip Kumar were effectively separated from that point on.She met her husband, actor and playback singer, Kishore Kumar during the filming of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and Jhumroo (1961). At the time he was married to the Bengali singer and actress Ruma Guha Thakurta . After his divorce, because Kishore Kumar was Hindu and Madhubala Muslim, they had a civil wedding ceremony in 1960. His parents refused to attend. The couple also had a Hindu ceremony to please Kumar’s parents, but Madhubala was never truly accepted as his wife. Within a month of her wedding she moved back to her bungalow in Bandra because of tension in the Kumar household. They remained married but under great strain for the remainder of Madhubala’s life.
As her condition deteriorated Madhubala sought treatment in London. Complicated Heart Surgery was in its infancy and offered her some hope of a cure. After an examination the doctors there refused to operate, as they were convinced her chances of surviving the procedure were minimal. Their advice was that she should rest, not over exhert herself and that she could perhaps live for another year. With a confirmed death sentence Madhubala returned to India. However the indominatable actress proved the doctors wrong when she survived for another 9 years. Sadly, heart surgery for people with Madhubala’s condition became very successful and common shortly after her death…In (1966), long after her forced exit from films, with a slight improvment in her health Madhubala tried working again opposite Raj Kapoor in Chalack. The film only required a short spell of shooting to be completed. The film media heralded her “comeback” with much fanfare and publicity. Stills from this time showed a still beautiful but pale and wan looking Madhubala. Sadly she collapsed on the very first day of shooting and the film was shelved. Her illness eventually claimed her life on February 23rd, 1969, within days of her 36th birthday. With a raging fever remaining only semi conscious, apparantly her last thoughts and words were still for Dilip Kumar. She was buried at Santacruz Burial Ground by her family and Kishore Kumar.
Madhubala the icon
In her short life, she made over 70 films. Her status and popularity has steadily grown until it has reached awsome proportions today. Madhubala is often compared with Marilyn Monroe and has a similar position in Indian film history. Perhaps because she died before being relegated to supporting or charchter roles, to this day Madhubala remains one of the most enduring and celebrated legends of Indian cinema. Her films are widely seen on Television and DVD transfers of most of her work have enabled Madhubala’s “come-back”.The popular actress and sex symbol of the 1970‘s Zeenat Aman is often acknowledged as the prototype of the modern and westernised Hindi film heroine. Yet it is often overlooked that Madhubala was seen portraying westernised and even vamp like characters back in the 1950‘s. A bold image for a Hindi film heroine to portray in an age when demure and self sacrificing ideals of Indian womanhood were the order of the day. As such it is Madhubala’s (and to some degree, her contemporary Nargis ) pioneering influence on modern Hindi actresses that is prevalent today.
When Madhubala was an infant, an esteemed Muslim spiritual man predicted that she would earn fame and fortune, but would lead an unhappy life and die at a young age.At the age of 12 filmaker Mohan Sinha taught Madhubala to drive a car.She was an avid fan of Hollywood and after learning to speak fluent English, frequently watched American movies on her home projector.When nervous she suffered from uncontrolled outbursts of giggles and laughter which sometimes antagonised co-stars and directors.When Guru Dutt first announced his classic film Pyaasa (1957) it was with Madhubala and Nargis in the femenine lead roles. The parts were eventually played by Mala Sinha and Waheeda Rehman who both became stars with the film.With the exception of Geeta Dutt‘s hits like “Thandi hawa kaali ghata” from Mr And Mrs 55 (1955), most of Madhubala’s memorable songs were dubbed by Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle. Madhubala proved lucky for both. “Ayega aanewala” from Mahal picturised on Madhubala in 1949 was one of Lata’s earliest successes; nine years later, Asha’s vocals for the actress in four 1958 films established her as a major playback singer, rivaling her own sister, Lata.Madhubala’s sister Chanchal was also an actress and bore a striking resembelance to her famous sibling. She appeared in Naata (1955) and Mahalon Ka Khwab (1960) alongside Madhubala. She also played prominent roles in Mehboob Khan‘s Mother India (1957) and Raj Kapoor‘s Jis Desh Meing Ganga Behti Hai (1960)