An apparition in Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi (Barsaat Ki Raat) …
Fetching and fun in Achcha ji main haari (Kala Pani) …
Fire and ire in Pyaar kiya toh darna kya (Mughal-E-Azam) …
Unapologetic seduction in Aaiye meherbaan (Howrah Bridge) …
Madhubala filled the screen with her luminosity and continues to dominate public perception five decades after passing away. Born on 14 February 1933, she was all about love. Hailed as the Venus of the Indian screen, given her incredible beauty, till date she remains unrivalled. Tresses untamed, bedroom eyes and a lopsided smile, she invited comparisons to Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe. “The biggest star in the world—and she’s not in Beverly Hills,” David Cort of Theatre Arts Magazine thus described her even as Frank Capra was keen to cast her.
But Madhubala remained bound to her home and heart. A heart, which had loved and lost Dilip Kumar. A heart that pined for husband Kishore Kumar as she lay sick. A heart that had run out of fuel when she was only in her mid-20s. What has survived is her mystique across geography and generations. Her fan clubs across social media continue to burgeon, her photographs are revered just as her films and music enjoy a life of their own.
Some nuggets from Madhubala’s life:
Delhi-based Attaullah Khan, along with wife Ayesha Begum and 11 children – seven girls and four boys – came to Mumbai in the ’40s, after losing his job in the Imperial Tobacco Company. The family, along with poverty, was also aggrieved as over time none of Ataullah’s sons survived.
Attaullah’s fifth daughter, nine-year-old Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi, turned breadwinner as she first appeared in Basant (1942) as a child artiste. Her song Mere chote se man mein choti si duniya re is still remembered. Baby Mumtaz signed a three-year contract with Ranjit Movietone, on a monthly payment of 300 rupees and did films including Mumtaz Mahal, Dhanna Bhagat, Rajputani, Phoolwari and Pujari (between 1944 -1946). It’s said during the shoot of Phoolwari, the young girl vomited blood, which hinted at an ominous future.
Actress Devika Rani, impressed by the perky Mumtaz, suggested the screen name Madhubala. Her first lead role, at 14, was in Kidar Sharma’s Neel Kamal (1947). Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal (1949) was a turning point. Hits like Dulari, Tarana, Amar, Mr. & Mrs. ’55, Kala Pani, Howrah Bridge and Barsaat Ki Raat (1949-1960) augmented Madhubala’s stardom with Life magazine describing her as ‘the biggest star’ in the world.
Stories of her uncompromising discipline abounded. Once she was to shoot at Ranjit Studio. Though it was pouring heavily, Ataullah insisted she go. Ranjit Studio was a 15-minute drive from her home in Bandra. But given the weather, it took her one and half hour to reach there, only to find the gates locked!
Reportedly, a journalist once wrote that Ataullah Khan’s daughters were not his own and that he had brought the girls to Mumbai to earn money. Infuriated, Ataullah took him to court. Then on, he hung a board on the sets saying, ‘Journalists not allowed’. Madhubala wasn’t allowed to attend any function, any premiere. Ataullah’s protectiveness earned him the title of ‘Hitler’.
Impressed by actor Nargis, Madubhala took to wearing white. She wore sarees outside and maxis at home. She preferred delicate gold and kundan jewellery and rarely wore bangles. She was fond of adorning her hair with mogras. Having missed school, she had an English tutor coming home.
A foodie, she enjoyed chaat – ragda pattice, pani puri and kulfi being her favourites. She’d drive in her imported cars, Hillman, Buke and Station Wagon, with her sisters to Chowpatty in South Mumbai. She even visited theatres in a burqa.
It didn’t take Madhubala long to burst into tears or break into laughter. Her laughing fits were legendary, in that the shooting had to be cancelled for the day.
RUMOURS & HEARSAY
Given her extraordinary countenance, it was only natural for men to get infatuated with her. There were rumours about directors Kidar Sharma, Mohan Sinha and Kamal Amrohi being besotted by her. There was also hearsay about co-stars Pradeep Kumar and Bharat Bhushan being enamoured by her. But a relationship that has been confirmed was with Premnath, whom she paired with in Badal (1951). Reportedly, he wanted to marry her but religion became a roadblock.
Premnath, however, always held her in great esteem. Years later, when he passing by Bandra, he visited Madhubala’s ailing father, Ataullah Khan. Discreetly, he pushed an envelope under the senior Khan’s pillow, as shared by his son Monty Prem Nath.
Madhubala’s most documented romance has been with Dilip Kumar, whom she first met on the set of Jwar Bhata (1944). Their relationship began during Tarana (1951) and blossomed during Sangdil (1952) and Amar (1954). The deeply-in-love couple two would go for drives or spend quiet evenings at home. Reportedly, they got engaged with Dilip’s sister presenting Madhubala the customary chunni.
Speaking about it in his autobiography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and The Shadow, the thespian reminisced, “I was attracted to her both as a fine co-star and as a person… she was sprightly and vivacious… she could draw me out of my shyness… She filled a void that was crying out to be filled.”
The idyllic romance came to a rude end vis-a-vis the Naya Daur (1957) court case. B.R.Chopra’s unit was to shoot in Gwalior. During the shooting of another film at the same location, a mob had attacked women and even torn off their clothes. Ataullah wanted the locale to be changed, which the makers refused and filed a case against him instead.
Dilip Kumar testified against Ataullah in favour of director B.R.Chopra. He also testified against his ladylove even while declaring his undying love for her in court. Later, Madhubala wanted Dilip to apologize to her father, which the actor reportedly refused. The nine-year-old bond was destroyed in a few minutes. Then on, it’s said, Madhubala’s health hit a decline.
The first hint of Madhubala’s fatal illness first occurred during the shooting of SS Vasan’s Bahut Din Huwe (1954). The young actor spat out blood while brushing her teeth. A concerned Dilip Kumar flew in with Dr Rustom Jal Vakil from Mumbai. She was diagnosed with a hole in the heart (ventricular septal defect). The actor, well-built and robust, didn’t take it seriously. She kept on signing films.
While shooting for K. Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam (1960), where she played the incarcerated Anarkali, she was tied with chains and had to walk around with them. By the end of the day her hands would turn blue. She hardly ate as she had to look weary for the jail scenes. A fragile Madhubala fainted frequently on the set. The ‘feather scene’ between her and Dilip (said to be the most romantic scene in Hindi cinema) was shot after their break-up.
Singer/actor/filmmaker Kishore Kumar and Madhubala worked together in Dhake Ki Malmal (1956) Chalti Ka Naam Gadi (1958) and Mehlon Ke Khwab (1960). Kishore’s marriage to actor/singer Ruma Devi Guha Thakurta had reportedly ended.
Initially, Madhubala didn’t respond to Kishore’s overtures. Apparently, she wouldn’t take his calls and even shut the door when he came to meet her. “Kishore Bhaiyya say things like, ‘I will die. I’ll take poison. I’ll put my hand in the fan…’,” revealed sister Madhur Bhushan in a throwback interview.
Eventually, Madhubala warmed up to Kishore’s sense of humour and affability, more so after the heartbreak with Dilip Kumar. Kishore and Madhubala had a registered marriage in 1960. She was 27.
Within 10 days, the couple flew to London with Dr SV Golwala for further consultation. She was told her condition was incurable and that she had just two years to live. Reportedly, they couldn’t have a man-woman relationship nor could she bear a child. Madhubala’s world seemed to have closed around her.
After sometime, Kishore left Madhubala at her parents’ home as he would be out for recordings, shows and shootings. But she insisted on staying with him. So, for some time, they stayed in a flat at Quarter Deck, Carter Road. The sea breeze made her sicker.
Back at her father’s home, Madhubala missed her husband. Initially, Kishore came every evening. He’d take her for a drive. But she’d get tired and they’d soon return home. Gradually, his visits lessened as her condition apparently left him ‘depressed’.
THE LAST YEARS
Madhubala had tremendous willpower. “Main koi do saal mein marne wali nahin hoon. Doctors will invent a cure,” she’d tell her father. She resumed shooting of Madhubala Private Ltd.’s Pathan (1962), which flopped. After a sabbatical, she completed Sharabi (1964). She began shooting Chalaak, opposite Raj Kapoor, around 1963. But she fainted as the camera rolled. The film was shelved. Given her never-say-die spirit, she wanted to make her directorial debut with Farz Aur Ishq (1969). That remained a thwarted dream.
Largely confined to the bed, she spent her time reading Urdu poetry. She loved the shayari of Mirza Ghalib and Daagh Dehlvi. Her favourite song was Rulake gaya sapna mera (Jewel Thief 1967), which resonated with her life.
Gradually, she began losing too much weight. She didn’t want to meet anyone, except for old friends like Waheeda Rehman and Geeta Dutt, nor did she like to see her reflection in the mirror.
Blood would regularly ooze from her nose and mouth. An oxygen cylinder had to be kept by her side as she often suffered from hypoxia. Having great willpower, she’d bathe by herself. She would perform the fajr (morning) namaz regularly. The other times, she’d pray lying down.
Once when she was hospitalised in Breach Candy, she sent for Dilip Kumar, who was unmarried then. He sat for an hour and boosted her spirits.
The day her health began deteriorating and she was bleeding profusely, Kishore, who was flying for a show, was asked to cancel it. She was unconscious when she passed away on 23 February 23, 1969 at 9.30 am. She was 36. Dilip, who was shooting in Madras, flew to Mumbai and paid his last respects at the kabrastan (graveyard). Food was sent from his house to Madhubala’s family for three days as is the custom.
In 1971, Jwala, a long in-the-making film was released, co-starring Sunil Dutt and Sohrab Modi with Madhubala, was completed with the help of body doubles.
Ataullah could not overcome the shock of losing his daughter and would visit her grave almost every day. He suffered a series of heart attacks. He passed away in 1975, six years after Madhubala. Her mother suffered from tuberculosis but pulled along for 18 years.
On August 10, 2017, the New Delhi centre of Madame Tussauds unveiled a statue of Madhubala, as the legendary Anarkali from Mughal-E-Azam, in the capital, the late actor’s birth place.