Timeless appeal

Timeless appeal

Yesteryear Diva

Devoted to work : Madhubala

Her childlike innocence was accentuated by the most noticeable trait of her character, her famous giggle. Every time I think of her, I hear her giggle outside my make-up room, followed by a knock at the door that announced her arrival… The great giggler was perhaps laughing at the world around her that did not know that she had a damaged heart, and would die quite young.''

Child artiste to leading lady

Mumtaz Jehan Shanti or Baby Mumtaz was born in Delhi on February 14, 1933. She faced the camera for the first time when she was merely eight years old in the super hit, Basant (1942), followed by five other films where she starred as a child artiste. Mumtaz Jehan Shanti was renamed and cast as a heroine at the tender age of 14 by director Kidar Sharma, opposite Raj Kapoor, in Neel Kamal (1947).

From then on, till her premature death on February 23, 1969, she was the leading lady of the Hindi film industry. Her last credible performance, although after which she was seen in at least five films (two with Kishore Kumar, one each with Shammi Kapoor, Pradeep Kumar and Sunil Dutt), was opposite Dilip Kumar in the K Asif classic, Mughal-e-Azam.

By the time she was cast opposite Dilip Kumar in Tarana (1951), she had already become a talent to reckon with. Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal opposite Ashok Kumar had taken the box-office by storm. The theme song, Aayega aayega aayega aane wala aayega in Lata Mangeshkar’s enchanting voice was on every cinegoer’s lips.

Madhubala’s versatility as an actress was noteworthy, despite her unchecked, spontaneous giggle, which became a discomforting factor many a time as it affected the performance of her co-stars.
It was reportedly during the making of Mehboob’s Amar (1954) that cupid struck, leading to the much talked about romance between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, which was frowned upon by her financially insecure father for whom, amongst all his five daughters, she had become the golden goose. It was said that in conformity with her lover’s wishes, Madhubala had decided to quit films after marriage.

The romance ended on a bitter note when Ataullah Khan did not allow his daughter to go on a long outdoor stint for B R Chopra’s Naya Daur. Madhubala had already shot a few scenes for the film and accepted cash in advance, but Ataullah claimed that the outdoor shoot was a ruse to give Dilip Kumar the opportunity to romance his daughter. This led to a bitter court battle between the producer, B R Chopra, and Madhubala, where Dilip Kumar testified in favour of the producer. The whole exercise had left Dilip Kumar so embittered that during the making of Mughal-e-Azam, he slapped Madhubala, after which the shooting of the film was put on hold for several days.

Madhubala suffered from a congenital heart problem, which was discovered in 1946 when she fainted on the sets of Bombay Talkies’ Pujari. But her ailment did not deter her from putting her heart and soul into her work. Madhubala worked in 65 films in a career spanning more than a decade.
According to Khatija Akbar, who tried to somewhat flimsily, but nevertheless heroically, resurrect her in a book titled Madhubala: Her Life, Her Films (1997), “No concessions were made by any filmmaker for Madhubala. Dancing, getting wet in the water, and dragging heavy chains, she did it all. There were occasions when she fainted, as had happened on the sets of Singaar, Amar and Mughal-e-Azam. Upon recovery, she was back to work without a fuss. The long spell of sickness in Madras during Bahut Din Huwe was the only time attention was drawn to her ill-health due to wide reportage in the press.”

Queen of hearts

Despite the fact that journalists were shooed away from her sets, she was extremely cordial with editors of film magazines of her time. Khatija also suggested that she was charitable to the poor, which contradicts her own contention that she had merely been a pawn in the hands of a greedy, insecure father.

After they got married, much to the dismay of many others, he took Madhubala to London for treatment at a time when there seemed to be no plausible cure for her heart problem. Kishore Kumar married Madhubala because he loved her even though he knew that she could no longer work for long hours and could not bear a child.

Parallels were drawn between Madhubala and Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe’s life. Both, coincidentally, died early in life, at the age of 36, receiving greater immortality in death than they were destined to receive when they were alive. Amongst many of Madhubala’s ardent silent lovers, one of the most prominent was Prem Nath. He is