Mumtaz Jahan Dehlavi (14 February 1933 – 23 February 1969) better known by her screen name Madhubala was an Indian actress who appeared in Bollywood films. Her enduring screen fame derives from her appearances in film classics such as Mahal (1949), Mr. & Mrs. ’55 (1955), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960). She was prolific from 1949 through to 1960 when illness abbreviated her career. With her contemporaries Nargis and Meena Kumari, she is widely regarded as one of the most influential and talented Hindi movie actresses.
In her short life, Madhubala appeared in over 70 films. In all three biographies and numerous articles published on her, she has been compared with Marilyn Monroe and has a similarly iconic position in Indian film history. Perhaps because she died before being relegated to supporting or character roles, to this day Madhubala remains one of the most enduring and celebrated legends of Indian cinema. This is in spite of a proportinally low percentage of successful films in her complete career span (15 box office hits out of some 70 releases). Her continuing appeal to film fans was underlined in a 1990 poll conducted by Movie magazine. Madhubala was voted the most popular vintage Hindi actress of all time, garnering 58% of the votes, and out ranking contemporary legendary actresses Meena Kumari, Nargis, and Nutan. More recently in Rediff.com’s International Women’s Day 2007 special, Madhubala was ranked second in their top ten list of “Bollywood’s best actresses ever”.
In 2004 a digitally colorized version of Mughal-e-Azam was released and, 35 years after her death, the film and Madhubala became a success with cinema audiences all over again.
In the past decade, several biographies and magazine articles have been issued on Madhubala, revealing previously unknown details of her private life and career. Consequently in 2007, a Hindi film Khoya Khoya Chand was produced starring Shiney Ahuja and Soha Ali Khan – the plot included some events loosely based on the life of Madhubala and other vintage film personalities.
In 2008 a commemorative postage stamp featuring Madhubala was issued.The stamp was produced by India Post in a limited edition presentation pack which featured images of the actress. It was launched by veteran actors Nimmi and Manoj Kumar in a glittering ceremony attended by colleagues, friends and surviving members of Madhubala’s family. The only other Indian film actress to be honoured in this manner is Nargis Dutt.
Personal Life :
Madhubala was born as Mumtaz Jahan Begum Dehlavi in New Delhi, India on 14 February 1933 to a Muslim couple of Pashtun (Pathan) descent. The family were based in Delhi. She was the fifth child among eleven children. According to her sister Madhur Bhushan, she was reportedly born a blue baby which would later have implications on her health.
After Madhubala’s father, Ataullah Khan, lost his job at the Imperial Tobacco Company in Delhi,he relocated his family to Mumbai where they faced many hardships including the deaths of her three sisters and two brothers at the ages five and six. With his six remaining daughters to provide for, Ataullah Khan and young Mumtaz began to pay frequent visits to the Bombay Studios looking for work. This was how Mumtaz entered the movie industry at the age of nine in order to provide financial help for her family.
Madhubala was found to have a heart problem after she coughed up blood in 1950. She was discovered to have been born with a ventricular septal defect, commonly known as a “hole in the heart”. At the time, the facility of a heart surgery was not widely available in India.
Madhubala hid her illness from the film industry for many years, but this one incident was widely reported by the media in the year 1954: While she was filming in Madras for S. S. Vasan’s Bahut Din Huwe, she vomited blood on the set. Vasan and his wife took care of her until she was well again. She continued to work and established herself as an A-grade star.
Madhubala’s family was extremely protective of her because of her health problem. While filming at the studios, she would eat only home-prepared food and drink water only from a specific well in order to minimize risks of infection. Eventually her condition would take its toll and abbreviate her career and life. However, for most of the 1950s, Madhubala performed successfully despite her illness.
Marragie and controversies:
Madhubala is said to have had several relationships according to a biography on the actress by journalist Mohan Deep. Her most public relationship was with actor Dilip Kumar.
Dilip Kumar and Madhubala first met on the sets of Jwar Bhata (1944), and worked together again in the film Har Singaar (1949) which was shelved. Their relationship began two years later during the filming of, Tarana (1951). They also became a popular romantic screen team appearing in a total of four films together. Actor Shammi Kapoor, in a recorded interview, narrated how Dilip Kumar used to meet Madhubala by arriving late on the sets of the film Shammi and Madhubala were doing together. He would enter Kapoor’s room, knock on the door between his and Madhubala’s room and spend nights with her.
Madhubala was known for never making public appearances, (with the exception of the premiere for the film Bahut Din Huwe in 1954) and she rarely gave interviews. Tabloids often speculated over her personal life and romantic liaisons and Dilip Kumar was repeatedly mentioned. These rumours were confirmed with a bold and rare public appearance during their courtship in 1955. Madhubala was escorted by Dilip Kumar hand in hand for the premier of his film Insaniyat (1955), a film with which she had no other association. Though this may have been another gesture of gratitude to the producer and director S. S. Vasan, who had cared for her earlier when she had taken ill during the filming of Bahut Din Huwe (1954), this appearance was significant for another reason. By attending the premiere officially escorted by Dilip Kumar, they publicly acknowledged their relationship.
Madhubala’s romance with Kumar lasted for five years, between 1951 and 1956. Their association was ended following a controversial court case. B.R. Chopra, the director of the film Madhubala and Dilip Kumar were currently starring in, Naya Daur (1957), wanted the unit to travel to Bhopal for an extended outdoor shooting. Ataullah Khan objected and even claimed that the entire Bhopal schedule was a ruse to give Dilip Kumar the opportunity to romance his daughter. Finally, Chopra sued Madhubala for the cash advance she received from him for a film she now had no intention of completing. He also replaced her with South Indian actress Vyjayanthimala. Madhubala supported her father despite her commitment to Dilip Kumar. Kumar testified against Madhubala and Ataullah Khan in favor of the director B.R. Chopra in court. Madhubala and her father lost the case amid much negative publicity. Up until that point Madhubala had worked hard to gain a reputation 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.
In an interview her sister Madhur Bhushan described the events as:
The reason Madhubala broke up with Dilip Kumar was B R Chopra’s film Naya Daur, not my father. Madhubala had shot a part of the film when the makers decided to go for an outdoor shoot to Gwalior. The place was known for dacoits, so my father asked them to change the location. They disagreed because they wanted a hilly terrain. So my father asked her to quit the film. He was ready to pay the deficit. Chopra asked Dilip Kumar for help. Dilipsaab and Madhubala were engaged then. Dilipsaab tried to mediate but Madhubala refused to disobey her father. Chopra’s production filed a case against her, which went on for a year. But this did not spoil their relationship. Dilipsaab told her to forget movies and get married to him. She said she would marry him, provided he apologised to her father. He refused, so Madhubala left him. That one ‘sorry’ could have changed her life. She loved Dilipsaab till the day she died.
She met her husband, actor and playback singer, Kishore Kumar during the filming of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958). 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.
Madhubala’s love-life was constantly speculated on in media. She is said to have been romantically involved with Director Kidar Sharma, Kamal Amrohi, Actor Premnath and Pakistani politician Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at different points of her career. B. K. Karanjia, former Filmfare editor and a close friend of both Madhubala and her father Ataullah Khan, has denied this saying , “Yes, there were so many in love with her, she used to play one against the other. But it was out of innocence rather than shrewd calculation. Madhubala was a child at heart.”
Last Days Of Death:
In 1960, Madhubala sought treatment in London as her condition deteriorated. Complicated heart surgery was in its infancy and offered her some hope of a cure. After an examination the doctors there refused to operate, convinced her chances of surviving the procedure were minimal.Their advice was that she should rest and avoid overexertion, and predicted that she could live for another year. Knowing her death was imminent, Madhubala returned to India, but defied the predictions by living for another 9 years.
In 1966, with a slight improvement in her health, Madhubala tried working again opposite Raj Kapoor in the film Chalak. Film media heralded her “comeback” with much fanfare and publicity. Stills from this time showed a still beautiful but pale and wan-looking Madhubala. However, within a few days of filming, her frail health caused her to collapse and the film remained incomplete and unreleased.
When acting was clearly no longer an option, Madhubala turned her attention to film making. In 1969 she was set to make her directorial debut with a film named Farz aur Ishq. However the film was never made, as during the pre production stages, Madhubala finally succumbed to her illness and died on 23 February 1969, shortly after her 36th birthday. She was buried at Santa Cruz cemetery with her diary by her family and husband Kishore Kumar. Madhubala’s tomb at the Juhu/Santa Cruz Muslim cemetery was carved in pure marble and aayats from the Quran as well as verses dedicated to her. In a controversial move, her tomb was demolished in 2010 to make space for new graves
Mumtaz’s first movie Basant (1942) was a box-office success. She played the character of the daughter of the popular actress Mumtaz Shanti. She further went on to act in several movies as a child artist. Actress Devika Rani was impressed by her performances and potential and advised her to assume the name Madhubala, which meant “a woman of honey”. Madhubala soon garnered reputation as a reliable professional performer. By the time she entered adolescence, she was being groomed for lead roles.
Her first break came when producer Kidar Sharma cast her opposite Raj Kapoor in Neel Kamal (1947). She was fourteen when she was given the lead role in the movie. The film was not a commercial success, but her performance was well received. This was also the last film in which she was credited as Mumtaz before assuming her screen name Madhubala.
During the next two years, she blossomed into a captivating beauty. However it was not until she was cast in the coveted female lead role in Bombay Talkies prestigious and anticipated production Mahal in (1949), (a role intended for super star Suraiya) that Madhubala attained immense popularity. Madhubala alongside many established actresses screen tested for the role before she was finally groomed and selected by the director Kamal Amrohi. Upon the film’s release, audiences and critics alike enthused over the new star’s enigmatic beauty and screen presence. Though she was only 16 at the time, her subtle and skillful performance was widely acknowledged to have upstaged her seasoned co-star Ashok Kumar. The film was the third biggest hit at the box office in 1949 and the song Aayega Aanewala heralded the arrival of two new superstars: Madhubala and playback singer Lata Mangeshkar.
She consolidated the emphatic success of Mahal with subsequent box office hits like Dulari (1949), Beqasoor (1950), Tarana (1951) and Badal (1951). These successful films placed her among the most bankable and prolific actresses of the early (1950’s) alongside established contemporaries Kamini Kaushal, Suraiya and Nargis.
It was the film Mughal-e-Azam that marked what many consider to be her greatest and definitive characterization as the doomed courtesan Anarkali. Director K. Asif, unaware of the extent of Madhubala’s illness, required long and grueling shooting schedules that made heavy physical demands on her, whether it was posing as a veiled statue in suffocating make-up for hours under the sweltering studio lights or being shackled with heavy chains. From 1951 through to 1959 Madhubala invested her best efforts into Mughal-e-Azam. Post 1956 and her separation from Dilip Kumar, the film’s remaining intimate romantic scenes were filmed under much tension and strain between Madhubala and her now estranged co-star. This emotionally and physically taxing experience is widely perceived as a major factor in her subsequent decline in health and premature death.
On 5 August 1960, Mughal-e-Azam released and became the biggest grossing film at that time, a record that went unbroken for 15 years until the release of the film Sholay in 1975. It still ranks second in the list of all time box-office hits of Indian cinema (inflation adjusted). Despite performing alongside the most respected acting talent of the industry, Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote, and Dilip Kumar, critics recognised and appreciated Madhubala’s intelligent and multi layered performance. She received some recognition as a serious actress when she was nominated for a Filmfare Award. However she did not win, losing out to Bina Rai for her performance in the film Ghunghat (1960). In Khatija Akbar’s biography on Madhubala (see reference section), Dilip Kumar paid tribute to her talent: “Had she lived, and had she selected her films with more care, she would have been far superior to her contemporaries. Apart from being an excellent artiste and very versatile, she had a cheerful nature. God had gifted her with so many things…”
In 1960, Madhubala hit the peak of her career and popularity with the release of back-to-back blockbusters Mughal-e-Azam and Barsaat Ki Raat. She was offered strong, author-backed roles, but her deteriorating health did not permit her to enjoy this period and develop as an actress. At this point Madhubala became so ill that she could not accept any new films or even complete her existing assignments. In the biography by khatija Akbar, her frequent co-star Dev Anand recalled: “She was very robust, full of life and energy. One could never conceive that she was ill. She enjoyed her work, she was always laughing. Then out of the Blue, one day she had disappeared…”.
She did have intermittent releases in the early 1960s. Some of these, like Jhumroo (1961), Half Ticket (1962) and Sharabi (1964), even performed above average at the box-office. However, most of her other films issued in this period were marred by her absence in later portions when her illness prevented her from completing them. They suffer from compromised editing and in some cases the use of “doubles” in an attempt to patch in scenes that Madhubala was unable to shoot. Her last released film Jwala, although filmed in the late 1950s, was not issued until 1971, two years after her death. Incidentally, apart from some Technicolor sequences in Mughal-e-Azam, Jwala is the only time Madhubala appeared in a colour film.
Madhubala had many successful films following Mahal. With pressure to secure herself and her family financially, she acted in as many as twenty-four films in the first four years of her adult career. Consequently, critics of the time commented that Madhubala’s beauty was greater than her acting ability. This was in part due to careless choices in film roles. As sole support of her family, she accepted work in any film, causing her credibility as a dramatic actress to be seriously compromised. Something she later expressed regret over. “She was ecstatically, exasperatingly beautiful”, exclaimed contemporary actress Nadira. “She created a kind of reverence, she had such an aura about her.”
She did have aspirations to appear in more prestigious films with challenging roles. Bimal Roy’s Biraj Bahu (1954) being a case in point. Madhubala having read the novel, was desperate to secure the lead in the film adaptation. Assuming she would command her market price (one of the highest), Bimal Roy passed her over in favour of a then, struggling Kamini Kaushal. When Madhubala learned that this was a factor in her losing the part, she lamented the fact that she would have performed in the film for a fee of one rupee. Such was her desire to improve her image as a serious actress.
As a star, Madhubala did ascend to the top of the industry. Her co-stars at the time were the most popular of the period: Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rehman, Pradeep Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Dev Anand. Madhubala also appeared alongside many notable leading ladies of the time including Kamini Kaushal, Suraiya, Geeta Bali, Nalini Jaywant, Shyama and Nimmi. The directors she worked with were amongst the most prolific and respected: Mehboob Khan (Amar), Guru Dutt (Mr. & Mrs. ’55), Kamal Amrohi (Mahal) and K. Asif (Mughal-e-Azam) . She also ventured into production and made the film Naata (1955) which she also acted in.
During the 1950s, Madhubala proved herself a versatile performer in starring roles, in almost every genre of film being made at the time. Her 1950 film Hanste Aansoo was the first ever Hindi film to get an “A” (Adults Only) rating from the Central Board of Film Certification. She was the archetypal lady fair in the popular swashbuckler, Badal (1951) and was next seen as an uninhibited village belle in Tarana (1951). She was convincing as the traditional ideal of Indian womanhood in Sangdil (1952) and was well received in a comic performance as the spoilt heiress, Anita in Guru Dutt’s classic satire Mr. & Mrs. ’55 (1955). In 1956 she had success in historical costume dramas such as Shirin-Farhad and Raj-Hath. Equally successful in contemporary characterizations, she was memorable in a double role in the social film Kal Hamara Hai (1959). Madhubala played the cigarette smoking 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 commercially that she was labelled “Box Office Poison”. She turned her career around in 1958, with a string of hit films: Howrah Bridge opposite Ashok Kumar featured Madhubala in the unusual role of an Anglo-Indian Cabaret singer, embroiled in Calcutta’s Chinatown underworld. She made a big impact with a daring (for the time) Westernized image, with her cascading locks, deep cut blouses, fitted Capri pants and tailored Chinese dresses. Madhubala’s sensuous torch song from the film, Aaiye Meherebaan, dubbed by Asha Bhosle, was a popular hit with audiences, and is widely quoted and celebrated to this day. Howrah Bridge was followed by Phagun opposite Bharat Bhushan, Kala Pani opposite Dev Anand, the perennial hit Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi opposite her would-be-husband, Kishore Kumar and Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), opposite Bharat Bhushan again.
It is of note that of the 70 plus films Madhubala made in her career, only a relatively small number, 15, were successful at the box office from 1947 through to 1964. Despite this fact she remained in demand as an actress with producers and directors largely due to her star power and unprecedented popularity with the general movie going public. Frequent co-star Dilip Kumar recalled: “She was extremely popular, and I think, the only star for whom people thronged outside the gates. Very often when shooting was over, there’d be a vast crowd standing at the gates just to have a look at Madhu…It wasn’t so for anyone else.”
In 1960, she consolidated previous successes, and her super-star status when she went on to appear in the epic mega-budget historical, Mughal-e-Azam. This film is widely perceived to be the crowning glory of her career and perhaps the decade of filmmaking in India.
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