Madhubala Venus Of The East
In his autobiography, Romancing with Life, Dev Anand describes his seven-time heroine, Madhubala as: “…the most beautiful of all the heroines in the fairyland of films, with her natural looks, always as fresh as morning dew, sans heavy make-up, false eyelashes, contact lenses or scanty dresses fashioned by designers to impart artificial glamour that would titillate male curiosity. 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.”
Mumtaz Jehan Shanti or Baby Mumtaz, who was born in Delhi on February 14, 1933, first faced the camera as an eight year old in the super hit, Basant (1942), following it up with another five as a child artiste, was renamed and cast as heroine, at the tender age of 14, by rebel director, Kidar Sharma opposite Raj Kapoor in Neel Kamal (1947). And from then on till her premature death on February 23, 1969, she played leading lady to almost all the major heroes of her time in 64 films—Raj Kapoor with whom she subsequently also starred in four other films. Her last credible performance, even though at least five films (two with Kishore Kumar, one each with Shammi Kapoor, Pradeep Kumar and Sunil Dutt) came after, had been opposite Dilip Kumar in the K Asif immortal classic, Mughal-e-Azam which had her at the stunning best.
By the time she was cast opposite Dilip Kumar in Tarana (1951) she had already become a heroine to reckon with. Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal opposite Ashok Kumar had taken the box office with a proverbial storm. The theme song, aayega aayega aayega aane wala aayega in Lata Mangeshkar’s enchanting voice, was on every cinegoer’s lips. Her versatility had been amazing, despite the unchecked spontaneous giggle which became a discomforting factor many times because 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 romance between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala 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 the lover’s wishes, she had decided to quit films after marriage. The romance ended on a bitter note when Ataullah Khan refused to allow his daughter for a long outdoor stint for BR Chopra’s Naya Daur for which she had already participated in a ten day schedule. Ataullah felt it was a ruse provide bonding space to the lovers. The bitter court battle had Dilip Kumar testifying in favour of the producer. The whole exercise had left Dilip Kumar so embittered that during the making of Mughal-e-Azam he slapped her so hard that it led to a cancelling of shooting for several days.
Madhubala suffered from a congenital heart problem, which had been discovered way back in 1946 when she fainted on the sets of Bombay Talkies’ Pujari. She reportedly had a hole in her heart despite which she slogged through much of her adult life, and not much is known about the medical treatment she had been subjected to. Paradoxically, no one, including her father, saw any sense in disallowing her to work to the degree she did—working in 65 films in an effective career span of a little more than a decade. According to Khatija Akhtar, who tried to somewhat flimsily, but nevertheless heroically, resurrect ‘Her Life Her Films’ in a book titled Madhubala (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 it was nback 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 with wide reportage in the press.”
And this despite the fact that even though journalists were shooed away from her sets, she had been not only on extremely cordial terms with the editors of film magazines of her times like Gulshan Ewing, and BK Karanjia to support the continuation whose financially sick magazine Movie Times she even ghost produced a flick and worked free of charge. Khatija also suggested that she freely contributed to charities, a point which contradicts her own earlier contention that she had merely been a pawn in the hands of a greedy, insecure father.
Contrary to the popular myth about Kishore Kumar being a miser, he did what others had failed to do. After they got married, much to the dismay of many others, he took her to London for treatment when there had been no plausible solution for blocking a hole. He had married her because he loved her even though it was well known that she could not take the strain of hard work, nor bear a child. She also had many options, but settled for him—would or could that be, to make a gender statement, attributed to a woman’s fickle-mindedness? But whatever be the truth, she had left the actor-singer’s Juhu abode to her ‘Arabian Villa’ on sea-facing Carter Road, Bandra, Mumbai.
Her life and death were identified with the Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe, with whom she shared a loveless life. Both, coincidentally, died in the prime of their lives at the age of 36, receiving greater immortality in death than they were destined to receive when they had been alive. Amongst her ardent silent lovers was Prem Nath, who eventually went on to Dilip Kumar Pali Hill ka kutta (dog)’ because he had willingly played the go-between, and sacrificed his own love, when he realised his friend was in love with the most perfect and divinely beautiful woman to have ever been a part of the Indian movie industry. He is believed to have penned a verse expressing his love.
By Suresh Kohli