Madhubala (born Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi; 14 February 1933 – 23 February 1969) was an Indian actress and producer who worked in Hindi cinema. In a career spanning more than 20 years, she was predominantly active for a decade only but had appeared in over 60 films by the time of her death in 1969. Half a century later, she continues to be held in high regard, with her portrayals of strong-willed, independent characters being seen as a significant departure from the regular portrayals of women on the Indian screen.
Mumtaz Jehan Dehlavi
14 February 1933
|Died||23 February 1969 (aged 36)|
|Cause of death||Ventricular septal defect|
|Resting place||Juhu Muslim Cemetery, Santa Cruz, Mumbai|
|Relatives||See Ganguly family|
Born and raised in the slums of Delhi, Madhubala began performing at an early age, singing for the children programme at the All India Radio station in the early 1940s. She relocated to Bombay with her family when she was 8 years old, and shortly after appeared in minor roles in a number of films. In 1947, at age 14, Madhubala made a transition to leading roles with the drama Neel Kamal. In the following few years, she emerged as one of Bollywood's most bankable stars with starring roles in highly successful films such as Lal Dupatta (1948), Mahal (1949) and Tarana (1951). She also gained international fame in that period and further publicity with her love affair with Dilip Kumar, which was followed for 7 years by a lean phase that culminated into a turbulent end of the relationship and release of the critically lauded but commercially unsuccessful Amar (1954).
The 1955 comedy Mr. & Mrs. '55 marked a turning point in Madhubala's career, and she went on to earn greater success with her roles in Howrah Bridge (1958), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Half Ticket (1962). Critics and film historians have unanimously described her portrayal of Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam as one of the finest performances in history. Despite being at the height of her fame, Madhubala withdrew from acting after marrying Kishore Kumar in 1960 and worked sporadically throughout the 1960s. For much of her marital life, she suffered from recurrent bouts of breathlessness and hematemesis caused by ventricular septal defect, ultimately leading to her untimely death at the age of 36.
Childhood and early work (1933–46)Edit
Madhubala was born as Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi in Delhi, British India, on 14 February 1933. She was the fifth of eleven children of Ataullah Khan and Aayesha Begum. Khan belonged to the Yusufzai tribe of Pashtuns, and after remaining unemployed for a long time, in 1925, he landed a job in the Imperial Tabacco Company. He disliked his work because of his aversion to tobacco but continued working to repay the debts he incurred in his initial days. Known for his short temper among his co-workers, Khan was feared by all of his family members including Madhubala.
As recalled by youngest sister Madhur Bhushan, Madhubala was born with a ventricular septal defect, a disorder generally abbreviated as VSD. While it was a common congenital defect at that time, the medical community's understanding of the condition was yet to develop—VSD had first been described in 1879 and at the time of Madhubala's birth, there was no treatment. Moreover, despite many symptoms, her disease would not be diagnosed until 1950. On her birthday, an acclaimed fortune-teller predicted that she will earn considerable money and fame but would die before her age. Madhubala continued to grow up without any health issues and although her parents struggled financially, her early childhood was happy and stable. She learnt Urdu, Hindi as well as her native language, Pashto, under her father's guidance. She desired to become an actress since her childhood, but her father was initially against her aspirations to pursue the notorious profession.
In 1940, when Madhubala was seven years old, Khan was fired from the employee company for misbehaving with an officer. After his attempts to regain his job or find other work failed, Khan decided to capitalise on Madhubala's talents. Her mother feared that they would be ostracised, but Khan was adamant. Shortly after Madhubala was employed by All India Radio to sing songs composed by Khurshid Anwar for children's programmes. Madhubala would continue working for the radio for several months.
In 1941, Madhubala was spotted by Rai Bahadur Chunnilal, the general manger of Bombay Talkies studio situated in Bombay. Chunnilal took an immediate liking towards Madhubala and suggested her father to visit Bombay if his daughter is interested in acting in films. In the summer of 1941, Khan eventually relocated his family in the Malad suburbs of Bombay. Following an approval from the studio executives, Chunnilal signed Madhubala to a juvenile role in his studio's production Basant, at a salary of ₹150. Basant was successful when released in July 1942, but the studio did not need a child artist at that time and dropped her contract.
Madhubala and her family subsequently returned to Delhi, where Khan possibly found some temporary jobs. In 1944, Bombay Talkies' head and former actress Devika Rani sent for Khan to summon Madhubala for another child role in her next production, Jwar Bhata (1944). The role was shortly after removed from the film's story, but now Khan decided to relocate to and settle permanently in Bombay seeing a prospect in films. They returned to their temporary residence in Bombay (where they lived when Madhubala shot for Basant), and Khan and Madhubala began paying frequent visits to film studios throughout the city in search of work.
There were moments free of care and filled with joy, then came hardship and heartbreaking effort to live and sustain oneself.— Madhubala on her childhood
In February 1944, Madhubala was finally signed to a three-year contract with Chandulal Shah's studio Ranjit Movietone, on a monthly payment of ₹300. The following month she was given bit parts in Mumtaz Mahal (1944) and Dhanna Bhagat (1945). With her income, Madhubala became the sole earning member of her family, and Khan shifted his family to a rented house. However, they were again homeless in April when the house was destroyed due to the Bombay explosion; the family survived because they had gone to local theatre. In mid-1945, Madhubala vomited blood on the set of Phoolwari (1946), which was the first symptom of her disease. Khan ignored her illness and pressurised her to return to work. Her mother suffered pregnancy problems during the same time and Madhubala had to beg for money from the studio heads before film producer Ratibhai Seth ultimately helped her financially.
On the professional front, in 1946, Madhubala was seen in minor roles in three films: Rajputani, Phoolwari and Pujari; she was credited as "Baby Mumtaz" in them. Later that year, Mohan Sinha selected her for his Chittor Vijay and Mere Bhagwaan (both 1947), while Kidar Sharma cast her as the child version of Kamla Chatterjee's role in Neel Kamal (also 1947). The filming of the lattermost came to an abrupt halt in late 1946 after Chatterjee's unexpected death.
Rise to prominence (1947–51)Edit
— Kidar Sharma about Madhubala
To recover the losses caused by the delay in production, Sharma cast the 14 years old Madhubala in the heroine's role in Neel Kamal. Shah was against Sharma's choice and terminated Madhubala's contract, thus freeing her to work with Sharma. Sharma, who had previously directed Madhubala in Mumtaz Mahal (1944) and Dhanna Bhagat (1945), was impressed by her hardworking and supportive nature. The industry responded unfavorably due to her young age and relative inexperience, but the filmmaker soon resumed the filming with Madhubala and Raj Kapoor as the film's lead actors.
In one of his later interviews, Sharma spoke highly of Madhubala, maintaining that she overshadowed Kapoor throughout the film. Neel Kamal was popular with audience when released in March 1947 and won her significant plaudits from critics. The onscreen chemistry of Madhubala and Kapoor was well-received, and filmmakers began pairing the actors opposite each other frequently. They were subsequently seen together in Chittor Vijay (1947), Dil Ki Rani (1947) and Amar Prem (1948), but these collaborations went unnoticed.
After the success of Neel Kamal, in which Madhubala was credited as "Mumtaz", Rani suggested her to take "Madhubala" as her professional name.[a] To make the actress more employable, Rani amended her acting and dancing abilities, while Madhubala reduced her usual fee to a relatively less amount. As an actress, she began to attract the attention of major studios; in early 1948, she had a parallel leading role with Munawar Sultana in Parai Aag (1948), and then with D. K. Sapru in Lal Dupatta (1948), a drama film which The Indian Express retrospectively credited for turning her into a star. The critic Baburao Patel observed her increasing attractiveness with age, saying that she "proves herself at once competent and versatile in both light and pathetic sequences."
Meanwhile, in mid-1948, screenwriter Kamal Amrohi was searching for an actress to play Kamini in his directorial debut, Mahal. Madhubala wished to play the role and requested Amrohi to recommend her to producer Savak Vacha. Although Vacha preferred Suraiya over her, he permitted Amrohi to take a screen test of Madhubala as well. Madhubala failed the first screen test, possibly because Vacha had instructed the photographer to "shoot the teenage actress at her worst", but the second test yielded "unbelievable" results, assuring everyone that Madhubala was the perfect choice to play Kamini. She shortly after secured the role and began filming along with actor Ashok Kumar. Her co-workers had a mixed perception about her abilities: Ashok bemoaned that "she was very raw and required many retakes", while Amrohi felt that it was with Mahal that "her true capabilities came to the fore".
Mahal is considered to be Bollywood's first horror film that dealt with the subject of reincarnation, and starred Madhubala as an enigmatic woman who haunts an ancient mansion recently bought by an upper-class lawyer (played by Ashok). Subhash K. Jha has described her role as "an ethereal unattainable yet warm and gregarious beauty who could be diva and the devil at the same time." Released in October 1949, Mahal was a watershed in Madhubala's career and immediately turned her into a major star. Analyzing the year's film releases, India 50: The Making of a Nation commented, "With Mahal, the moon-like beauty of Madhubala has the nation obsessed with her." The series of successful films continued with Dulari, Paras and Singaar (all three in late 1949); she had supporting roles in the latter two, but received critical praise for her work.
In early 1950, Madhubala along with her family shifted to Arabian Villa, a bungalow situated on Peddar Road, Bandra, which became her permanent residence till her death. Early in the year, she appeared in Hanste Aansoo; the film was controversial after it became the first Indian film to get an Adults certification, but received considerable critical praise. In mid-1950, she was diagnosed as having a ventricular septal defect during a medical checkup. She was advised not to publicly reveal her disease as it could jeopardize her flourishing career. In June, Madhubala starred in Beqasoor (1950), which became one of the biggest hits of the year. Her continuous success allowed her to command a fees of ₹50–60 thousand. On Khan's suggestions, she began receiving private classes at Sushila Rani Patel's home to learn English.
Also in June 1950, Madhubala donated ₹5 thousand each to children suffering from polio myelitis and to the Jammu And Kashmir relief fund. In August, she made another massive donation of ₹50 thousand for the refugees from East Bengal, sparking off a major controversy as she was the only Muslim contributor. Khan was troubled by the negative publicity; by September, he began asserting in Madhubala's film contracts that no journalists will be allowed on set.[b] Madhubala's popularity and attention from the media continued rising that year when she, in late 1950, started a relationship with actor Prem Nath.
In 1951, Madhubala was seen with Nath for the first time onscreen in Amiya Chakravarty's Badal (1951), a remake of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). The film and Madhubala's performance opened to mixed reviews; a critic observed: "She has not much a role to play, but she does her bit very well. Madhubala, however, must learn to speak her dialogue slowly, distinctly and effectively instead of rattling through her lines in a monotone." Owing to the press surrounding the actors, the film proved a major success and they were cast together in two more productions: Aaram (1951) and Saqi (1952). Around the same time, Madhubala was approached by director Frank Capra, who wished to give her a break in Hollywood, but her father declined Capra's offer. Nevertheless, by this point, Madhubala had established herself as a major star in Bollywood. Her international fame was confirmed in November 1951 when James Burke arrived in India to photograph her for a feature in the American magazine Life.
Relationship with Dilip Kumar and career fluctuations (1951–56)Edit
I must admit that I was attracted to her both as a fine co-star and as a person who had some of the attributes I hoped to find in a woman at that age and time. [...] She [...] was very sprightly and vivacious and, as such, she could draw me out of my shyness and reticence effortlessly. She filled a void that was crying out to be filled.— Dilip Kumar, on his romantic involvement with Madhubala
In early 1951, Madhubala began dating her Tarana co-star Dilip Kumar, after proposing him with a red rose and a letter through her hairdresser Mary Jenetta. Her father's dislike of the actor and her simultaneous relationship with Nath prompted some negative comments in the press, although Madhubala's pairing with Dilip was highly anticipated. Contemporaty journalist B. K. Karanjia noted, "She liked to flirt with both [Dilip and Nath], though it was in mischievous not an evil way. But I could feel she was very fond of Dilip." Tarana was released in October 1951 and became a critical and commercial success. Praising the film and performances extensively, Patel commented that Madhubala and Dilip are "born to team": "Both of them have lived their roles and their romantic sequences seem to take hues from the real canvas of life." Madhubala's relationship with Nath meanwhile ended after he met Bina Rai and her father denied of an interfaith marriage. Even so, they remained friends till her death.
In 1952, Madhubala achieved another success in her role as a temple dancer in R. C. Talwar's Sangdil, her second collaboration with Dilip, which was a film-adaptation of the 1847 novel Jane Eyre. Having established herself firmly, at this point of time, Madhubala began looking for an opportunity in films where her acting skills could be demonstrated. She lobbied for the titular role in Biraj Bahu, but director Bimal Roy dismissed her due to her high asking price.
Undeterred by the loss, in late 1952, Madhubala signed K. Asif's long-in-making historical drama epic Mughal-e-Azam for an advance payment of one lakh, double of what her leading man Dilip received. She was cast as the 16th century's ill-fated court dancer Anarkali. Shortly after in 1953, Madhubala replaced Meena Kumari in Mehboob Khan's Amar, yet again co-starring Dilip. In April 1953, Madhubala founded her own production company, Madhubala Private Ltd. The following year, Madhubala travelled to Madras along with her father to film S. S. Vasan's Bahut Din Huwe (1954); they stayed there in the Connermara Hotel. Her heart disease became known publicly when, after two days of shoot, she vomited blood in her bathroom. After recovery, Madhubala attended the film's premiere as a gesture to her director S. S. Vasan, who cooperated with her when she was sick and even offered to temporarily shut the production until her recovery. That year, due to her sickness, Madhubala was replaced by Bina Rai in Meenar (1954), while she refused Uran Khatola (1955), in which Nimmi played the role initially offered to her.
Amar was released in September 1954 to critical acclaim, but was unsuccessful at the box office. In 2016, Filmfare called Madhubala's character, Anju Roy one of the best played by her: "Playing a rich city girl, who learns more about the life when she observes the trauma of a village girl, Madhubala floored her role with a nuanced performance." Later in 1954, Madhubala granted an interview to Filmfare.
In late 1954, Madhubala began filming Guru Dutt's comedy Mr. & Mrs. '55, which saw her playing a naive heiress named Anita Verma forced into a sham marriage. Despite being denounced morally inappropriate by contemporary press, the film was Madhubala's biggest box office success at that point in her career. Mr. & Mrs. '55 was generally well-received by critics, and Madhubala's comedic performance specially achieved widespread praise: Harneet Singh of The Indian Express commented that the film "rides on Madhubala's impish charm and breezy comic timing", while Iqbal Masud of India Today described her performance as "a marvellous piece of sexy-comic acting." Madhubala Private Ltd. shortly after released its first independent production, Naata (1955), but the film failed commercially. In September, she made a public appearance on the premiere of Insaniyat (1955) with Dilip.
Madhubala began 1956 with the release of the successful costume dramas Raj Hath and Shirin Farhad. In June, she was replaced by Vyjayanthimala in Naya Daur, for which Madhubala had worked for 15 days and even received an advance payment of ₹30 thousand. In August, Khan filed an injunction against director B. R. Chopra and demanded a court stay over the filming of Naya Daur (with Vyjayanthimala). Chopra, in turn, filed a criminal case in Girgaum Magistrate court and sued Madhubala and Khan for ₹30 thousand in damages. The eight month-long legal battle was described by journalist Bunny Reuben as "the most sensational court case ever to be fought in the annals of Indian cinema." Chopra later withdrew the case after the court allowed him to film Naya Daur with Vyjayanthimala, but Madhubala's reputation and image were tarnished by the incident. During the trial, her boyfriend Dilip Kumar, who was the film's leading actor as well, testified against her and her father and publicly blamed them for the troubled production, which led to the end of their relationship. She was devastated and never the same; Dev Anand noted that after her break-up with Dilip, Madhubala was "an altogether different person."
Stardom, Mughal-e-Azam, and marriage (1957–62)Edit
However, despite their breakup, Madhubala and Dilip continued the filming of Mughal-e-Azam, which was only half completed by then. The actors did not afterwards interact with or even greet each other till the end; K. Asif tried amending the tensed situation between the actors, but in vain.
During the remaining filming between 1957–59, Madhubala and Dilip performed together several romantic scenes; one of these saw him brushing her face with an plume, which was declared the most erotic scene in Bollywood's history in 2008 by Outlook. There also were a number of times when Dilip represented his hostility towards her. For example, when shooting for a particular scene in which Salim slaps Anarkali, Dilip slapped Madhubala thrice, and so hard that it left red marks on her cheeks. Dispirited at the sudden change in his behaviour, she reflected to Naushad, "I wonder if anyone is aware of the unhappiness that is within me even while I dance and perform scenes of contentment and joy for the screen."
Madhubala returned to work in early 1957 following another bout of blood vomiting. Dev Anand noted that after her break-up with Dilip, Madhubala was "an altogether different person." According to a friend: "In 1951, when I first knew her, she was always smiling, always gay. I envied her peace of mind. By 1958, the beauty was still there but the peace of mind had vanished." Sushila Rani Patel believed that Madhubala "must have been miserable, but she wouldn't show it."
As a remedy against grief, Madhubala immersed herself in work. In contrast to her personal life, the professional front saw her achieving greater success. She began 1957 with the drama Yahudi Ki Ladki, which performed well at the box office. In July, Madhubala starred in Om Prakash's critically acclaimed crime-comedy film Gateway of India. The film was popular with audience on its release, and the critic Deepa Gahlot cited her comedic performance as one of her finest to date. A week after the film's release, Madhubala attended the film's premiere held by Prakash, along with Meena Kumari and Amrohi. She afterwards played a chronically ill woman in Ek Saal (1957), which emerged as a major financial success. In November 1957, The Illustrated Weekly of India reported that Madhubala is "more preoccupied than ever", working on seven productions simultaneously. "I want to be very busy now", she told the magazine. During the same time, Madhubala befriended her frequent co-star Kishore Kumar. They would eventually marry after a two year courtship and Kishore's divorce from his first wife.
Meanwhile, Madhubala also devoted a considerable time and energy in the production of Mughal-e-Azam, which was almost nearing completion. The lavishly made historical epic had proved taxing for the actress: at various occasions she was required to be painted completely in white colour, run widespread distances, extinguish candles with palm, bear painful makeup sessions and rehearse physically draining dance numbers for several months. Asif, unaware of her poor health and heart disease, consistently demanded dozens of retakes and barely paid attention to the hostility between Madhubala and Dilip Kumar. Undeterred by her problems, Madhubala starved herself for days to provide authenticity to the prison scenes where her character Anarkali is chained and imprisoned. The scene, which saw her wearing real iron chains double of her weight left enduring abrasions on her skin and further compromised on her health. Despite repeated medical warnings, Madhubala took on further work—1958 saw six of her films being released.
Four of these six films—Kala Pani, Howrah Bridge, Phagun and Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi—ranked among the highest-grossing films of the year and confirmed her status as a top star. In Raj Khosla's Kala Pani, Madhubala appeared an intrepid press reporter who helps her boyfriend (Anand) in investigating a fiften year-old murder. Her role, although small received positive reviews from critics. Equally praised was her performance as an Anglo-Indian cabaret dancer in Howrah Bridge, which was the first of her three collaborations with director Shakti Samanta. The film saw Madhubala wearing modern dresses, smoking and seducing men, quite shocking for the contemporary audiences. Filmfare described it as "a performance par excellence" and compared her dancing mannerisms to those of Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner.
In December 1958, Madhubala starred opposite her offscreen boyfriend Kishore Kumar in Satyen Bose's Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, a "rare full-length comedy" which was one of the most commercially successful films of the era. She played a wealthy city woman whose love affair with Kishore's character poses a threat to his elder brothers' vow of bachelorhood. Columnist Rinki Roy stated that Madhubala's role is her "top favourite", while K. B. Goel of Thought declared her "the sex idol of Indian screen". The film has been since considered one of the best comedies ever made in Bollywood.
In 1959, Madhubala had three releases: Insan Jaag Utha, Kal Hamara Hai and Do Ustad. Insan Jaag Utha, her second collaboration with Samanta, was shot in Andhra Pradesh; this was the last of the two times Madhubala ever worked outside Bombay. The film was popular with audience and she was described in the reviews as its "backbone". S. K. Prabhakar's Kal Hamara Hai was the only time Madhubala performed dual roles in her career; Goel said that she provided "a sensuality rare in Indian films" and left a lasting impact in both of her roles. Tara Harish's Do Ustad, her final release of the year emerged as one of the biggest box-office successes of the year. Madhubala also completed Mughal-e-Azam in mid-1959. With a budget of ₹15 million, the film was the most expensive Indian film made up to that point. She was paid about ₹3 lakhs for her seven year work. Filmfare commented that September, "Madhubala's great asset and own good fortune is her youth [...] Success has not made her the less devoted to her art. She remains that all too rare phenomenon, the artist who worships her muse with passion to the exclusion of all else."
Madhubala began the new decade with her own production's Mehlon Ke Khwab (1960), which proved a commercial failure. Mughal-e-Azam was released in August and proved a record-breaking success, eventually emerging as the highest-earning Indian film ever. Madhubala's performance as Anarkali was widely considered the film's prime assest by critics and earned her a Best Actress nomination at the 8th Filmfare Awards. She had won the majority of votes for the award, but unexpectedly lost it to Bina Rai, who won it for her work in Ghunghat (1960). Nevertheless, The Indian Express termed her portrayal "superb", and Dinesh Raheja of Rediff.com, in a retrospective review from 2003, stated that "the show belongs to Madhubala. Always beautiful, she has never looked this luminous. She appears hopelessly in love [and] effectively conveys the innate strength that stems from her conviction in her love." In 2010, Filmfare included her performance in its list of Bollywood's "80 Iconic Performances". Mughal-e-Azam also has been considered one of the greatest films ever made in polls by British Film Institute and CNN-IBN. The film's enduring popularity has been often linked to Madhubala's portrayal of Anarkali.
On 16 October 1960, Madhubala had a court marriage with Kishore Kumar.[c] According to Leena Chandavarkar (Kishore's fourth wife): "When [Madhubala] realized Dilip was not going to marry her, on the rebound and just to prove to him that she could get whomsoever she wanted, she went and married a man [Kishore] she did not even know properly." Madhubala and Kishore were considered mismatch due to their contrasting personalities, as echoed in Nadira's disbelief: "From the sublime to the ridiculous! Oh my God! Madhu what are you doing?". Karanjia assumed that "Madhubala may have felt that perhaps this was her best chance [but] it was a most unlikely union, and not a happy one either."
After holding a small reception, Madhubala and Kishore, along with her doctor Rustom Jal Vakil traveled to London, combining their honeymoon with the specialised treatment of her heart disease. Doctors in London however feared that she might die during the surgery and advised her to avoid stress and anxiety, and learn the art of relaxation. Madhubala was dissuaded from having any children and given a life expectancy of two years. She returned to Bombay along with her husband some days later, and soon shifted from her house to Kishore's Seskaria cottage in Bandra.
The Madhubala-Kishore Kumar union proved troubled from the start. Kishore's parents strongly disliked her for breaking his first marriage and refused to accept Madhubala as their daughter-in-law. To please the elders, Madhubala and Kishore unsuccessfully went through another wedding ceremony, this time according to Hindu rituals. She frequently quarreled with him and her health condition also declined rapidly. Ashok Kumar, who became her brother-in-law after marriage reminisced in an interview: "She suffered a lot and her illness made her very bad-tempered. She often fought with Kishore and would take off to her father's house where she spent most of her time."
In late 1960, Madhubala shifted to Kishore's newly-bought flat at Quarter Deck in Bandra. They would spend some months in the flat. Owing to her fluctuating health conditions, Madhubala reduced the number of the films in which she was signed as the leading lady. She could have landed further author-backed roles following her success in Mughal-e-Azam and disappointingly told her sister, "When I began to understand a little of my work, the Lord above decreed–enough!"
In the meantime, two of Madhubala's already finished films were released: Samanta's Jaali Note and P. L. Santoshi's Barsaat Ki Raat (both 1960). The latter emerged as one of the most successful films starring her. Her dramatic performance as a young girl who elopes with her poor boyfriend met with critical praise. The film became the second highest-grossing film of 1960 (after Mughal-e-Azam), prompting Box Office India to place her at the first place in its annual list of "Top Actress". Her success continued in 1961 with three more commercially successful releases: Jhumroo, Boy Friend and Passport, though these films were completed using body doubles. In the following year, she played a stage actress in Half Ticket (1962), which was her final collaboration with her husband Kishore Kumar. The film was a critical and commercial success and has been described by The Indian Express as one of the finest Bollywood comedies ever.
In the months heading into 1961, Kishore left Madhubala alone at the Quarter Deck flat with a nurse and a driver. According to her sister Madhur Bhushan, Kishore visited Madhubala occasionally possibly to "detach himself from her so that the final separation wouldn't hurt." He bore all her medical expenses but Madhubala felt abandoned and returned to her own bungalow, the Arabian Villa in less than a month of her marriage.
Health deterioration and sporadic work (1963–69)Edit
In mid-1960, Ataullah Khan had begun working on his directorial debut, Pathan, starring Prem Nath and Mumtaz. Madhubala, who was its producer, was slated to play the lead role but was replaced by Mumtaz after she fell sick. Pathan was unsuccessful on its release in 1962, causing Madhubala's production house suffer major losses. To recover money, Khan began gambling heavily and sold all the cars owned by Madhubala without her knowledge. When she briefly returned to the industry to complete Raj Rishi's unfinished Sharabi, which required only a little spell of shoot, Madhubala had to make use of buses for traveling to the studio. Her co-star Dev Anand recalled the shooting days: "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." Sharabi, which premiered in January 1964, became Madhubala's last release in her lifetime.
Madhubala underwent exchange transfusion every week in these years. Due to her ailment, her body produced extra blood which would often spill out from her nose and mouth. Blood would bypass her lungs leading to hypoxia and giving her a blue discoloration. Her body thus produced more red blood cells making the blood too thick. Hence, Vakil had to extract the excess blood to prevent complications. An oxygen cylinder had to kept by her side as she often felt breathless. To alleviate her insomnia, she once used hypnotic on Ashok's suggestion, but it further exacerbated her problems.
In June 1966, Madhubala seemed to have partly recovered and decided to return to screen again with J. K. Nanda's Chalaak, which laid unfinished since nine years. Arriving on the set on June 28, she enthusiastically told her co-star Raj Kapoor, "I have come back and won't go without completing this film." Her comeback was welcomed by the media, but Madhubala immediately fainted as the shoot began. The film was never completed. She was subsequently hospitalized in the Breach Candy Hospital, where she met her former boyfriend Dilip Kumar and returned home after being discharged.
A bedridden Madhubala lost a lot of weight in late 1960s and would spend her time reading Urdu poetry and watching her films (particularly Mughal-e-Azam) on a home projector. Kishore hardly visited her in these years and disregarded her sickness. Bhushan says: "All this turmoil, her break-up, her marriage, the fact that she could never be a proper wife, could never be a mother, only got her worse. She was so weak and thin, that even we at home couldn't believe it. If you saw her, I swear you would say, "You resemble someone I've seen," she was that bad. Even her work had been robbed off her." After the Chalaak incident, Madhubala turned her attention to film direction. In February 1969, she started preparing for her directorial debut, titled Farz aur Ishq, which was to be produced under her own production house.
Death and aftermathEdit
In her final months, Madhubala resided on the first floor of Arabian Villa. She contracted jaundice on her thirty-sixth birthday (14 February 1969) and on medical checkup, it was found that there was blood in her urine. Though none of her family members behaved in a peculiar way, she was somehow convinced that her death is imminent. On 22 February, Madhubala telephoned her former director Shakti Samanta and pleaded him to visit her. According to Samanta's account, Madhubala, although visibly sick, had decked up her face with heavy make-up. When he asked her the reason, she tried expaining, "Da [Samanta], you have seen me in my full glory. Now I don't want...", but choked before completing her answer.
When retiring to bed on 22 February, Madhubala complained of chest discomfort, and in the midnight let out a shrill cry. Doctors immediately arrived and explained that she has suffered a heart attack and that it would be hard for her to be able to survive till the morning. Kishore Kumar was informed soon but he was uncooperative and did not pay heed to his wife's deteriorating health. He had a show in Kolkata the next morning and feared being late. A despaired Khan told his son-in-law, "You'll never see her again." She struggled for few hours and died at 7:30 a.m. of 23 February.
Madhubala's parents, who were sitting nearby, fainted when her dead body was being taken away for funeral. Madhubala was buried at Juhu Muslim Cemetery in Santacruz, Mumbai. Her tomb was built with marbles and inscriptions include aayats from Quran and verse dedications. Madhubala's unexpected death was widely reported in the Indian press. The Indian Express called her "the most sought-after actress" of her times, while Filmfare described her as "a Cinderella whose clock had struck twelve too soon". Gulshan Ewing wrote in a personal farewell titled "The Passing of Anarkali":
Madhubala! What images were conjured up by the very name. They called her Beauty Queen and in the fifties her lovely face dominated the Indian scene—from hoardings, posters, publicity stills and of course thousands of cinema screens all over the country. [...] She loved life, she loved the world and she was often shocked to find that the world did not always love her back. [...] Devout, philosophical, devoted to her family, Madhubala was an incongruity: a siren's face on an angelic personality. To her, all life was love, all love was life. That was Madhubala—loveliest of the shining stars.
Image and receptionEdit
There was something startlingly different about her from the other stars, as if she carried an aura about her.
In May 1953, The Women's Trend made a satirical remark that Madhubala "shuns publicity but has actually made news more often than any other star." In their book Self-Portrait, Harish Booch and Karing Doyle observed, "Unlike other stars, Madhubala prefers a veiled secrecy around her and is seldom seen in social gatherings or public functions." For much of her career, Madhubala avoided parties and functions and did not grant much interviews on her father's behest, leading to her being labeled recluse and arrogant, as echoed in her regular photographer Ram Aurangbadakar's statement that she "lacked warmth [...] and was very detached." However, according to Gulshan Ewing, "she was none of these." Nadira stated: "She had not a strain of pettiness, of anything small. That girl did not know anything about hate. She was in love with love exuberantly, overflowing with love. She had so much to give." Nimmi said in this regard that Madhubala's absence in public places "kept her so remote that not just the public, even we in the film industry were in awe of her. Her father's restrictions had created a certain aura around her." Madhubala herself saw the social scene as superficial, clarifying, "I don't want to attend the kind of functions where only the current favourites are invited and where a decade or two hence I would not be invited." Khan's dislike of the social scene too was genuine; in 1958, he even wrote an apology letter to then-Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, for not permitting Madhubala to attend Nehru's private function where she was invited. In the same year, by which she had been a leading star for a decade, Filmfare put her on its cover, asking: "Who, and what, this young woman?"
According to Ashok Kumar, Madhubala had "a clean character" and "no bad habits". Dev Anand, in 1958, defined her as "[o]ne of the most graceful leading ladies of the Indian screen, self-assured, cultured, very independent in her thinking and particular about her way of life and her position in the film industry." Regarding Madhubala's fame, Dilip Kumar commented, "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." Madhur Bhushan similarly recalls that Madhubala "became a craze because she was never seen in public", while Sangdil co-star Shammi called her "a talked-about star": "One used to hear so many stories about her." In a majority of her films, Madhubala was given top-billing over the film's lead actor that reflected her popularity with audiences.
Throughout her career as a leading lady, notably during the era of mass communication, Madhubala also featured in several international magazines, often garnering attention for her widespread popularity. She was, in 1952, depicted in Theatre Arts' August issue as "The Biggest Star in the World—and she's not in the Beverley Hills", which described her as a "a mysterious and ethereal woman of mystical beauty with legions of fans". Penned by American writer David Cort, the article estimated her Indian and Pakistani fanbase alone to be equal to the population of the contemporary United States and western Europe combined. Beyond India, according to the report, Madhubala had a large overseas following in countries including Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and East Africa. The Indian Express similarly writes that "Greece fell in love with Madhubala" during the 1950s. One of her fans from the country, Stelios Kazantzidis, dedicated a song titled "Mandoubala" to the actress.
Physical attractiveness and screen personaEdit
Madhubala's beauty and sexual appeal were widely acknowledged. "She was ecstatically, exasperatingly beautiful", according to Nadira. Begum Para said: "You saw Madhubala's face and your day was made. She was a dream really." Cinematographer J. K. Thakker remarked, "You could photograph her from any angle without make-up and still come away with a masterpiece. She was a cameraman's delight." In a 2011 interview, Rail Ka Dibba co-star Shammi Kapoor confessed of having forgotten his dialogue in his first scene with Madhubala: "I could not take my eyes off her [and] could not resist falling madly in love with her. No one can blame me for it. Even today, after meeting so many women and having had relationships with God knows how many, I can swear that I have never seen a more beautiful woman. Add to that her sharp intellect, maturity, poise and sensitivity. She was awesome." His brother, Shashi, said, "The sexiest woman I have ever seen was Madhubala. I saw Mughal-e-Azam... and it's a fatal attraction. Her eyes speak volumes." Madhubala, however, stated in an interview, "To be beautiful means a lot to me, but not everything. Happiness comes first."
Further reinforcing Madhubala's image as a beauty and sex symbol were her numerous rumoured dalliances with her co-workers. Although she was reticent about being sexualised, she eventually acquired the image due to her perceived attractiveness and onscreen appearances. Her screen persona consequently focused on her breathy voice, beauty, and suggestive mannerisms, that marked her in a sharp contrast to other contemporary actresses, such as Nargis and Meena Kumari, who usually took roles of suffering women. The characters Madhubala played were, with some exceptions, spirited and intelligent, and often assertive and independent. She was acknowledged in the media for her unconventional roles in films that were considered bold at that time; for example, a cabaret dancer in Howrah Bridge (1958), a headstrong woman in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and a rebellious court dancer in Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Ananlysing her modernity, Cort called Madhubala "a symbol of the advance guard of a revolution." Sriti Jha of Hindustan Times retrospectively stated that Madhubala's characters "represented the modern Indian woman in newly independent India, maintaining a balance between personal freedom and traditional norms."
Clothing also played a major part in the development of Madhubala's screen persona. She mostly appeared onscreen in modern dresses—such as pants, shirts, trousers and off-shoulder gowns—and often wore traditional dresses, for example, sari, in a suggestive way. Her unconventional, wavy hair style, known as "the out-of-the-bed look", further accentuated her appeal. Studying the narratives about Madhubala, journalist Nupur Sharma observed that the actress "lived a far more liberal lifestyle than most Indian women with romance itself being an act of subversion." However, while Madhubala's beauty and progressive screen persona made her an iconic figure of India cinema, it also later on proved an impediment when she wanted to pursue more dramatic and serious roles in the future.
In a career spanning over two decades, Madhubala acted in almost every genre, ranging from romantic musicals to slapstick comedies, and susepnse thrillers to historical epics. Following the success of Mr. & Mrs. '55 (1955), she was especially noted for her comic talent and received similar roles in future, where she starred in a some more comedies: Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Mehlon Ke Khwab (1960), Jhumroo (1961) and Half Ticket (1962), all opposite her husband Kishore Kumar. Madhubala's performances as "elusive" femme fatales in Mahal (1949) and Howrah Bridge (1958) also proved popular with audience, particularly male, and were followed by her most acclaimed portrayal of Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Among the songs she performed onscreen, "Aayega Aanewala" from Mahal (1949) had a major impact on audiences; its popularity prompted Madhubala to add in her contracts that Lata Mangeshkar will be her playback voice in all of her films. Later, Madhubala formed a successful star-singer pair with Mangeshkar's sister, Asha Bhonsle, as well. Javed Akhtar says, "Perhaps it was Madhubala's naughty smile, her coquettish behaviour, it used to go very well with Asha ji's voice. Asha Bhonsle's voice suited Madhubala perfectly." Madhubala's sensual performance of Bhonsle's torch song "Aaiye Meherbaan" (from Howrah Bridge) has been imitated widely. Akbar describes her performance as "seduction without sleaze" and "enticement with a touch of class."
Madhubala was known in the contemporary media as the "queen of charity". Her massive donation of ₹50 thousand for the East Bengal refugees was generally lauded; Morarji Desai wrote in a letter to her, "Papa Ataullah Khan must, indeed, be a proud man to have a daughter like Madhubala, who is not only beautiful and talented but is also so generous and noble hearted." According to a report by Filmindia, Madhubala used to give monthly bonuses to the lower staffs of the studios she worked in "and [go] to work without shouting about it from the roof tops". In 1962, Madhubala had also gifted a camera crane to the Film and Television Institute of India, which is operational till date.
Long after her death, Madhubala's love-life continues to be the subject of wide media and public speculation. Mohan Deep wrote an unofficial biography of Madhubala titled Mystery and Mystique of Madhubala, published in 1996, where he claimed that Kishore regularly whipped Madhubala, who would show her lashes to Naushad. The book was heavily criticized for its unjustified lies on its release by industry veterans such as Shammi Kapoor, Shakti Samanta and Paidi Jairaj.
According to News 18, "the cult of Madhubala is a difficult thing to match up to." In the decades following her death, she has been called one of the greats in the Indian cinematic history, and her reputation has endured. In polls and surveys, she is described as one of the greatest and most beautiful celebrities of all-time.[d] In recent years, Madhubala's legacy has maintained fans of all different ages, both younger and older. She is recognized even by those who are unfamiliar with vintage cinema and has dozens of fan sites dedicated to her on the social media. Numerous articles are printed and television programmes aired regularly to commemorate Madhubala's birthday and modern magazines continue to publish stories on her personal life and career, often promoting her name heavily on the covers to attract sales. Her legacy has extended to fashion also: she has been acknowledged as the creator of many iconic fashion styles, such as wavy hairstyle and strapless dresses, which are widely followed by many celebrities. Actor Manoj Kumar has described her as "the face of the country".
In 1990, Dilip Kumar asserted: "Madhubala's beauty was so overpowering, that in paying homage to it, people have missed out on a lot of her other attributes". Despite her popularity and success, Madhubala never achieved the desired critical recognition in her lifetime. Shammi Kapoor believes that she was "a highly underrated actress in spite of performing consistently well in her films." Mahal co-star Ashok Kumar regarded her the finest actress of all-time alongside Geeta Bali, saying that "these two are on the top, and everyone comes after them. There is none of their calibre yet. [...] Madhubala was a born artiste, a wonderful actress, a wonderful looker."
Madhubala's critical reception has became increasingly positive since her death. M. L. Dhawan of The Tribune stated that she "could communicate more with her delicately raised eyebrows than most performers could with a raised voice" and "she knew the knack of conveying her character's inner-most feelings." Akbar observed that Madhubala's "brand of acting had an underplayed and spontaneous quality. Anyone looking for heavy histrionics and laboured 'acting' missed the point", while poet-writer Priya Sarukkai Chabria commented:
She could balance the most outrageous demands of the roles she played and the absurdist plot contrivances with a natural radiance and humor, her infectious smile mocking the foolishness of it all. With her incandescent beauty, she could illuminate the waxen ambience of the butter-faced heroes she played against, singing a duet, shaking her head so that her kiss curls and her plaits swam in the air, she seemed to say: "All this is so silly but such fun." Embraced by her warm, whacky presence, one agreed.
Tributes and honoursEdit
Digitally-colorized versions of two of Madhubala's films—Mughal-e-Azam (in 2004) and Half Ticket (in 2012)—have been released theatrically. In March 2008, Indian Post issued a commemorative postage stamp featuring Madhubala, that was launched by her surving family members and co-stars; the only other Indian actress that was honoured in this manner was Nargis, at that point of time. In August 2017, the New Delhi center of Madame Tussauds unveiled a statue of Madhubala inspired by her look in Mughal-e-Azam (1960) as a tribute to her. The following year, The New York Times published a belated obituary for Madhubala, comparing her life to that of Marilyn Monroe. On 14 February 2019, her 86th birth anniversary, search engine Google commemorated her with a doodle; Google commented: "While her breathtaking appearance earned comparisons to Venus, Madhubala was a gifted actor with an understated style well suited for comedies, dramas, and romantic roles alike. [...] Appearing in over 70 films over the course of a tragically brief career, Madhubala—who would have turned 86 today—was called "The Biggest Star in the World" in 1952 by Theatre Arts Magazine."
In July 2018, Madhubala's sister Madhur Bhushan, announced that she was planning to make a biopic on her sister. Bhushan wants Kareena Kapoor to play Madhubala, but as of 2018, the project remains in its initial stages. In November 2019, filmmaker Imtiaz Ali was considering a biopic of Madhubala, but later dropped the idea after her family denied permission.
Madhubala featured in 72 films between 1942 and 1964, while Jwala (1971), her seventy-third picture was released posthumously.
- Basant (1942)
- Neel Kamal (1947)
- Mahal (1949)
- Badal (1951)
- Tarana (1951)
- Amar (1954)
- Naata (1955; also producer)
- Mr. & Mrs. '55 (1955)
- Raj Hath (1956)
- Kala Pani (1958)
- Howrah Bridge (1958)
- Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)
- Mehlon Ke Khwab (1960; also producer)
- Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
- Barsaat Ki Raat (1960)
- Jhumroo (1961)
- Half Ticket (1962)
- Sharabi (1964)
- Jwala (1971)
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- According to actress Vidya Sinha, her grandfather Mohan had given Madhubala her professional name.
- According to Madhur Bhushan, Madhubala's younger sister, the media articles that documented Madhubala's early life presented Khan in an overwhelmingly negative light for "forcing" his teenager daughter to work, which irked him and cultivated hatred in his mind for journalists. This was the reason why he banned a majority of journalists from interviewing or even meeting Madhubala.
- According to writer Piyush Roy and Deep, Kishore had converted to Islam and changed his name to "Karim Abdul" to marry Madhubala. However, in Akbar's book, Leena Chandavarkar (Kishore's fourth wife) says that neither Madhubala nor Kishore converted for the marriage.
- In 1990, a poll was conducted by the magazine Movie in which Madhubala polled 58 per cent as the most famous Indian actress ever. She yet again won a similar poll conducted by Outlook in 2008. In Rediff.com's International Women's Day 2007 special, Madhubala was ranked second in its top ten list of "Bollywood's best actresses". In 2012, India Today named her one of the top heroines of Bollywood, and in 2015 Time Out placed her at the first position in the list of The Ten Best Bollywood Actresses. In a UK poll celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema in 2013, Madhubala was at the sixth position among the greatest Indian actresses of all-time. She has also placed in the top ten in polls by NDTV (2012), Rediff.com (2013), CNN-IBN (2013) and Yahoo.com (2020).
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