Madhubala - The Enchantress
- Monday, 24 December 2007 TEHELKA INITIATIVES: Critical Futures |
Posted on December 21, 2007
A film historian reminisces on the icon of timeless beauty that was
Madhubala evokes similar sympathy and yearning as Marilyn Monroe and
Princess Diana do in the West. A true poster girl with undiminished
popularity, she was born in Delhi on 14th February 1933 in a large
lower middle family. She spent her early years in the capital often
participating in radio programmes for children under music director
Named Mumtaz Jahan by her father Ataullah Khan, quite early in her life
Madhubala impressed Rai Bahadur Chunnilal, the general manager of
Bombay Talkies to recommend her to Devika Rani, actress and owner of
the studio. Consequently, her father Ataullah Khan came to Bombay with
her for an audition, where she was selected for her first film,
Basant(1942) as a child artiste which ran for 75 weeks in the
theatres.Paid Rs.150 per month for this film, she played the daughter
of the famous actress Mumtaz Shanti.
Her second film was Ranjit Studios’ Mumtaz Mahal, released in 1944
where she played the role of Jahanara, the daughter of emperor
Shahjahan. Since then she continued working as a child artiste in
various films and eventually her family settled in Mumbai.
It was in Ranjit Studios that Madhubala charmed her way to reach a lead
role in Kedar Sharma’s Neel Kamal (1947) opposite Raj Kapoor. She faced
the camera as a lead actress at the age of thirteen. She also did
several films for filmmaker Mohan Sinha viz. Mere Bhagwan, Lal Dupatta
Seven years after her first screen appearance, she returned to Bombay
Talkies again with Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal (1949). A path-breaking
milestone in hindi cinema, the film not only zoomed the collective
careers of the lead pair Ashok Kumar and Madhubala, director Kamal
Amrohi, music director Khemchand Prakash, it also gave playback singer
Lata Mangeshkar her first chartbuster Aayega aane wala….
Post Mahal, Madhubala became the most desirable actress of the big
screen. She bagged several big offers including films with the reigning
superstars – Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. Her next two films Nirala and
Madhubala released in 1950 were opposite Dev Anand. Tarana opposite
Dilip Kumar followed in 1951.
However, she was diagnosed with septal disorder, commonly known as a
‘hole in the heart’, a cardiac disorder that year which often made her
spit blood on the sets. In spite of her illness she performed
spectacularly in Badal (1951) and Saaqi (1952) opposite Premnath, which
also led to a lot of speculation about their relationship.
Apart from him, Madhbala was romantically linked with Dilip Kumar too
later in her career. Her second film with Dilip Kumar was Sangdil
(1952), followed by Mehboob Khan’s Amar in 1954 added fuel to fire. The
rumours continued till 1957 – when due to a controversy, she was
replaced as the lead actress of B R Chopra’s Naya Daur. The reason
stated was that her father didn’t approve her outdoor schedule for the
fim with Dilip Kumar.
During the making of Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958), she got closer to
Kishore Kumar. In 1960, actor, singer Kishore proposed to her and they
got married. However, his family didn’t accept her and she led a lonely
and disturbed life post-marriage, which was further aggravated by her
failing health. Yet, the year of 1960 immortalized her with the
portrayal of Anarkali in K. Asif’s Mughl-e-Azam, which took almost a
decade to complete.
In the sixties she hardly had any notable releases except Jhumroo
(1961) with her husband and Sharabi (1964) opposite Dev Anand. She
started cutting down on her assignments later in the year due to
familial tensions and failing health. Consequently, she had no releases
since 1964 till her death on 23rd February 1969. Her last assignment –
Jwala opposite Sunil Dutt- was released two years after her death.
SMM Ausaja is a film historian, critic and collector of film-memorabilia