Madhubala Actress Biography
An even bigger success for Madhubala arrived in December 1958 in Satyen Bose’s popular comedy Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, which grossed ₹25 million (US$350,000) at the box office to become one of the biggest money-making pictures of the decade. Her comedic portrayal of an educated and independent woman met with critical praise; writer Rinki Roy called it her her “top favourite”, noting, “Her breezy performance stands out as that rare example of an independent, urban woman. She is no coy, pallu-twisting heroine, who make the majority–but a gutsy, fun loving woman who drives her car, and her man, with equal aplomb.” With four major hits in a single year, Madhubala made a “grand” comeback in Box Office India’s “Top Actress”, finishing at the second position, and Time published in January 1959 that she has established herself as the most successful actress of contemporary Indian cinema.
In early 1954, Madhubala began filming S. S. Vasan’s costume drama Bahut Din Huwe (1954) in Madras, staying at the Connernara Hotel along with her father. Her heart disease was discovered during this time; after two day’s work she unexpectedly took very ill and was medically advised to have only malted milk. The next morning she suddenly brought up blood while in bathroom. Doctors discovered that Madhubala suffered from ventricular septal defect (hole in the heart), due to which her body produced extra blood that spilled out from her nose and mouth, a condition that aggravated in the late 1950s. However, she was determined to complete the film and resumed filming after her doctor’s approval. However, since Madhubala was medically advised not to overwork for some time, she left Meenar (1954) and Bina Rai replaced her.
Apart from Mahal, Madhubala’s other significant releases of 1949 included Anant Thanku’s Paras, A. R. Kardar’s Dulari and J. K. Nanda’s Singaar. The melodramas Paras and Singaar featured Madhubala in supporting roles opposite Kamini Kaushal and Suraiya, respectively. Both the movies were critically and commercially successful, with critics believing that Madhubala overshadowed the lead actresses. The box-office hit Dulari, in which Madhubala had a leading role, affirmed her position as a marketable star.
On 14 February 2019, search engine Google commemorated Madhubala with a Doodle on her 86th birth anniversary. 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.”
She was a woman possessed. Haunted by her own insecurities until the very end. She loved men. And lost them. Latif, Mohan Sinha, Kamal Amrohi, Premnath, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Dilip Kumar, Kishore Kumar.
When Madhubala was a child, she had a friend called Latif. Before leaving for Mumbai, Madhubala gave him a red rose and an indication for their love. After she left, he became depressed. He kept the rose with himself and later became an Indian Administrative Service officer. When Madhubala died, he placed that red rose on her grave. He used to keep a red rose in her grave on 23 February every year until it was demolished. This episode has been independently verified by another retired IAS officer, Manohar Subrahmanyam, who knew the real Latif as a fellow bureaucrat and who confirmed the story as true.
A nine-year old Madhubala, then a child artist often tottered around various studios of Bombay in search of work and made several friends there. Around the same time, another child artist Baby Mahjabeen also visited these studios and was known to Madhubala. This Baby Mahjabeen later on, became one of the most sought after stars and her contemporary – Meena Kumari. Madhubala was a fan of Kumari and said: “She has the most unique voice. No other heroine has it”.
After Kamal Amrohi’s directed film Mahal (1949) became a turning point of Madhubala’s career, they both began a relationship. Her father Ataullah Khan was aware of their relationship but he was in awe with Amrohi’s great personality and said: “Aage chalke in dono ki shaadi ho jaye toh mujhe koi aitraaz nahi hai”. (I have no objection if they both get married in future.) However, Amrohi was already married but still loved and wanted to marry Madhubala who refused to share with Amrohi’s wife. Madhubala didn’t want to share with Amrohi’s second wife, Mehmoodi, and insisted that Amrohi divorce his wife. Amrohi was not willing to do so. He insisted that Madhubala must learn to share and said “Baatne se pyaar badta hai”. (When you share your love, it expands its boundaries) But Madhubala didn’t agree. It was also said that Madhubala put forward an outrageous deal where she offered to pay Amrohi, a sum amount of Rs. 900,000 to marry. However, he refused and they both ended their relationship. Her sister, Madhur Bhushan, refuted all such rumours and said: “Kamal Amrohi was a married man and given our economic conditions how could she, the sole earning member of our family, offer him Rs. 900,000”.
In their 1962 book Self-Portrait, Harish Booch and Karing Doyle commented that “Unlike other stars, Madhubala prefers a veiled secrecy around her and is seldom seen in social gatherings or public functions.” (p. 76), and went on to say that “Contrary to general belief, Madhubala is rather simple and unassuming” (p. 78). This is echoed in her sister’s interview with Filmfare: “(Madhubala) became a craze because she was never seen in public. She wasn’t allowed to attend any function, any premiere. She had no friends. But she never resisted, she was obedient. Being protective, my father earned the reputation of being domineering”. Dilip Kumar added: “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. That was her personal effect on fans. Her personality was vivacious.” But, “She was aware of her beauty,” reminisces B. K. Karanjia, former Filmfare editor and a close friend of both Madhubala and her father, “and because 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.” Dev Anand recalled in a similar way: “She liked to flirt innocently and was great fun.” However, with Dilip Kumar she had a long association.
Madhubala returned to Bombay following the completion of Bahut Din Huwe. The film was released in March 1954 and earned a lot of publicity because Madhubala was present at its premiere, as a token to the kindness Vasan (the film’s director) had shown towards her when she was ill. However, the film received mixed reviews and was unpopular with audience. Mehboob Khan’s physiological drama Amar, which starred Madhubala in a more dramatic role, was next released in September 1954 and proved a commercial failure. The film’s initial critical reception was mediocre, and it has received more favorable reviews in the 21st century: Khalid Mohammed has termed it a classic and “ahead of its time”, and Rachit Gupta of Filmfare has called Madhubala’s portrayal to be one of her finest, writing that she “stole the show. […] Going through the transition of a bubbly girl to a confused lover to a resolute woman, Madhubala was impressive to say the least.” January 1955 saw the release of her own production’s Naata, a romantic drama about the bond of two sisters and the elder one’s attraction towards her village’s new post-master. Receiving mixed-to-negative reviews, Naata became yet another failure for her and she had to mortgage a bungalow belonging to her to recover the losses.
Madhubala’s co-stars Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rehman, Pradeep Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Dev Anand were the most popular actors of that period. She also appeared with notable leading ladies such as Kamini Kaushal, Suraiya, Geeta Bali, Nalini Jaywant, Shyama and Nimmi. The directors she worked with, Mehboob Khan (Amar), Guru Dutt (Mr. & Mrs. ’55), Kamal Amrohi (Mahal) and K. Asif (Mughal-e-Azam), were amongst the most prolific and respected. Madhubala also became a producer and produced films like Naata (1955) and Mehlon Ke Khwab (1960) and acted in both the films. She was a fan of actresses Meena Kumari and Geeta Bali, and admired singers including Noor Jehan, Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar.
Madhubala did playback singing in her early days, when she worked as a child artist. She sang two songs in Basant (1942): Tumko Mubarak Oonche Mahal and Mere Chote Se Man Mein. In 1946, she also recorded a song for Pujari (1946).
Fashioned like a delicate flower, and as fragrant and pretty, Madhubala has behind this facade of disarming helplessness, a reserve of strength and courage and determination that is astounding in one so young and sheltered.
On 10 August 2017, the New Delhi center of Madame Tussauds unveiled a statue of Madhubala inspired by her look in the film Mughal-E-Azam (1960) as a tribute to her.
Although Madhubala didn’t become the first Indian actress in Hollywood, it is said that she was the first Indian woman in Hollywood. In the early 1950s, as Madhubala became popular, she caught the interest of Hollywood when ace photographer James Burke visited India and photographed her for the Life magazine. In their feature of her, Life called her “the biggest star” in the international industry. She was photographed extensively for this feature by photographer James Burke. She appeared in the American magazine Theatre Arts where, in its August 1952 issue, she was featured in an article with a full page photograph under the title: “The Biggest Star in the World – and she’s not in Beverly Hills”. The article described Madhubala’s immense popularity in India, and explored her wide appeal and large fan base. It also speculated on her potential for international success. Academy Award winner American director Frank Capra, while visiting Bombay for International Film Festival of India, was desperate to give her a break in Hollywood, but her father Ataullah Khan declined this offer. According to him, Madhubala was meant to stay in India and act in Hindi films only.
In July 2018, Madhubala’s sister, Madhur Bhushan, announced that she was planning to make a biopic on her sister. She will not be directing the film but has urged other filmmakers not to plan any biopics on the same subject. Bhushan wants Kareena Kapoor Khan to play Madhubala’s role onscreen. However, as of now, the project remains at the initial stages.
Half Ticket is a musical comedy film again starring Madhubala with Kishore Kumar. The film is based on the Hollywood film You’re Never Too Young. The film has hit songs such as “Chand Raat Tum Jo Saath” and “Aake Seedhi Lagi”. Vijay (Kumar) is the good-for-nothing son of a rich industrialist, who becomes bored of his father’s constant railing and the efforts to marry him off. Vijay leaves for Bombay to start life afresh. However, he doesn’t have enough money for a ticket, so he decides to pass himself off as a child in order to get the eponymous half ticket. Now disguised as Munna, Vijay is used as a mule for a diamond smuggler (Pran) without his knowledge. On the train, Vijay also meets Rajnidevi (Madhubala) and falls in love with her. Suhana Geet, directed by Phani Majumdar featured Madhubala with her husband Kishore Kumar and brother-in-law Ashok Kumar. The film never saw the light of the day and remained incomplete. She was replaced by Kalpana Mohan in Shakti Samantha’s Naughty Boy. She was offered several authored and powerful roles in films but had to withdraw from them owing to her poor heart condition.
Urmila Lanba believes that Madhubala’s success saw a resurgence following Devendra Goel’s romance Ek Saal (December 1957), where she played a brain tumor patient unaware of her illness. The film was a major box office success, and Madhubala’s performance opened to a positive reception. Filmi Geek commented: “Madhubala is utterly radiant […] she does play a marvelous ingenue, and she’s simply lovely.” With her career prospects seeing improvements, Madhubala drowned herself into work—she was working simultaneously on seven films then—and became increasingly serious about her career. Dev Anand, with whom she collaborated for sixth time on Kala Pani (1958), noted: ” she not only discusse the story but every shot. She puts life into a scene and helps her co-star do the same. […] She sometimes becomes a fountain of endless laughter… but this Madhuras never interferes with work on the sets. Indeed, it speeds it up.”
Madhubala’s illness was known to Kishore, but like all the others, he did not realise its gravity; Ataullah Khan did not approve of his son-in-law at all, but he had lost the courage to disapprove. Ashok Kumar reminisced in a Filmfare 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.”
Madhubala listed in Box Office India’s “Top Actresses” for three consecutive years (1949–1951) and then again for five consecutive years (1958–1962), topping the list once in 1960. In most of her films, she was given top-billing over the film’s lead actor, which “indicated that she was a more popular star than others”, according to writer Manav Agrawal.
According to The Indian Express, K. B. Lall’s Lal Dupatta (1948) and Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal (1949) established Madhubala as a leading actress of Hindi cinema. In the former, a romantic drama, she portrayed a headstrong village girl whose in-laws discard her after realising that she is someone’s illegitimate child. Opening to mostly positive reviews, Lal Dupatta met with instant success, and Madhubala was singled out for her “new and fascinating screen personality” by critics.
After Mughal-e-Azam, Madhubala appeared in Barsaat Ki Raat. The film also stars Bharat Bhushan and Shyama. It became popular because of its star cast and the qawwalis featured in it. She played the role of Shabnam, a young and beautiful girl who falls in love with a struggling poet (Bharat Bhushan). Barsaat Ki Raat was the second highest-grossing film of 1960, and also made a place in the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time. The film was declared a blockbuster hit by Box Office India.
— Nimmi, contemporary actress
In 1960s, Madhubala was at the peak of her career and popularity with the release of Mughal-e-Azam and Barsaat Ki Raat. She did have intermittent releases in the early 1960s. Some of these, such as Jhumroo (1961), Half Ticket (1962) and Sharabi (1964), performed well at the box office.
Also in late 1946, shortly after she was signed to Neel Kamal, Madhubala was cast in lead role by Mohan Sinha in his romantic musical Mere Bhagwaan; it was released in May 1947 and proved unsuccessful. However, the film is noted for being her first in which she was credited as “Madhubala”, meaning “honey belle”; she would be credited as such in all her future films. In 1947, she also appeared with Raj Kapoor in two more Sinha-directed films–the historical drama Chittor Vijay and the comedy Dil Ki Rani. Writer Urmila Lanba dismisses most of Madhubala’s 1947—48 releases as “forgettable”, adding that she had a poor choice of films in this period.
In 2018 the New York Times published a belated obituary for her.
Madhubala produced three films: Naata (1955), Mehlon Ke Khwab (1960) and Pathan (1962).
With his six remaining daughters to provide for, Khan and Madhubala began to pay frequent visits to film studios throughout Bombay in search of work. Madhubala’s introduction to the movie industry, which would provide financial help to her family, occurred during this time. She was fluent in Urdu and Hindi as well as in her native language, Pashto, but had to take classes to learn how to speak English; she had also learned how to drive by the age of 12.
After starring in the film Basant, Madhubala, as Baby Mumtaz starred in Mumtaz Mahal (1944) and in director Kidar Sharma’s 1945 film Dhanna Bhagat. More films of Baby Mumtaz followed in 1946 such as Pujari, Phoolwari and Rajputani. Phoolwari was the third highest-grossing film of that year and starred Motilal and Khursheed Bano in lead roles. Rajputani was her last film as a child artist.
Credited as “Mumtaz”
Madhubala married Kishore Kumar in 1960. According to Leena Chandavarkar (Kishore’s fourth wife): “When she 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 she did not even know properly.” B. K. Karanjia assumed that “Madhubala may have felt that perhaps this was her best chance” because by this time she became seriously ill, and was about to stop working completely; however, he added that “it was a most unlikely union, and not a happy one either.”
Madhubala met Kishore Kumar during the shooting of Dhake Ki Malmal (1956). In 1960, Madhubala married him when she was 27 years old. When Madhubala was ill in the late 1950s with the congenital heart disease, Kishore Kumar proposed to her and she decided to marry him after realising that Dilip Kumar was not going to marry her. Kishore Kumar’s family never accepted her in their family because Kishore Kumar married Madhubala as per his own wish. The couple had a Hindu ceremony to please Kumar’s family but Madhubala was never truly accepted as his wife. Reportedly, Kishore Kumar converted himself into Islam and changed his legal name to “Karim Abdul” to marry her. However, in an interview given to Filmfare, he said that neither he nor Madhubala ever changed their religion to marry each other. They went to London soon after their marriage for their honeymoon where the doctor told her that she had only two years to live. According to Madhubala’s sister, Madhur Bhushan, after returning India, Kishore Kumar bought a flat for Madhubala at Quarter Deck, Carter’s Road, Bandra, where they stayed for a while and then, he left her there with a nurse and a driver. He would visit Madhubala once in two months and said he couldn’t look after her. But he never abused her as was reported and bore her medical expenses. She added “Often Kishore bhaiya’s phone was disconnected. He’d visit her once in two to three months. He’d say, ‘If I come, you’ll cry and it’ll not be good for your heart. You’ll go into depression. You should rest’. She was young and jealousy was natural. Perhaps, a feeling of being abandoned killed her”. Their marriage lasted for nine years. After Madhubala died in 1969 at the age of 36, Kishore Kumar married actress Yogeeta Bali in 1976.
Madhubala’s health began showing some symptoms of failing in the beginning of 1957; she again vomited blood while shooting for J. K. Nanda’s crime-drama Chalaak, opposite Raj Kapoor. The film was subsequently shelved. Madhubala also faced some health problems while filming for Ek Saal (1957) and Kala Pani (1958). After temporary recovery, she quickly returned to acting. Disappointed by her career graph, she now decided to take up more challenging roles in films produced by respected banners. In early 1957, Madhubala began working on Om Prakash’s Gateway of India, a crime film that revolved around an heiress who runs away from her house to escape her murderous uncle. Drawn to the film due to its women-oriented subject, she partially waived her fees to star in it and also began filming—without the approval of her father. Gateway of India was released in July 1957 to critical and moderate commercial success; Pritish Nandy of The Illustrated Weekly of India cited it to be one of the earliest crime films to prove popular with audience. A week after Gateway of India’s release, Madhubala attended a small function held by Prakash where the movie was screened. Among other invitees were contemporary actress Meena Kumari and Mahal director Kamal Amrohi; it was the only occasion which saw Kumari and her together.
In November 2019, it was reported that filmmaker Imtiaz Ali is planning to make a biopic of Madhubala. However, he dropped the idea of making the biopic after her family denied of making one.
Madhubala’s first film appearance was in Basant (1942). She acted as the daughter to Uma, the character played by actress Mumtaz Shanti and was credited as Baby Mumtaz in the film. Basant became the highest-grossing Indian film of that year.
In her biography, The Mystery and Mystique of Madhubala, freelance journalist and author, Mohan Deep wrote:
Her surviving youngest sister, Madhur Brij Bhushan (birth name Zahira), who was a well known voice actress and wife to voice actor Brij Bhushan, mentioned her sister as quoted, “She was a courageous girl who never gave up on life”.
Commenting on her choice of films, Dilip Kumar regrets that “had she lived, and had she selected her films with more care, she would have been far superior to her contemporaries…” Kumar also points out that “actresses those days faced a lot of difficulties and constraints in their career. Unable to assert themselves too much, they fell back on their families who became their caretakers and defined everything for them.”
In 1946, Madhubala landed her first starring role of Ganga, a princess raised by untouchables in Sharma’s drama Neel Kamal (1947). Initially, the part of adult Ganga was given to actress Kamla Chatterjee, and Madhubala was cast in to play the child version of the character. However, when Chatterjee died midway, Sharma offered the adult role to 14 year-old Madhubala, whom he admired for her spontaneity and hardwork. She later described her performance in the film as one of her favourites from her own repertoire. Though Neel Kamal did not do well at the box office when released in March 1947, but Madhubala was generally lauded for her performance.
Madhubala starred in seven films in 1951. Amiya Chakravarty’s swashbuckler Badal, where she played an archetypal fair lady opposite Prem Nath, was released first. Badal got poor notices from reviewers, and Madhubala’s performance was almost critically panned. Even so, the movie grossed ₹9 million (US$130,000) at the box office to emerge as one of the highest-grossing films of the year. M. Sadiq’s romantic thriller Saiyan (1951), a remake of Duel In The Sun (1946), was released it August. Co-starring Sajjan and Ajit, it saw Madhubala playing a teenager torn between two suitors, “what may well turn out to be her best and biggest role”, according to Sadiq. Saiyan proved a major critical and commercial success, and Madhubala was praised by the international critic Roger Yue of The Singapore Free Press, who commented that she “plays the titular role to perfection.” For Madhubala, the series of commercially well-received pictures continued with the adventure film Khazana (1951) and the romance Nazneen (1951). By October 1951, she was one of the highest-paid actresses in India, commanding ₹80 thousands to 1 lakh per picture.
Madhubala’s strong presence in the public memory has been evidenced by all recent polls about top actresses or beauties of the Indian cinema. Every year, numerous articles are printed and television programmes aired to commemorate her birthday. Madhubala is idolised by several new actresses and her posters are still in demand and sold alongside contemporary actresses such as Meena Kumari,Vyjayanthimala, Nargis, Waheeda Rehman and Nutan. Modern magazines continue to publish stories on her personal life and career, often promoting her name heavily on the covers to attract sales. 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 2008, Madhubala won the poll conducted by Outlook titled “Favourite Female Star of All Times” by 15.97 percent votes. Many believe, however, that Madhubala remains one of the most underrated actresses as “her beauty attracted more attention than her talent.”
In 2012, her 1962 release Half Ticket was also remastered, digitally coloured and re-released after 50 years of its original release.
With worldwide earnings of ₹17 million (US$240,000) at the box office, Mr. & Mrs. ’55 became one of the biggest commercial successes of the year. According to Abrar Alvi, the film’s writer, Madhubala’s “timing was perfect. She knew exactly how to get a reaction from audience and how long to hold that reaction.” Her performance met with critical praise also; Sameera Sood of The Print said, “Madhubala as Anita is in full high-pitched form, giggly and chirpy and sulky like a schoolgirl. This might have been grating on anyone else but she manages to make it cute, and is the perfect foil for Guru Dutt’s laconic charm, his raised eyebrow and his tortured smile.”
Jhumroo is a romantic comedy film starring Madhubala and Kishore Kumar. The film is about Jhumroo, a tribal, who falls in love with Anjana, a wealthy woman whose father disapproves of the match. It turns out that Jhumroo’s foster mother is Anjana’s real mother, and her real father is her father’s best friend. Her other releases of 1961 were Passport with Pradeep Kumar and Boy Friend with Shammi Kapoor. Both of the films were average performers at box office. Boy Friend was a remake of Kismet (1943).
Despite her lack of box office success, Madhubala remained in great demand and also retained her position as the highest-paid actress in India, now earning 2 lakhs per movie. In order to improve her skills as an artiste, she began attending signing and dancing classes regularly, and also learnt English, which she was unable to do in her childhood. According to a Filmfare reporter who interviewed Madhubala in 1954, she now “uses idiom and expression as a facility that speaks volumes of her talent and determination”. This interview, one of the fewest she granted in her two decade long career, focused on her childhood struggles, stardom, busy shooting schedules and public image, with the title “Filmland’s loveliest star”.
Dilip Kumar and Madhubala first met on the set of Jwar Bhata when she was 11 years of age, and worked together again on the film Har Singaar (1949), which was shelved. Their relationship began two years later during the filming of Tarana (1951). But she had to give the courtship with Dilip due to her father’s opposition to him. They became a romantic pair appearing in a total of four films together. Actor Shammi Kapoor recalled that during the shooting of Naqab (1955), “Dilip Kumar would drive down from Bombay to meet Madhubala… he even flew to Bombay to spend Eid with her, taking time off from his shooting stint…” But, Madhubala’s father Ataullah Khan initially did not give them permission to marry. Dilip Kumar said: “She was a very, very obedient daughter”, and who, in spite of the success, fame and wealth, submitted to the domination of her father and more often than not paid for his mistakes. “This inability to leave her family was her greatest drawback”, believed Shammi Kapoor, “for it had to be done at some time.”
Madhubala began the new decade with her own production’s Mehlon Ke Khwab (1960), a comedy in which she played an aspiring actress who teams up with her friend to find rich husbands. It was not any great success, but Madhubala called it one of her favourites from her own repertoire.
In April 1959, Madhubala finished the filming of Insan Jaag Utha and Kal Hamara Hai; both social dramas that were popular with audience on their theatrical release. Samanta’s Insan Jaag Utha, where she played a village laborer opposite Sunil Dutt, was released in mid-April and had a positive reception: Manjeet Singh of Thought said that she acted naturally shedding her glamorous personality, and Filmfare mentioned the role among her best in 2016. S. K. Prabhakar’s Kal Hamara Hai is often counted among the most memorable performances by Madhubala as she played a dual role in it: one of a “misguided” club dancer and other of a homely woman. Although the film got lackluster reviews, Madhubala was praised; K. B. Goel of Thought wrote that she left a lasting impact in both the roles, providing “a sensuality rare in Indian films” as the dancer. Madhubala’s greatest box office success of 1959 was her third and final release of that year—Do Ustad—a crime film with “a dash of comedy”, where critics believed that she overshadowed her co-stars Sheikh Mukhtar and Raj Kapoor. By July 1959, she was the highest-paid actress in India, earning ₹2.5 lakh per film.
Madhubala (born Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi; 14 February 1933 – 23 February 1969) was an Indian actress and producer who worked in Hindi films. One of the most popular and the highest-paid actress during the 1950s and early 1960s, she appeared in 73 Bollywood films in a career spanning over two decades. In the media, she is referred to as one of the most beautiful, greatest and influential personalities of Indian cinema.
The reincarnation thriller Mahal is often credited for transforming Madhubala into a superstar as well as establishing her image as a beauty and sex symbol. In it, she played a femme fatale who leads her lover, played by Ashok Kumar, to death. Though the role was intended for singer-actress Suraiya, but Madhubala was steadily eclipsing her as a star and Amrohi ultimately chose Madhubala after two screen-tests. When Mahal was released in October 1949, it earned a fair amount of criticism for its perceived disparagement of rebirth and Hindu spiritual themes. Even so, it was an immensely popular release, finishing as the year’s biggest financial success with a then-massive gross of ₹14.5 million (US$200,000). With the success of Mahal, Madhubala entered Box Office India’s “Top Actress”, which listed three most successful actresses of every year since 1940.
I am not a spendthrift for the simple reason that I do not know what to spend money on. I do not have a passion for jewellery and clothes. I do not travel. I do not go out much. By God’s grace I have all necessities of life and I am happy.
Dilip Kumar and Madhubala met each other on the sets of Tarana (1951) which starred them in lead roles. Her father stood between her and Kumar as he was worried because if Madhubala married Dilip Kumar, he would lose the financial cushion that Madhubala had offered to her entire family as she was the sole breadwinner. Ataullah Khan was against the relationship as Madhubala had just started her career and earning huge amount of money for her roles. It has been said that Dilip Kumar insisted that if they were to marry, Madhubala would have to sever all ties with her family. The authenticity of this statement is questionable. Ataullah Khan allowed his daughter to interact with Dilip Kumar only on the sets. Both Kumar and Madhubala had to keep extreme care to their rendezvous hidden from the watchful eyes of Ataullah Khan. Kumar had felt it like a huge imposition.
Despite the fact that Madhubala eventually became an iconic actress of Hindi cinema, she had never received any awards, unlike her contemporaries Meena Kumari, Vyjayanthimala, Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Suraiya and Nargis.
Most of her other films released during this time were marred by her absence due to illness during filming and subsequent lack of completion. These films 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 released until 1971. It was released two years after her death.
Madhubala was born Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi to Ataullah Khan and Ayesha Begum on 14 February 1933 in Delhi, British India. The fifth of eleven children, only four of her siblings survived to adulthood.
Born: Mumtaz Jehan Dehlavi(1933-02-14)14 February 1933Delhi, British India (present-day India)
Died: 23 February 1969(1969-02-23) (aged 36)Bombay, Maharashtra, India (present-day Mumbai)
Cause of death: Ventricular septal defect
Resting place: Juhu Muslim Cemetery, Santa Cruz, Mumbai
British Indian (1933–1947)
However, Madhubala’s love-life continued to be the subject of media speculation. Mohan Deep wrote an unofficial biography of Madhubala titled Mystery and Mystique of Madhubala, published in 1996, where he claims that Kishore Kumar regularly whipped Madhubala, who would show her lashes to Shakti Samanta. He also claimed that the versions about Madhubala’s sickness and death provided by her family members did not match with those provided by Kishore Kumar’s family members. Mohan Deep also questions whether Madhubala was really ill or whether her ailing was a fiction and the fact that Madhubala was forced to wear heavy shackles and whipped mercilessly in real life in the secret version of Mughal-e-Azam is proved by the fact that only a minor part of the total number of reels shot were released for public. However, the secret version of the film earned Kishore Kumar a lot of moolah that he earned forcing Madhubala to work as a sex slave in the secret version of the movie. The book was heavily criticized on its release by industry veterans such as Shammi Kapoor, Shakti Samanta and Paidi Jairaj.
Her funeral was attended by many film personalities including her husband Kishore Kumar, brother-in-law Ashok Kumar, Prem Nath, Kamal Amrohi, Sunil Dutt, K.N. Singh, Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and Nasir Khan. Nargis helped prepare her body for the funeral. Her father, Ataullah Khan, passed away in 1975, six years after his daughter.
Madhubala had a ventricular septal defect (a hole in her heart) which was detected while she was shooting for Bahut Din Huwe in Madras in 1954. This was in the era before open heart surgeries were possible. The natural history of an unrepaired ventricular septal defect leads to pulmonary hypertension and Eisenmenger’s syndrome. At this stage the hole cannot be repaired. Hence, she could never undergo a heart surgery later in life, when open heart surgeries were possible in some Western countries like the United States. By 1960, her condition had become aggravated, and as her sister Madhur Bhushan explains that due to her ailment, her body would produce extra blood, so it would spill out from her nose and mouth. The doctor would come home and extract bottles of blood. As a result of the ventricular septal defect, blood would bypass her lungs leading to low oxygen levels and giving her a blue discoloration. As a compensatory mechanism, the body produced more red blood cells making the blood too thick. Hence, the doctors had to extract the excess blood to prevent complications. She was confined to bed for nine years and was reduced to just bones and skin. Unfortunately, there was no surgery or medicine available at that time to treat her.
Madhubala was known as a trendsetter and creator of iconic fashion styles, followed by many celebrities, even after her death.
During the 1950s, Madhubala took starring roles in almost every genre of film being made at that 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. Badal (1951) starred Madhubala and Premnath in lead roles. The film has the popular song “Do Din Ke Liye” sung by Lata Mangeshkar. It was a box-office hit. She was the archetypal fair lady in the swashbuckler Badal, and following this, an uninhibited village beauty in Tarana (1951). Tarana was the first film that started Dilip Kumar and Madhubala together. The duet “Seene Mein Sulagte Hain Armaan” became popular and was sung by Talat Mehmood and Lata Mangeshkar for Dilip Kumar and Madhubala respectively.
In the same month, Madhubala achieved further success with Tarana (1951), a romantic comedy in which she enacted the titular role of an uninhibited village beauty, whose romance with a visiting doctor (Dilip Kumar) overcomes many hurdles and obstacles. During the filming, Madhubala had an affair with her co-star Dilip Kumar, which was widely reported by the press and used in the film’s publicity campaign. The strategy worked, for Tarana emerged as an outstanding success on its release and got a positive feedback from critics; Baburao Patel observed: “It is difficult to separate the performances of Madhubala and Dilip. Both have almost lived their roles. […] Incidentally, Madhubala gives the best performance of her screen career in this picture. She seems to have discovered her soul at last in Dilip Kumar’s company.”
Mughal-e-Azam became the highest-grossing Indian film of all-time on its release, grossing an unprecedented ₹110 million (US$1.5 million) at the box office. According to Hindustan Times, “the way looked, each and everything became a rage”; her dance on “Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya” drew in repeat audience, who would clap and scream when she would appear on the screen. Critically also, Madhubala’s performance was acclaimed; The Indian Express wrote extensively about it, focusing on her acting and dancing “gifts” and calling her “a natural actress”. A retrospective review on Rediff.com by Dinesh Raheja in 2004 said that “the show belongs to Madhubala. Always beautiful, she has never looked this luminous. She appears hopelessly in love, but more important, effectively conveys the innate strength that stems from her conviction in her love.” Her performance is often included in listings of Indian cinema’s finest, so is Mughal-e-Azam, which has found place in the 2002 British Film Institute poll of Top 10 Indian Films, and Anupama Chopra’s 2009 list The Best Bollywood Films. It is also included in CNN-IBN’s 2013 list of the “100 greatest Indian films of all time”. Although Madhubala unexpectedly lost the Filmfare Award for Best Actress in 1961 to Bina Rai, but Filmfare later added Madhubala’s work in Mughal-e-Azam at eleventh position in their list of “80 Iconic Performances” in 2010. The film’s enduring popularity is often linked to Madhubala’s portrayal of Anarkali.
August saw the release of Mughal-e-Azam (1960), a historical epic set in 16th century, in which she played Anarkali, a doomed courtesan who was entombed alive at the behest of Mughal emperor Akbar (played by Prithviraj Kapoor). According to Dilip Kumar, who played her love interest prince Salim, this film “immortalized the Madhubala visage.” Mughal-e-Azam’s production–known for lavish sets, constant delays for about ten years, costly costumes, extravagance and her highly-publicised affair with Dilip Kumar–became one of the most famous and talked-about ever. Filming with Dilip and Kapoor began in 1950, but Madhubala was not put on the board before December 1952, after Nargis, Suraiya, Nutan and Shehnaz (a stage actress) refused the film, and over 250 girls were rejected by director K. Asif. Madhubala was paid about ₹5 lakh for playing Anarkali, which made her the highest-paid entertainer in India by a wide margin.
— Kidar Sharma on casting Madhubala as lead in Neel Kamal
Her father, Ataullah Khan, belonged to the Yusufzai tribe of Pashtuns and lived with his family in the Peshawar Valley, now located in Pakistan. After losing his job with the Imperial Tobacco Company in Peshawar, he relocated the family to Delhi and then to Bombay. The 1944 Bombay explosion wiped out their small home; the family had survived only because they had gone to see a film at a local theatre.
In 1950, Madhubala had donated ₹50,000 for refugees of East Bengal.
Madhubala began her career playing juvenile roles in the early 1940s, first of which was in Basant (1942). At the age of 14, she switched to lead roles with 1947 drama film Neel Kamal. Her rise to prominence came after starring in the thriller Mahal (1949), following which she became one of the most bankable Bollywood stars of the subsequent decade. In 1952, Madhubala received offers from Hollywood but her father refused. The same year, she appeared in the Theatre Arts Magazine where, in its August 1952 issue, she was featured in an article with a full page photograph under the title: “The Biggest Star in the World – and she’s not in Beverly Hills”.
Madhubala’s life and career was cut short when she died in 1969 from a prolonged illness at the age of 36. Her beauty and comparison with Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe eventually earned her the titles “The Venus of Indian Cinema” and “Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood”.
The difficult production of Mughal-e-Azam is now considered “a gigantic affair”. In her introduction scene from the movie, Madhubala was made stand as a statue, painted from head-to-toe in white, which made it hard for her to breathe. As filming progressed, she was rigorously trained by choreographer Lacchu Maharaj for nearly 3 years for her first dance sequence “Mohe Panghat Pe”. To give an accurate portrayal of Anarkali, Madhubala learnt the mannerisms of courtesans and also performed a complicated traditional dance on the song “Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya”. While her doctors repeatedly forbade her from dancing or doing physically draining tasks, Madhubala was determined to complete the film; there would be buckets of water flung on her body, running across huge sets, extinguishing candles with palm and authentic iron chains double of her weight placed on her body. Further trouble for Madhubala arrived with her ultimate break-up with Dilip in 1956; she was required to do several romantic scenes with him when they had even stopped greeting each other due to differences. Mughal-e-Azam was finished in late 1959, and Madhubala was completely bedridden at the time it was released, nursing the skin abrasions she endured while shooting the prison scenes. The film’s final cost was ₹15 million (US$210,000), making it the most expensive Indian film made up to that point.
Apart from appearing in several commercially successful films, Madhubala also went on to earn critical praise for her portrayal of a social worker in Amar (1954), a modern miss in Mr. & Mrs. ’55 (1955), a cabaret dancer in Howrah Bridge (1958) and two sisters with constrasting personalities in Kal Hamara Hai (1959). Her highest-grossing releases came with the comedy Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), the romantic musical Barsaat Ki Raat and the magnum opus Mughal-e-Azam (both in 1960). Her performance in Mughal-e-Azam as the ill-fated courtesan Anarkali was widely acclaimed by critics, who labelled it as the finest given by her; and earned her her only nomination for Filmfare Award for Best Actress. In the early 1960s, Madhubala continued starring in commercial successes such as Jhumroo (1961), Passport (1961) and Half Ticket (1962), but her work in this decade was limited to five releases only. Her last completed film was the posthumously released Jwala (1971).
In 1953, both of Madhubala’s releases—Armaan and Rail Ka Dibba—failed critically and commercially. In April of the year, the actress became a producer for a production company called Madhubala Private Ltd., and began preparing for her first production venture called Naata, where she would act alongside her younger sister, Chanchal. The reason behind making a picture for herself was her wish to display more of her acting range; she was discontent with the response she had received from critics in past. Reportedly, Madhubala had also tried securing the author-backed part of heroine in Bimal Roy’s drama Biraj Bahu (1954), which instead went to Kamini Kaushal, as Roy doubted Madhubala’s acting abilities; he was also facing some financial constraints and found himself unable to cast her for his film. Madhubala later lamented the fact the she would have acted in the film for a single rupee if Roy had asked to do so.
Madhubala received her only nomination for a Filmfare Award for Best Actress in 1961 for her performance in Mughal-e-Azam.
Dilip Kumar later revealed that her father eventually gave them permission to marry and was “glad to have two stars under the same roof.” However, her father, who owned his own production company, wanted to make “a business venture out of their proposed marriage” according to Dilip Kumar, which he did not approve of, after which the relationship began turning sour. The Naya Daur court case happened in 1956 when Dilip Kumar testified against Madhubala and her father in favour of director B.R. Chopra in open court. This struck a fatal blow to the Dilip-Madhubala relationship as it ended any chance of reconciliation between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala’s father. Reflecting on this, while Kumar said he was “trapped”, Shammi Kapoor felt “this was something which went beyond him (Dilip) and he couldn’t control the whole situation…”
In June 1956, Madhubala began filming B. R. Chopra’s horse-cart race drama Naya Daur (1957) along with Dilip Kumar. A controversy broke out in August when Chopra replaced Madhubala with actress Vyjayanthimala, causing much displeasure to Madhubala’s father Ataullah Khan. According to Chopra, Naya Daur was the kind of film that required the unit including Madhubala to travel to Bhopal for a 40-day location shoot, but her father insisted that the film be shot in the Bombay studios. When all the persuasion from Chopra’s side failed, he replaced Madhubala and filed a legal case against her and her father for cheating him, for Madhubala had already accepted an advance of ₹30 thousands and now she was not interested in completing the film. Chopra had also previously asked Khan to return the advance payment, but he refused, citing that it was Madhubala’s payment for the 15-days work she did in the movie between June and August.
In 2004, a digitally-colorized version of the original Mughal-e-Azam was released, 35 years after her death. This version was too a success.
In February 1955 was released Guru Dutt’s romantic comedy Mr. & Mrs. ’55, where she portrayed a naive heiress named Anita Verma, who is forced into a marriage with an unemployed cartoonist to save her millions. Madhubala was initially reluctant to do a comedy film when it was offered to her in late 1954, but agreed after Dutt enforced his faith in her. In the beginning of filming, she was very nervous and would often ask Dutt, “How can I do this? What is this?”, but she began enjoying her role as the filming progressed.
Madhubala ventured into prominent costume dramas in 1956, including Raj Hath and Shirin Farhad. Both the films were commercially successful, but begot mostly negative reviews for her. Cineplot said that she “displays an artificiality of gesture, speech and movement which is utterly unconvincing” in the role of a Rajput princess in Raj Hath, while Baburao Patel found her “unimpressive” in Shirin Farhad, adding that her voice is “too shrill”.
In 1952, Madhubala portrayed Kamla, a character loosely based on Jane Eyre again opposite Dilip in Sangdil, an adaption of the novel Jane Eyre (1934) by Charlotte Brontë. The film was poorly-received by critics, but became a box office success, confirming the popularity of the Dilip Kumar—Madhubala pairing. In the same year Madhubala acted in the fantasy Saqi (1952) as a princess who falls for a common man, repeating the successful formula of Badal (1951). At the time of its release, Saqi was one of the most expensive Hindi films, yet emerged as a financial success, though not as lucrative as Badal.
In September, the conflict between Khan and Chopra was dragged in court and ensued a four month-long legal battle between them, which journalist Bunny Reuben describes as “the most sensational court case ever to be fought in the annals of Indian cinema.” Whenever Madhubala would arrive in the courtroom, hundreds of people would flock inside to catch a glimpse of her, outrightly refusing to leave. The court case was ultimately lost by Madhubala and her father amid much negative publicity. Meanwhile, Naya Daur, now starring Vyjayanthimala as the female lead, was released and emerged a success. Chopra subsequently dropped the case and saved Madhubala from the humiliation of a possible prison sentence.
Madhubala appeared in total number of 74 films. In a career spanning 22 years, she also produced two films and sang some songs in her early films. Some of her films are listed below.
Sang a song
In 1966, with a slight improvement in her health, she made a valiant attempt to complete her work in Chalaak opposite Raj Kapoor, which needed only a short spell of shooting, but she could not even survive that strain. When acting was no longer an option, Madhubala turned her attention to film direction. In 1969, she was set to make her directorial debut with the film Farz aur Ishq.
However, the film was never made, as during pre-production, she died on 23 February 1969, shortly after her 36th birthday. The cause of death was determined to be the prolonged lung and heart illness.
On 18 March 2008, a commemorative postage stamp featuring Madhubala was issued. The stamp was produced by India Post in a limited edition presentation pack. It was launched by veteran actors Nimmi and Manoj Kumar in a ceremony attended by colleagues, friends and surviving members of Madhubala’s family. The only other Indian film actress that was honoured in this manner was Nargis Dutt, at that point of time.
While it is not officially confirmed whether Dilip Kumar attended Madhubala’s funeral, it has been suggested by her sister that he did attend. She was buried at Juhu Muslim Cemetery in Santacruz, Mumbai. Her tomb was built with marbles and inscriptions include aayats from Qur’an and verse dedications. In 2010, her tomb along with those of Mohammed Rafi, Parveen Babi, Talat Mahmood, Naushad Ali and Sahir Ludhianvi, was demolished to make way for newer graves. Her remains were placed at an unknown location.
1958 marked the beginning of the most successful period of Madhubala’s career. Kala Pani, a crime drama based on A. J. Cronin’s 1953 novel Beyond This Place, was released in May and shortly after became one biggest box office successes of the year. Though Madhubala’s role as an intrepid press reporter in the film was small, but she was noted for the song sequence “Accha Ji Main Haari”, where her character apologizes to Anand’s and asks for forgiveness. Shakti Samanta’s crime thriller Howrah Bridge followed in August and also emerged as a critical and commercial success. In it, Madhubala played an unconventional part of an enticing Anglo-Indian cabaret dancer named Edna, who is attracted to one of her audiences, played by Ashok Kumar. She had charged a single rupee for Howrah Bridge, citing her admiration for her character and the storyline. In 2016, Rediff.com noted that Madhubala played against type in the movie and linked her “showgirl oomph” to its enduring popularity. The critic Vijay Lokapally asserted: “As Edna, blazed a trail: in the latter years every heroine had to meet the challenge of equating, if not improving upon her performance.” Later in the year, she starred in Bibhuti Mitra’s rustic romance Phagun (1958), portraying Banani, a village dancer in love with a wealthy zamindar man. Despite largely unfavorable reviews, Phagun too succeeded commercially.
Occupation: Actressfilm producersinger (early films)
Years active: 1942–1964
Spouse(s): Kishore Kumar (m. 1960)
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