Madhubala – Filmland’s Loveliest Star
“So sweet a face, such angel grace. In all that land had never been.”
These lines from Tennyson’s poem about the beggar maid spring to mind at the mention of the beauteous Madhubala.
Verily, she is filmland’s loveliest star, “more fair than words can say,” “more beautiful than day.”
Her real name, Mumtaz, does justice to her “lovesome mien.” You have only to see her to know how aptly she’s been named.
Her screen name, Madhubala, given to her by another lovely lady, Devika Rani, is also admirably suited to her.
King and commoner can go crazy over this beautiful girl who, at the pinnacle of success, is certainly not a beggar maid. Yet, there was a time when Madhubala was homeless and helpless, a waif roaming the city streets with her father and brothers and sisters.
That was in April 1944. Madhubala, who was first known as Baby Mumtaz, had earlier played a role in Bombay Talkies’ phenomenal hit “Basant,” and had gone back to Delhi with her family. Sometime later, Devika Rani sent her director, Amiya Chakravarty, to Delhi to summon little Mumtaz for a role in their picture “Jwar Bhata.”
Madhubala’s father, Ataullah Khan, decided then to settle in Bombay and brought his brood of children to this city, taking up humble lodgings in Ghee Mandi, near Chakla. On April 14, the terrible dock explosion wiped out the entire quarter and the family, although safe, was rendered homeless.
But there was no holding back the lovely and talented youngster, who by now was determined to become a star of exceptional luster.
Her own star was obviously on the ascendant, because a class-mate of the young actress took the family in, gave them shelter and food, and looked after them for seven months.
Madhubala’s next assignment was with Ranjit Movietone, in “Mumtaz Mahal,” which co-starred Khurshid and Chandramonan. From then on, there was no looking back. She starred in Kedar Sharma’s “Neel Kemal,” sharing acting honors with Begum Para and Raj Kapoor. Followed several films in which her beauty and acting talent were hailed by critics and picture-goers alike.
Her rise to film fame has been meteoric, and she attained the peak of her career with her appearance in Kemal Amrohi’s “Mahal,” producers queueing up at her door after this, clamoring for her services in their films.
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.
Her enthusiasm for her work is boundless. The ambition of her life has always been to be a really great star, and, to that end, she has regulated her life with almost regimental rigor, working hard at singing and dancing, applying herself to imbibe all she could of general knowledge, determined to emerge out of the illiteracy which is the lot of anyone who starts earning at a tender age.
Although proficient in Urdu, Madhubala could not speak a word of English when this correspondent met her some three years ago. Now she can converse fluently in English, using idiom and expression with a facility that speaks volumes for her talent and determination. A further tribute to her plucky efforts to master a language completely foreign to her, especially in circumstances and environment which scarcely left any room for its study, is her inclusion in two of our most ambitious pictures, with English versions, the recently released “Amar” and the forthcoming “Mughal-e-Azam.”
A versatile actress, her latest film is Gemini’s “Bahut Din Huwe”, a costume picture in which she is a beautiful princess.
An aura of mystery and invulnerability surrounds this Venus of the Indian screen. A top-flight star, the darling of millions of picture-goers, she is scarcely to be seen anywhere outside of her home or he studio where she is working.
This “social eclipse” of a brilliant star has occasioned a few fantastic rumors. Some people believe that Madhubala is too proud, too haughty to attend film functions, premiere nights and charity “tamashas.” Other say that her stern and forbidding parent, Ataullah Khan, does not care to allow his precious blossom to be submitted to the eager gaze of the “polluting multitude.”
The truth, however, is that Madhubala is genuinely frightened of crowds. A mob of faces staring at her, calling out to her, rushing to get her autograph, throws her into a panic.
Not A Recluse
She is not shy, neither is she a recluse. With her close friends and members of the family, she is gay, receptive and companionable. Her bewitching smile plays almost constantly on her lips, although she is a serious minded woman and enter into discussions on topical or controversial subjects with a keen yet open mind.
Her great success and the adulation of her fans have not spoilt her. Her pleasures are centered around the members of her family, a simple household presided over by the dour but loving father who dictates the home policy to the complete satisfaction of all concerned.
One of the rules laid down for Madhubala by her father is that she must not work at night and her contracts have a clause to that effect.
Up every morning at six, she reports early for work, and after a hard day’s shooting is usually in bed by eight, or nine at the latest. This leaves her very little time to go out or even have a little fun with her sisters whom she adores.
Once she wistfully said, “Mine is a strange life. When I leave the house in the morning, my little sisters are still in bed. When I come home late in the evening, they are either out for a walk or busy with their home work. By the time they are through, I have to be in bed to be able to get up early the next morning. You know, I hardly see enough of my family.”
A stickler for punctuality, Madhubala is never late for work. In this, she puts to shame other top stars, cultured and educated, who consider it highly fashionable to be unpunctual. To Madhubala her work is all-important and, although she is in a position to dictate terms to her producers and directors, she has never been known to take advantage of this.
Very recently, we witnessed an incident which gave ample proof of this star’s cooperative attitude towards her producers. She reported for work punctually one morning at a leading studio. The producer—also the director and the hero of the film—had not turned up and Madhubala waited only to tell him that because of the acne on her face, she could not apply the heavy studio make-up and would like to be excused for the day’s shooting, promising to give him another day’s extra work.
Any other star, appropriately temperamental would either have ‘phoned the producer or would more likely have stayed put at home until the producer sent a “posse” to make frantic inquiries.
The now frequent pimples on her once lovely and exquisitely clear skin are a matter of grave concern to this beautiful star. She never applies make-up when away from the cameras, and thinks that her constant shooting schedule under strong arc lamps and the heavy coating of studio cosmetics are responsible for the condition of her skin.
Then, with high glee, she says, “People tell me I ought to get married. But I am too busy right now, too much in love with my work.”
She admits to being very much like her father in most respects. “Like him, I am extremely independent. I want to do each and everything by myself. When I think of large homes with servants twice the number of members of the family, I always say to myself that I’ll have just a small home which I can keep and look after by myself.”
For a star of her status and beauty, her wardrobe is surprisingly scanty. She likes simple clothes, and anything fancy or dazzling which she buys in an unguarded moment, is usually left to lie in the cupboard for months on end unused. She does not wear any jewellery off-screen. “I consider it a waste of money; and that’s a sin when so many people in the world have not the means to buy a meal,” she explains.
Madhubala rarely goes out, stepping out once in a while to see foreign films which, she says, are her only guide to good acting and screen expression.
Afraid Of Crowds
Her one other pleasure is driving. She says she learned to drive when she was only twelve. “Of course, I did it without letting my father know of it,” she admitted. Asked why she didn’t take some respite from her work and go off for a holiday, she said, “I must work. I would be miserable if I didn’t. Even if I take a holiday, I must find something to do or I’ll go crazy.”
Meeting her a couple of days before the release of “Amar” here, we wanted to know if she’d make an exception this once and attend the glittering premiere.
She was horrified at the idea. “I can’t,” she said, “I’d be scared to death. Once I have finished work at the studio, I don’t want to be Madhubala, the star. I’m just a normal, average girl, and only at home am I treated as such. That is why I remain so much within the four walls of my home.” (This interview was conducted in 1954)