Madhubala – Her Sister’s Recollections
Mumtaz was born on February 14, 1933. And it was only by listening to my other sisters, that I got to know about her early years. She had started acting at the age of seven and made her first film for Bombay Talkies, where she had to sing a song – ‘Mere chhote se man me, chhoti si duniya re’. She was called Baby Mumtaz.
The reason she was allowed to act, was because our father, Attaullah Khan, had lost his job at Imperial Tobacco in Delhi. Not only that, he had also lost his two sons. He was extremely hot-tempered, but it didn’t mean he was a bad man. Financial circumstances forced him to expose his daughter to films. And mind you, little Mumtaz was secretly delighted. She always wanted to be an actress and even being a very fat child, didn’t hamper this desire. She used to pose in front of the mirror, turn on the radio and dance. She also continuously pestered my father to allow her to act. He on the other hand, grew livid every time the subject came up. But just look at fate, at destiny.
She used to say, ‘If you wish really hard for something, then God always grants it.’ At least in her case, he did. Baby Mumtaz was spotted by Kidar Sharma, and paired opposite Raj Kapoor in Neel Kamal. She was barely 14 years old and he named her Madhubala. Suddenly, she became Madhu appa to me.
A couple of years later, Kamal Amrohi cast her opposite Ashok Kumar in Mahal and a star was born. Her professional life started in earnest, and along came heroes like Dev Anand, Sunil Dutt, Pradeep Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Dilip Kumar. She became everyone’s darling and the industry crowned her ‘Venus of the Indian Screen’, All at once, this absolutely uneducated sister of mine, was the cynosure of all eyes. That’s when my father began to pay a lot more attention to Madhu appa’s life.
I would like to clear one thing though. My father was never the man he was made out to be – some kind of demon. After all, he had brought her to Bombay when she was little and made her into a star. Being a Pathan, he was extremely protective about his daughters. And since Madhu appa was open to so much glamour, he was more bothered about her. In return, she was very obedient. He knew that she could be taken for a ride, since she was generous to a fault. I don’t think he was wrong for stopping her from attending functions and parties. It is due to him, that she was a mystery to the public. And it is because of this mystery, this non-exposure, that Madhubala remains so unforgettable.
She was very much in love with Dilip Kumar. Her first film with him was Tarana. They went on to do three more – Sangdil, Amar and Mughal-e-Azam. The latter was also her last film, before she was bedridden. She never spoke to any of her co-stars. But I remember the way she described Dilip saab. She had faced the camera with him for the first time, and came home very excited. We all wanted to know why, and this is how she described Dilip the actor. ‘Ankhon main itni kashish thi, jaise kisine moti koot kar bhar diye ho’. Later on, Dilip the person became, ‘Ek aisa insaan, jisko aap ek baar dekho, to aap ki nazar wahin tham jayegi,’
Their romance bloomed and Madhu appa’s love for him kept growing. Then came the Naya Daur incident. She was to do the film and the unit had gone to Jabalpur to shoot. Just before she could leave, Kum Kum and some other actresses came home complaining, about how they were literally assaulted and man-handled by the crowds. Madhu appa who was paranoid about crowds, was panic stricken. So much so, that even my father put his foot down and raised objections. Finally, she opted out of Naya Daur. Mr. B.R. Chopra tried to persuade Dilip saab, to influence Madhu appa to do the film, but she stood by her decision. So instead, an ugly court case was lodged against her. She was terrified of wielding her way through the crowds, who never failed to attend this already much publicized hearing. This, I think, eventually led to the split.
By this time, Mughal-e-Azam was in progress, but no one would have guessed that there was a major rift between the star pair. I can speak for her, so I know for a fact, that apart from being the most punctual and disciplined actress, Madhu appa was also the most professional one in the business.
She had one very peculiar habit. If something caught her funny bone, she’d never stop laughing. This trait landed her in quite a bit of hot water. Even if the scene was serious and all she had to do was stand, she’d giggle and distract her co-star. Her co-stars even thought she was making fun of them.
No names, but there was this senior actor, with whom she had to do a love scene. Every time he held her with passion written all over his face, she’d be giggling away. So much so, that the director who wanted to take a close up of her face, reconsidered his own idea. Yet in the film, it’s quite noticeable that while the hero is embracing her, mouthing away romantic dialogues, Madhu appa’s back is shaking. She was hysterical during the scene.
She was more like a mother and a friend to us, we never wanted for anything. She not only educated herself, but enjoyed appreciating art in others too. She loved shairee and ghazals. Madhu appa had a whole list of favourite singers – Noor Jehan, Lataji and Mohammad Rafi. She felt my husband Mr. Brij Bhushan had the most stunning talking voice.
Among her contemporaries, she was a fan of Meena Kumari who she said, ‘Has the most unique voice. No other heroine has it,’ and Geeta Bali, who ‘is a sheer delight to watch.’ But I think her favorite thing was food. She was extremely fond of eating and we would, on many an occasion, be carted off to have a feast of kulfi, paani puri and ragda pattis.
Where friends are concerned, I think the only industry person who was very close to her, was her hairdresser Salma Irani.
Another thing she enjoyed, was seeing films. She’d come back, remove her makeup, don a burkha and we’d all drive to the local theatre to see a film.
On one such occasion, we hit a traffic signal and a very conscientious policeman. She quickly put her burkha down and said, ‘Watch the fun’. He came over and said, ‘How are you driving with your burkha on? You could meet with an accident’. Madhu appa pretended to act cheeky. ‘Aap kaun hote ho bolne wale?’ The policeman got angry, took down the number and demanded she lift the veil of her burkha. She replied, ‘Chaunk jaoge agar main aapki request maan loongi. Aap kahenge, jaiye ji jaiye,’ He was adamant, so she slowly lifted it, starry style. We left him gaping on the sidewalk blubbering her name, while we were in splits.
Shahida, who is a year older than me, was Madhu appa’s guinea pig. She’d catch hold of her and experiment with makeup and accessories, on poor plump Shahida. One day, she seated her in front of the mirror and began to give her a hair cut. And something that started as a simple exercise, slowly grew more and more complicated with, ‘Oh, let me cut some here. This side is longer. Oh no! Now this side is shorter. Shahida just sat, tears welling up, as she saw herself slowly but surely getting a crewcut. It all ended with an extremely apologetic Madhu appa and a bawling-but-easily-pacified-with-an-ice-cream-Shahida. Today, she is married to Johnny Walker’s brother Waheed and still looks upon this incident with laughter.
Madhu appa was never a dancer. Yet, Mughal-e-Azam proved otherwise. She learnt dancing in two months when we asked her how she managed it, she announced, Well I really didn’t know what to do. I suppose it just happened.’ Other directors would pan on her face, instead of taking a long shot. Even she relied on her face and crooked smile, to see her through a dance sequence. She gave herself to the role of Anarkali. She wanted to experience what it ‘actually’ felt like in chains, so she asked to be chained. She stretched herself to her limit, to do justice to the character. It’s really sad that she was in bed after the film and couldn’t attend the premiere.
Contrary to belief, I don’t want my father to be blamed, for objecting or disallowing Madhu appa from marrying Kishore bhaiya. It was in 1960, and my father requested Kishore bhaiya to marry Madhu appa, only after her trip to London. She was going there to be checked for her heart ailment, but he was determined. So they married and went to London. The doctors there, wasted no time in telling them, that Madhu appa could never be a mother, She wouldn’t be able to carry a child to its full term, and had only three months at the most to live. A few days later, saw Madhu appa back home with us. I believe she wasn’t wanted where she belonged.
Madhu appa had one thing in her favor; a very strong will power. It was her greatest quality. She defied that medical prediction and lived for, nine years more. It may have been a miserable existence for her, but she lived with the hole in her heart.
But 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. I distinctly recall her telling us once, ‘Jab mujhe kaam ki samajh ayee, to upar wale ne kaha, ab bas’
After all, she was only 35 years old. A week before her death, she contracted jaundice. On being checked up, there was blood in her urine. Someone must have told her something, because she was convinced that her time had come. Anyone going to her bedside, would be caught and she would murmur, ‘Main jeena chahati hoon. Allah mujhe jeene do’. We tried to pacify her, and genuinely thought she was only suffering a setback. But destiny thought otherwise. She passed away nine days after her birthday on February 23, 1969. I heard that she also kept asking for Kishore bhaiya, so that she could apologize to him for not being the wife he wanted. That is something none of us question, nor can we understand.
It hurt us all the more, because people said that while she was bedridden, we squeezed out money from Kishore bhaiya. I can only say, that for someone who cared for us so much, Madhu appa would never leave us to , anyone’s mercy. Especially the mercy of her husband. We were right, because from ’69 to ’87, we have never seen Kishore bhaiya’s face.
I have only one thing to say to this film world. It’s so pitiful that people who praised her, or should I say, literally worshipped her while she was alive, never bothered to phone or call upon Madhu appa even once, to ask her if she needed any kind of help. (Madhu Bhushan [Madhubala’s sister] interviewed by Patrick Biswas.)