Real Name – Mumtaz Jehan Dehlavi
Profession – Actress/Producer
Active Years – 1940s – 1960d
Nationality – Indian
Religion – Islam
Ethnicity – Pashtun
Date of Birth – 14th February, 1933
Date of Death – 23rd February, 1969
Debut Film – Perhaps Basant (1942)
Last Film – Perhaps Jwala (1971) – Released after her death
When Mumtaz Ataullah Khan became famous as the celebrated Madhubala, a shower of superlatives constantly swirled down upon her — the Venus of the Indian screen, its definitive love goddess, the most beautiful heroine ever! She had that perfect blend of beauty and sensuality that worked on the audience like an elixir. But behind those dancing eyes and lopsided smile, lurked a lifetime of pain. Intractably interwined with loss, her life seemed to move inexorably towards its tragic finale.
Born in abject poverty, the fifth of her Pathan father’s brood of 11 children, little Mumtaz enjoyed a brief stint as a child star in films like Basant (’42). At the close of the 40s, fate presented the 16-year-old with the super successful Mahal. Even as the plaintive refrain of `Aayega aanewala’ captivated the country, it heralded the arrival of a superstar. But personal heartbreaks lay ahead for Madhu. An early affair with Premnath crumbled when she embarked on her life’s greatest passion — Dilip Kumar. It was an agonizing affair that left both their souls singed with its intensity. However, it was not meant to be. Madhubala’s father ruled over her with an iron hand and she could not contend with his strident opposition.
Suddenly her life began to disintegrate. Her films, even major ones like Mehboob Khan’s Amar, started flopping, acquiring for her the tag of ‘box office poison’. She was thrown out of B R Chopra’s Naya Daur after a scandalous court case, and worse — she was diagnosed as having a hole in her heart bringing her into immediate confrontation with her own mortality.
But Madhu was a fighter. She single-handedly turned her career around with a string of hits like Phagun, Howrah Bridge, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Kaala Paani and Barsaat Ki Raat (all in the ’58-’60 phase). Sultry glamour, fanned by the grace of humour, made this laughing apparition the quintessence of a movie star. Determined to exorcise the past, Madhu also plunged into a loveless marriage with Kishore Kumar.
Her greatest moment, however, also turned out to be her saddest. In 1960, Mughal-e-Azam saw Madhubala scale the zenith of success. Eyes heavy with grief, she illuminated every shade of meaning in the classic riposte she makes when Dilip Kumar gives her thorns as her prize in the qawwali contest: `Kanton ko murjhane ka khauf nahin’ (Thorns are not fearful of withering away). It was as if she had a shimmering awareness of where her own options began — and ended. Mughal-e-Azam corralled in the audiences and showed off the finely- modulated depths of Madhubala’s creative ability, but her pain-wracked body forced her to sadly abbreviate her career. For nine long years, she lingered on, her blithe spirit chained to her bedposts. Death came as a release in 1969.
Madhubala’s legend has grown since her demise, till it has reached awesome proportions today, boiling down to the truism that beauty spells the most enduring fame. Even through the small screen, she touches audiences at some visceral level, ensuring that there will be a special tug at the heart-strings whenever somebody mentions that magical word — Madhubala!