Madhubala: A screen goddess who was unlucky in matters of the heart
Madhubala was a screen goddess like none other, loved by millions and hugely successful star of her generation. Yet her life was full of pain and heartbreaks. On her 86th birth anniversary, a look at her eventful life.bollywood Updated: Feb 14, 2019 21:01 IST
There are few stars who stay on in public memory long after their time and one such a star was Madhubala. Born Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehelvi, she was screen goddess like none other.
Making her debut as a child artiste in 1942 with a film called Basant, she quickly rose to fame and did her first adult role in the 1947 film Neel Kamal, only 14 at that time. From then, till her death, she continued to dominate Hindi film industry. Yet, hers was a life cut short by failing health and despite being adored by millions, she was utterly unlucky in love. The one great love of her life was Dilip Kumar, whom she couldn’t marry. Her eventual marriage to Kishore Kumar was hardly a happy one. She died at the age of 36, unfortunate in all matters of heart — physical and emotional.
If Madhubala and Dilip Kumar had married, it would have been a match made in heaven. She was beautiful and vivacious, he was intense and an introvert; both were hugely successful movie stars. However, it was not to be.
Dilip and Madhubala first met on the sets of Tarana (1951) and love blossomed between the two. The attraction is said to have been electric also because as people they were very different. They went on to work in three more films together — Sangdil, Amar and one of the most iconic films of all time, K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam. The couple was deeply in love and was even engaged to get married. It is said that it was Madhubala’s father Ataullah Khan who objected to the match.
Dilip Kumar addressed the issues in his autobiography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and The Shadow. Times Now, quoting him from the book, wrote: “Was I in love with Madhubala as the newspapers and magazines reported at that time? As an answer to this oft-repeated question straight from the horse’s mouth, I must admit that I was attracted to her both as a fine co-star and as a person who had some of the attributes I hoped to find in a woman at that age and time. We had viewers admiring our pairing in Tarana and our working relationship was warm and cordial. She, as I said earlier, was very sprightly and vivacious and, as such, she could draw me out of my shyness and reticence effortlessly. She filled a void that was crying out to be filled - not by an intellectually sharp woman but a spirited woman whose liveliness and charm were the ideal panacea for the wound that was taking its own time to heal.”
The two were obviously in love. Giving proof of it was Shammi Kapoor, who in an interview to Rediff.com, spoke about the time he had witnessed it in person. “She was very much in love with Dilip Kumar, so was he with her. I remember during the making of Naqab at Prabhat Talkies in Poona, he would often drive to the location all the way from Bombay to see her. If she was shooting, he would stand at a distance outside the ‘field’ of the camera and single-mindedly watch her perform without disturbing her.”
However, by 1956-57, matters had turned ugly. The final nail in the coffin was the Naya Daur court case, when Dilip Kumar testified for director BR Chopra against Madhubala and her father.
According to a report in Pinkvilla, BR Chopra had signed Madhubala and Dilip Kumar for Naya Daur (1957) and required both the artists to be present at the location shoot of the film in Gwalior for 40 days. Madhubala’s father, fearing for his daughter’s security, demanded the makers shoot the film in studios in Mumbai, a matter that BR Chopra did not agree to. Madhubala was eventually replaced by Vyajayantimala. Ataullah Khan filed a case in the court against Chopra for dishonouring the contract. It is in this case that Dilip sided with Chopra.
So, did Ataullah Khan really oppose his daughter’s marriage to Dilip Kumar? Talking about it, Dilip refuted the claims that Madhubala’s father was against the match. According to Dilip, it was his desire to make a business venture out of the proposed marriage that was deal breaker. At that time, Ataullah Khan owned a film production company of his own and wanted both Madhubala and Dilip to work under his banner, a term unacceptable to Dilip. Speaking about it, he wrote: “I sensed Asif was seriously trying to mend the situation for her when matters began to sour between us, thanks to her father’s attempt to make the proposed marriage a business venture. The outcome was that half way through the production of Mughal-e-Azam, we were not even talking to each other. The classic scene with the feather coming between our lips, which set a million imaginations on fire, was shot when we had completely stopped even greeting each other. It should, in all fairness, go down in the annals of film history as a tribute to the artistry of two professionally committed actors who kept aside personal differences and fulfilled the director’s vision of a sensitive, arresting and sensuous screen moment to perfection.”
Some reports suggest that it was ego that eventually got in between. Madhubala’s youngest sister Madhur Brij Bhushan, speaking to Filmfare, has said that during phone conversations, he would tell her to leave her father and she would insist that he apologise to her father. “They had conversations on the phone trying to patch up. He kept saying, ‘Leave your father and I’ll marry you’. She’d say, ‘I’ll marry you but just come home, say sorry and hug him’.”
By late 1950s, their affair was all but over.
It is said that on rebound, Madhubala got involved with Kishore Kumar and, according to a Pinkvilla report, their affair continued through the making of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and Half Ticket. Some reports suggest that Kishore Kumar’s lively personality gave her relief, given all the pain and rejection she endured when with Dilip Kumar. He made her laugh and that’s what worked between then. Kishore was himself going through a divorce with his then wife, actor-singer Ruma Devi Guha Thakurta. Post his divorce, the two married in 1960, despite opposition from his family. Her father too was allegedly not keen on the match but, by then, he had lost the will to oppose.
It is said that soon after their marriage, they left for London for their honeymoon and it is there that she fell seriously ill and the gravity of the situation was revealed to them. Doctors told her that she had only two years to survive. Her heart condition, ventricular septal defect (a hole in her heart), meant that her body would produce extra blood and she would bleed from her nose and mouth.
Her condition was first discovered in 1954 but with every passing day, it only worsened. It is alleged that she also suffered from a lung problem; pulmonary pressure of the lungs, which made her cough all the time. She had to be given oxygen after every four to five hours. It is alleged that Kishore was aware of her condition, but the seriousness of her illnesses never hit him before. Post their return, things were never normal. Though they remained married for nine long years, Madhubala reportedly lived at her father’s home most of the times.
What many don’t know was that her first major love affair was not Dilip Kumar but actor Premnath, maternal uncle of Rishi Kapoor. They were in love and wanted to marry. They broke off when he asked her to convert and she refused. This was even confirmed by her sister Madhur Brij Bhushan in an interview to Filmfare: “Apa first fell in love with Premnath. The relationship lasted six months. It broke on grounds of religion. He asked her to convert and she refused.”
However, Madhubala’s love life and life in general has been of much interest and has inspired a number of biographies, the most recent being by journalist Mohan Deep, which reportedly showed her in poor light. According to a report on the book in Outlook, Mohan Deep’s The Mystery and Mystique of Madhubala claimed that Madhubala had not two but a long line of lovers. The report said: “In fact, the preface itself sets the tone for the rest of the book: ‘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, Pradeep Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Kishore Kumar....’” He even recounts a time when she made an outrageous offer of buying Amrohi out of his marriage with an offer of Rs 9 lakhs!
Mohan Deep projected Madhubala as being extremely promiscuous and a seductress.
Of course, the book was heavily criticised by many industry veterans but most of all her remaining family members. Reacting angrily to it, Madhur was quoted by Outlook as saying: “Kidar Sharma and Mohan Sinha were old enough to be her father; Kamal Amrohi was a married man and given our economic conditions how could she, the sole earning member of our family, offer him Rs 9 lakh? Premnath was infatuated with her but inter-religion marriages were taboo in those days; Pradeep Kumar was never involved with her. Yes, she loved Dilip Kumar for eight long years and wanted to marry him, but after things went wrong with Naya Daur, the relationship came to an end. Tell me, if Premnath and Dilip Kumar were angry over her two-timing, why were they present at her funeral?”
Irrespective of what such biographies might claim, Madhubala was immensely popular with her co-stars, who would often be smitten by her natural beauty, her charm and her coquettish nature. Among those who were completely taken in by her beauty and persona was late Shammi Kapoor.
Speaking about the time when he couldn’t take his eyes off her, Shammi had said in an old interview to Rediff.com. “When I met her on the set of Rail Ka Dibba for the first time, I could not take my eyes off her. I was like being hit by a thunderbolt.”
She was so beautiful that despite his self confidence and cavalier attitude, he’d forget his lines. “I was so nervous that I kept forgetting my lines. And she was fully aware of the effect she had been having on me and was relishing it thoroughly.”
In retrospect, Madhubala remains one of the most beautiful, talented actors Indian screen has seen. Dubbed Marilyn Monroe of India, the legendary actor still has it in her to arrest peoples’ attention, decades after passing away.
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First Published: Feb 14, 2019 10:47 IST