Madhubala and the eternity of style and beauty
Beauty and style are the sides of the same coin. Serene and slow, tender and perennial. What you become and protect as your personality, as your identity. When I saw Madhubala for the first time on screen, I shaped this definition and it has stayed with me till date. A persona that is different, a form of beauty that affects you. A beauty that is complete in itself. Born as Mumtaz Begum on February 14, 1933, in Delhi to a poor Pashtun family, she later on moved with her family to Bombay near the Bombay Talkies film studio. The young Mumtaz caught actress Devika Rani’s attention who was also the co-founder of the studio. She gave her the name Madhubala and rest is history. She became a star in her own right with her first release, Mahal (1949) which went on to be a hugely successful film. The natural beauty that she was, of course, garnered interest around her but what was more fascinating was her liberal sense of being. That’s how she lived. An inhibited sense of freedom that also reflected in her personal style.
Madhubala was a big believer of true love. She represented the modern Indian woman in newly independent India, maintaining a balance between personal freedom and traditional norms. That innocent, untouched beauty, the childish charm on her face, her natural curls and the powerful sense of dressing made her one of the iconic actresses not only in India but she was celebrated across the world as the epitome of beauty, style and a woman holding her ground. She literally pulled off anything she wore. The classic pant shirt or the mid-length dresses she donned with effortless style was a unique representation of an Indian woman who can be what she wants to be back when the country was beginning to understand and claim the idea of freedom. Then, of course, her playful way of wearing the light sarees with big floral prints and light texture and how she tucked the corner of her pallu around her waist.
That sculpted face needed no make-up but the crimson lip colour she wore seen in some famously shot photographs was more than just make-up. There was a woman who was celebrating her sense of being and how she wanted to be seen and understood. Her tragic love life never took away the sense of joy that she brought on and off the screen. The voluminous soft shoulder-length curled hair added to the playfulness to her classic beauty. Her on-screen roles were as dramatic and complex as her off-screen personality, with many layers and many stories. When she starred in the1960 Indian epic historical drama film Mughal-e-Azam, the way she looked, each and everything became a rage, especially the beautiful ornate Anarkalis, vaguely inspired by the Angarakha patterns in the 50s. The patterns, the silhouettes, the texture and the drape continue to inspire designers in India and across the world. It was not only about the garment, but also about how she wore it. How the sculpted beauty wore the apparel and how she carried it and made it a part of herself. The character of Anarkali was a mixed bag. A woman who is fearless in love, yet her silence and loneliness go hand-in-hand. Madhubala’s style was similar to many sides to it - versatile, individualistic and secure.
Many young starlets try to recreate the magic of Madhubala but it is difficult to ape the world within her. She lived a short but a remarkable life and even though many compare her and her life to Marilyn Monroe’s, Madhubala accepted the haunting beauty of life and lived like the wind. The cinematic kaleidoscope of Bombay, now Mumbai still houses the charm, the pristine beauty that turned a young Mumtaz to an eternal Madhubala.