'Zindagi bhar nahi bhoolegi': Mesmerising Madhubala and her magical spell

'Zindagi bhar nahi bhoolegi': Mesmerising Madhubala and her magical spell


VIKAS DATTA She had a film named after her even before she hit her career's peak, was being parodied when she was still active, and is the only Indian film actress who has a song to her played at the Olympics. That was the spell of Madhubala, whose angelic features, beguiling yet enigmatic smile, and incandescent beauty, coupled with her restrained but undeniable talent, made her part of some of Hindi cinema's most iconic films. While she is imprinted in the hearts and minds of film-watchers as the winsome, entrancing but star-crossed Anarkali of "Mughal-e-Azam" (1960), as the entrancing nightclub singer in "Howrah Bridge", and for her exuberant, effusive, and elfin charm in romantic comedies "Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi" (1958), "Jhumroo" (1961) and "Half Ticket" (1962), she left her mark across film genres from ghost/gothic stories to comic crime capers to film noir, beyond the usual romantic dramas in a relatively short career. Born on this day (February 14) in Delhi in 1933 to an ethnic Pashtun family as Mumtaz Jahan Begum, Madhubala lived a restricted childhood in line with her orthodox family background. However, aged seven, she was cast into earning for the family when her father lost his job with Imperial Tobacco. She began singing on AIR for music virtuoso Khwaja Khurshid Anwar and began her foray into films from 1941 when the family moved to Bombay to better cash in on her talents. This family control - by her father - robbed Madhubala of an independent life and would go on to destroy a fledgling romance too - as became evident later. Debuting with an uncredited role in "Bahar" (1942), a bold film for its time in depicting a woman working for her living after being abandoned by her husband, she went on to do half a dozen odd more films as a child artiste before coming to notice with the costume drama "Neel Kamal" (1947), which represented the first lead role for Raj Kapoor too. It was after this that Devika Rani - who was responsible for naming Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar - suggested that she take the screen name Madhubala. Madhubala starred in another seven or eight films - most of them now lost - in 1947 and 1948, before hitting the big time with the spooky "Mahal" (1949) - where her out-of-world signature song "Aayega Aanewala" also introduced India to the voice of Lata Mangeshkar. Another hit of her the same year was "Dulari" - where she played the eponymous role of a rich heiress kidnapped in her childhood and raised by gypsies. In 1950, she did films with all the top heroes of the time - opposite Ashok Kumar in "Nishana", Dev Anand in "Nirala", Motilal in "Hanste Aansoo" - the first film to be bear the 'A' certificate, Ajit (then still doing hero roles) in "Beqasoor", Dev Anand again in "Madhubala" (named after her) and Rehman in "Pardes". "Tarana" (1951), known for the soulful duet "Seene mein sulagte hai arman" was Madhubala's first opposite Dilip Kumar, and saw kindling of their romance which lasted till the "Naya Daur" controversy, where she was sued for walking out of the picture and he testified against her. Then, they subsequently went on to work together in "Sangdil" (1952) and "Amar" (1954) before K. Asif's magnum opus "Mughal-e-Azam". Madhubala, however, did not remain typecast - she worked in offbeat romance "Nazneen" (1951), treasure hunt adventure "Khazana" (1951) - where she became possibly the first Indian heroine to sport trousers onscreen and went on to make it a regular habit on an off screen! - the Arabian Nights influenced "Saqi" (1952) and urban romantic drama "Rail Ka Dibba" (1953), where she bowled over her co-star, Shammi Kapoor, who even after six decades, could not get her out of his mind. "I can swear that I have never seen a more beautiful woman. Add to that her sharp intellect, maturity, poise and sensitivity... When I think of her even now, after six decades, my heart misses a beat. My God, what beauty, what presence," he recalled in a 2011 interview. She went on to show her prowess in comedy with "Mr and Mrs 55" (1955) opposite Guru Dutt and noirish adventure in "Gateway of India" (1957), featuring an ensemble cast, and remarkable for being the first picture to show the heroine running after the hero to propose to him! And, one of her best performances was in "Muslim social" "Barsaat Ki Raat" (1960), where she virtually held a masterclass in effortless emoting, showcasing vulnerability, longing, and resolve, among others. While her performances in 70-odd films made her legions of fans in India and outside - she had a considerable fan following in most of Southeast Asia and East Africa, as well as Greece - where popular singer Stelios Kazantzidis produced the song "Mandoubala" as a tribute to her after her passing away - and this was played at the closing ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympics. Madhubala was also compared to near contemporary Marilyn Monroe - the two would pass away within a few years of each other, aged 36 each - but she was not very happy at this as she did not think of herself as a sex symbol like her American counterpart. However, her personal life was not so happy - she was born with a congenital heart issue of a ventricular septal defect, which leads to mixing of oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood leaving the patient breathless and weak. At that time, there was no surgical cure and her condition only exacerbated through her life, and incapacitated her for the last few years of her life before claiming her. On the other hand, after the fiasco of her relationship with Dilip Kumar - who has given his side of the story in his autobiography, blaming her father for making it more of business proposition than a social relation - Madhubala was reportedly wooed by most top actors, including married ones, throughout the 1950s but did not accept any. She finally married Kishore Kumar in 1960, but her condition did not make for a very happy marital life, before she passed away in 1969. (Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)

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