Madhubala: The beauty with tragedy

Late Bollywood star Madhubala was one the most beautiful Indian actresses to be seen on the silver screen. The actress had won millions of hearts with her beauty, personality and charisma.

She was also known as The Beauty With Tragedy and The Venus Queen of Indian Cinema.

Her comparison with Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe earned her the name Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood – the smoldering looks, the short career, the tragic end. “There was a remarkable similarity in the soft vulnerability of their faces”, writes Khatija Akbar in her biography of Madhubala. “The same abandoned to their laughter, head thrown back, that same incandescent glow”.

Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi was born on 14 February 1933, better known by her stage name Madhubala.

Madhubala spoke her native language Pashto at home and was proficient in Urdu and Hindi. She couldn’t speak a word of English but yearned to learn the language.

Madhubala learned driving at the age of twelve.

Madhubala made her screen debut as a child artist at the age of nine with the film Basant (1942), and was credited as Baby Mumtaz in the film. The film became the highest-grossing Indian film of that year.

However, her acting career as a heroine actually began in 1947, when she appeared in Neel Kamal with Raj Kapoor at the age of 14. Neel Kamal was the last film in which she was credited as Mumtaz before assuming her screen name “Madhubala”.

It was Actress Devika Rani, impressed by her performance and potential, that she had advised her to assume the screen name “Madhubala”, literally meaning “honey belle”.

During the career span of 22 years, she appeared in around 73 Hindi films, produced two films and sang some songs in her early films.

Despite the fact that Madhubala was a very popular actress, she had never received any awards, unlike her contemporaries Meena Kumari, Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Suraiya, Vyjanthimala and Nargis.

She received her only nomination for a Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her performance in Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Her performance in Mughal-e-Azam established her as an iconic actress of Hindi Cinema. However, the award was won by Bina Rai for her performance in Ghunghat.

Madhubala is said to be the first Indian woman in Hollywood.

In 1951, she also caught the interest of Hollywood when ace photographer James Burke visited India and photographed her for Life Magazine. In their feature of her, Life, called her “the biggest star” in the international film industry. She was photographed extensively for this feature by James Burke.

She appeared in the American magazine Theatre Arts where, in its August 1952 issue, she was featured in an article with a full page photograph under the title: “The Biggest Star in the World – and she’s not in Beverly Hills”.

Madhubala received wide recognition for her performances in films such as Mahal (1949), Amar (1954), Mr. & Mrs. ’55 (1955), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Barsaat Ki Raat (1960).

Her 1950 film Hanste Aansoo was the first ever Hindi film to get an “A” – adults only – rating from the Central Board of Film Certification.

Madhubala also became a producer and produced films like Naata (1955) and Mahlon Ke Khwab (1960) and acted in both the films.

Madhubala had a long relationship with actor Dilip Kumar, but chose to marry her Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi co-star Kishore Kumar in 1960.

During the shoot of film Bahut Din Huwe, it was discovered that Madhubala was suffering from a congenital heart defect.

When shooting for Mughal-e-Azam, her health was deteriorating rapidly, and director K. Asif, probably unaware of the extent of Madhubala’s illness, required long shooting schedules that made physical demands on her, whether it was posing as a veiled statue in suffocating make-up for hours under the studio lights or being shackled with heavy chains.

Her last film Jwala, although shot in the 1950s, was released in 1971, two years after her death.

Madhubala’s life and career was cut short when she died in 1969 from a prolonged illness at the age of 36.

It is said that “When Madhubala was a child, she had a friend called Latif. Before leaving for Mumbai, Madhubala gave him a red rose and an indication for their love. After she left, he became depressed. He kept the rose with himself and later became an IAS officer. When Madhubala died, he placed that red rose on her grave. Now he is retired and keeps a red rose in her grave on 23 February every year.”

In 2004, a digitally-colorized version of the original Mughal-e-Azam was released, 35 years after her death.

On 18 March 2008, a commemorative postage stamp featuring Madhubala was issued. The stamp was produced by India Post in a limited edition presentation pack.

In 2012, her 1962 release Half Ticket was also remastered, digitally coloured and re-released after 50 years of its original release.

On 10 August 2017, the New Delhi center of Madame Tussauds unveiled a statue of Madhubala inspired by her look in the film Mughal-E-Azam as a tribute to her.

In 2018 the New York Times published a belated obituary for her.



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