Ravishing beauty, sad life | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 02, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 02, 2010

Ravishing beauty, sad life

Mrinmoyee Dutta studies the life of a tragedienne

Madhubala, aged thirty six, died in February 1969. She had finally succumbed to the pains associated with the lifelong hole in her heart. And then there were all the other pains she went through life in the course of a career that was to etch forever her name on Indian cinema. All these decades after her death, Madhubala remains an icon. Proof of that is to be found in the excitement with which today's generation has responded to the new, all colour version of the Dilip Kumar-Madhubala starrer Mughal-e-Azam. It was the movie that raised the pair to prodigious heights of popularity. There are those who suggest that it was also a point when their real life romance was on the wane. Remember the moment when Dilip caresses Madhubala's cheek with a feather, causing visible sensual thrills in her?
In this brief, rather gushing kind of a biography, Khatija Akbar draws on all the little incidents and the big moments that led to the transformation of Baby Mumtaz into Madhubala the actress. She made an entry into filmdom as a child in 1942, through being cast in Basant. By her fourteenth year, she was already a leading lady, beside Raj Kapoor in Kidar Sharma's Neel Kamal. The year was 1947 and the road ahead seemed paved with roses for Madhubala. Chaperoned to the studios by her father, whom many considered rather possessive (at least her expected marriage to Dilip was scuttled by her need to keep providing for her family), she was headed for the heights. And she did reach the heights. By 1971, a good two years after her death, the tally of her films came to a whopping seventy one. And include among them such acclaimed tales as Amar Prem, Dulari, Mahal (where you have that unforgettable Aega Aanewala song), Tarana, Sangdil, Mr. & Mrs. 55, Yahudi Ki Ladki, Shirin Farhad, Howrah Bridge, Barsaat Ki Raat and Sharabi.
It is not just Madhubala's superb acting that keeps her in the public memory. There is the very strong reality of the beauty which abided in her. The extent to which her beauty has been a reference point can be seen in the way some actresses who came after her have been compared to her in terms of looks. There has always been a class of people which has seen in Madhuri Dixit something of what Madhubala used to be in her days. And yet it was a sad, indeed tragic life that she led despite all her successes in stardom. Her relationship with Dilip Kumar did not work out. It was doomed once the famous court case came in. It was also a point when Dilip made his now famous declaration of love for her. He would love Madhubala, he declaimed, till the end of his life. By the mid 1960s, though, Dilip was already a husband, to Saira Banu. As for Madhubala, after the fiasco with Dilip, she married Kishore Kumar on the rebound. It was a bad marriage, for Kishore was a careless, if not uncaring husband. But Madhubala, resigned to fate, was not willing to dump him. When the musician Naushad advised her to make a clean break with Kishore, she answered him with a couplet from Sheri Bhopali:
Jab Kashti saabit o saalim thi/Sahil ki tamanna kis ko thi? Ab aisi shikasta kashti par/Sahil ki tamanna kaun kare?
(When my boat was sturdy and safe/I had no thoughts of the shore/Now with a boat so ravaged/Who can dream of a shore?)

Madhubala's movies are remembered for some of the most stirring songs. Pyar kia to darna kya in Mughal-e-Azam remains the most instantly recognisable song in any recalling of her acting. There are other movies, such as the one where Bharat Bhushan croons the Rafi number, Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi wo barsaat ki raat, to Madhubala. On the stage of Mughal-e-Azam, a screen slap that Dilip Kumar's Prince Salim is supposed to land on the cheek of Madhubala's Anarkali turns into a real, hard one. Dilip and Madhubala have been falling out of love, but such a demonstration of vehemence on the part of the former leaves everyone present stunned. Poetry and realism then come together as Anarkali sings Hamen kaash tumse mohabbat na hoti/Kahani hamari haqeeqat na hoti. Akbar notes that many an eye among those watching the picturisation of the sequence grew moist at the wistful refrain.
For Indian movie buffs, this work is a good read, on a cool day that could well be a holiday.

Mrinmoyee Dutta is a movie buff and lives in Darjeeling.

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