Rasheeda Bhagat

Madhubala's timeless beauty

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on December 14, 2011

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The Story of Madhubala captures the fascinating persona of this yesteryear queen of the silver screen, portraying all the romance and heartache, the joie de vivre and despair that characterised her all-too-short life.

When the publishers of the book — Hay House India — sent the customary alert about its forthcoming publications, a senior colleague in Business Line, Delhi, put it very eloquently in his short and succinct response to me: “ Madhubala… hai marjawa”.

Well if the stunning beauty of this yesteryear's queen… her bewitching eyes, mischievous glances, dazzling smile, glowing skin, natural look unburdened by make-up and a matchless, timeless sensuous persona…could have a magic effect on me, a woman, my colleague in Delhi is, after all, a mere male!

The book in question is The Story of Madhubala written by Khatija Akbar, and I hastily asked for a review copy. Mention Madhubala and what immediately comes to mind is the magic chemistry between her and Dilip Kumar, the Salim and Anarkali of Mughal-e-Azam. Though, thanks to her father Ataullah Khan's cussedness, the two never got married.

Before Mughal-e-Azam came Tarana, where Dilip and Madhubala were cast together. Says the author, “the aura of intimate, unalloyed happiness has never been captured as effectively in any film before or since, as it was when with a simple flick of one finger, Dilip Kumar pushed a stray lock of hair away from Madhubala's face, gazed into her eyes and forgot to look away”!

Her sister Madhur Bhushan adds that, in every scene of the film, romance was “played out at its heart-searing best. It was a professional association that was waiting to turn the page and become much, much more. They were made for each other. What a pair!”

In 1992, Ms Akbar decided to write a book on Madhubala, but very little authentic research material was available to her in the form of exhaustive interviews or in-depth articles. The strictness of her father, the reclusive lifestyle of the star and the young age at which she died — she was only 36 — in 1969, made the book a daunting task.

Dilip Kumar's take

Also, many people close to her had passed away, and she found it impossible to get an appointment with the man whose input was invaluable for her venture. On Dilip Kumar the common refrain was “He will not speak on Madhubala”. But she persisted, and with help from Dilip's brother Ahsan Khan, finally got a promise of 10 minutes, which stretched to 45!

When she began by saying she wouldn't delve into ‘controversies” Dilip Kumar said: “There were no controversies. There were straight decisions taken on moral and common sense grounds.”

On the woman he had once loved so passionately he said she had “great star aura” and fans thronged for no other star outside the studios as “they did for Madhu… her personality was vivacious.” Describing her as an “excellent artiste with a lot of versatility” he added: “She had an obsession about her work. The aptitude and flair were there from the beginning.”

So who was his favourite star, she asked?

“There was a pause, and he replied: ‘Meena and Madhu'”. When the author gushed that Madhubala was her all-time favourite, Dilip smiled and said: “You are in good company”.

Pure star value

Academy Awards veteran and Hollywood director Frank Capra, once in Bombay for an international film festival, was keen to meet Madhubala, but the reclusive star stayed away from all the meets to honour him.

When B.K.Karanjia went to interview him with a copy of his magazine Movie Times, where Madhubala was on cover, Capra exclaimed: “Good God! Who is this girl? Is she really as beautiful?” Seeking a lunch meeting at the Taj, he said he could give her an opening in Hollywood.

When an excited Karanjia conveyed this message to Ataullah Khan, the dragon father, who put such severe restrictions on his star daughter's movements, dismissed the whole thing saying she couldn't eat with “forks and knives”!

A director's delight, the star was extremely punctual; after a morning walk on the seashore at 5 a.m, she would ring up Premnath at 6 a.m. and urge him not to miss his game of tennis and often reached the studios before the director or producer arrived.

Effect on co-stars

In one article Filmindia magazine joked: “With the time-conscious Madhubala reaching the studios at 9 a.m. sharp, Mehboob has to pass through the pain of going early with all his technicians. They all come yawning and wake up Dilip Kumar who sleeps in the studio these days to be in time for his heroine.”

When Shammi Kapoor first saw her, he found it impossible to take his eyes off her. Enraptured, flustered and lost, he said he was so nervous to work with her he'd forget his dialogues. “When I looked at her, I was lost and tongue-tied. She had that effect on me. She knew it too, she could see it and she helped me gradually. In no time at all, I was in love. I said it then and I still maintain I have never seen a more beautiful woman; such perfection of face, form and skin, she was almost ethereal”.

You can't think of Madhubala without recalling her portrayal of that incredible melody “ Accha ji mein haari chalo maan jao na” from Kala Pani. Whether romance, sensuality or raw sex appeal, she could convey it all through her eyes.

Says the author: “Unalloyed and pure, her beauty belongs to every age. Its only parallel in the film world can perhaps be found in Marilyn Monroe.”

But her book, which describes how the Madhubala-Dilip romance came to nought, breaking the already fragile and sick heart of the actress, leaves you with a sense of immense loss and deep sadness.

In her quest of discovery, Ms Akbar found no disillusioning facts or unsavoury truths. “No dark secrets, no skeletons in cupboards, no horror tales of drunkenness or mean habits. Only human failings. It was not easy to come to terms with the reality of Madhubala's increasing suffering and helplessness. One felt it was all so wrong. The beauty, adoration and fame had come with a very heavy price attached.”

And yet her beauty has proved to be timeless. Shashi Kapoor calls her “the sexiest woman I've ever seen” and adds: “I recently saw Mughal-e-Azam and she once again succeeded in destroying me totally. It's a fatal attraction, its not just sexiness but that tremendous quality of projecting love.

Her eyes spoke volumes. Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan have gone on record of being smitten with Madhubala.

So my Delhi colleague is in great company… hai marjawa indeed!

(Response may be sent to rasheeda@thehindu.co.in and bllfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

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Published on May 31, 2011
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