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Madhubala – ‘The Venus of the Indian Screen’


Madhubala born as Mumtaz Jahan Dehlavi on 14 February 1933 was one of the most enduring legends of Indian cinema known as the ‘Venus of the Indian Screen’ for her beauty. She acted in over 70 films in a very short tenure despite suffering from an acute heart problem which sadly took her life at the young age of 36.

Pushed to work in films to support her big family at the age of 9, Madhubala entered films as baby Mumtaz, with Bombay Talkie’s Basant (1942). She did several films as a child artiste and at the age of 14 was cast as heroine in Neelkamal (1947) opposite Raj Kapoor.  Actress Devika Rani Co founder of Bombay Talkies gave her the screen name ‘Madhubala”.  At the age of 16 she achieved stardom in 1949 with Bombay Talkie’s Mahal. However, to secure her family financially, her father made her accept any film offered, causing her credibility as an actress to be compromised, something she later regretted. Her 1950 film Hanste Aansoo was the first Hindi film to get an “A” – adults only – rating from the Central Board of Film Certification.

In 1950 Madhubala was diagnosed to have been born with a ventricular septal defect, or ‘hole in the heart’ for which there was no treatment then. She hid her illness from the film industry but in 1954, while filming she vomited blood. In spite of her terminal illness she continued to work throughout the 1950s and in mid 50’s had a row of mega hits like Howrah Bridge, Kaala Paani , and Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.

The historic epic film Mughal-e-Azam is considered to be her greatest characterization as the doomed courtesan Anarkali. Mughal-e-Azam which took 10 years to make was released in 1960, and became the biggest grossing film at that time, a record that went unbroken for 15 years until the release of Sholay in 1975. It still ranks second in the list of all time box-office hits of Indian cinema. In 2004 a digital-colorized version of Mughal-e-Azam was released, 35 years after Madhubala’s death.

Ironically born on Valentine’s Day, Madhubala is said to have had several relationships, her most famous was the five-year romance with actor Dilip Kumar. The star lovers not only broke-up but actually testified against each other in court when producer-director B.R. Chopra took Madhubala and her father to court for breach of promise. She is also said to have been involved with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who later became Pakistan’s Prime Minister. She eventually married actor-singer Kishore Kumar in 1960 after he divorced his wife Ruma Guha Thakurta. Within a month of her wedding she moved back to her bungalow due to tension in the marriage. They remained married, but under strain, for the rest of her life.

In 1960, her health suddenly deteriorated and was taken to London for treatment. Doctors refused to operate on her, as it was risky and even if they operate according to them she would survive only for a year. Knowing her death was imminent she returned to India, but lived a further 9 years.  At this time she was at the peak of her career with back-to-back mega hits Mughal-e-Azam and Barsaat Ki Raat, but unfortunately she could not accept any new films or even complete her existing ones and was confined to her bed for 9 years.  In 1966, she tried to work again in films with Chalak opposite Raj Kapoor but during filming, her frail health caused her to collapse and the film remained incomplete. Knowing she could not act again she was set to make her directorial debut but during pre-production she finally succumbed to her illness and died on 23 February 1969 shortly after her 36th birthday.  Madubala, had a scandalous life, with many secrets, which no one will never know as her father buried her along with her diary keeping her secrets safe with her.