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Madhubala

 

Upperstall profile by: Karan Bali aka TheThirdMan

Madhubala was without doubt the most beautiful Hindi Film heroine ever. And also perhaps the most underrated actress ever with her beauty attracting more attention than her performances. She was brilliant in comedy with her sense of comic timing spot on and when required she came up with performances of high dramatic calibre in Amar (1954) and the unforgettable Mughal-e-Azam (1960).

Born in abject poverty on February 14, 1933, the 5th of 11 children, Madhubala began life initially in the Hindi film world as a child star, Baby Mumtaz, in films like Bombay Talkies Basant (1942). It was Kidar Sharma who gave her a break as heroine opposite Raj Kapoor, also making his debut as leading man, in Neel Kamal (1947).

Though Madhubala did a spate of films in 1947-8 like Dil ki Rani (1947), Chittor Vijay (1947), Khubsurat Duniya (1947), Amar Prem (1948), Lal Dupatta (1948) and Parai Aag (1948), it was with the Bombay Talkies suspense thriller Mahal (1949) that Madhubala became a star. For the first time her famous looks came into focus as well as she began to blossom into the most beautiful Hindi Film heroine ever. Madhubala is spot on as the spirit that haunts Ashok Kumar bringing a haunting quality to her performance as well. What is ironic was that Madhubala was never the first choice at all. Many actresses including Suraiya were considered for the role before Madhubala was finally chosen. Today it is impossible to think of anyone but Madhubala in Mahal. In fact, Aaega Aanewala from the film remains her signature song till today!

With Mahal's success, a flurry of films followed opposite the top leading men of the day - Rehman (Pades (1950)), Dilip Kumar (Tarana (1951), Sangdil (1952)), Dev Anand (Madhubala (1950), Aaram (1951), Arman (1953)) and Premnath (Badal (1951), Saqi (1952)) but by the mid 1950s when some of her major films like Mehboob Khan's Amar (1954) flopped in spie of a fine performance by her as the woman who sacrifices her love for her fiance's wrong doing, Madhubala, the most beautiful actress in the country was declared 'box office poison!' Further, she had gotten involved with Dilip Kumar and this took its toll on her as she could not face her father's opposition of him and ultimately had to bow out of Naya Daur (1957) opposite him following a scandalous court case.

She however bounced back with a string of hits in the 1958-60 period - Phagun (1958), Howrah Bridge (1958), Kala Pani (1958), Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958) - all among her more memorable films and of course Mughal-e-Azam (1960). As the club dancer in Howrah Bridge Madhubala never looked more beautiful or alluring as she swayed to the seductive notes of Aaiye Mehrbaan. And she matched Kishore Kumar step by step in his madcap antics in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. But then she had already shown her fine flare for comedy with Guru Dutt's classic Mr and Mrs 55 (1955). However, it was Mughal-e-Azam that saw perhaps her greatest performance as the doomed courtesan Anarkali. The film showed off the finely modulated depth she could bring to her performances if given the opportunity. It is an outstanding performance in an outstanding film. Shockingly, she lost the Filmfare Award for Best Actress that year to Bina Rai for Ghunghat (1960). Incidentally, Bina Rai ahd played the tragic ourtesan earlier in the Filmistain Production Anarkali (1953).

Sadly, by now she was diagnosed as having a hole in her heart and her illness forced her to abbreviate her career. She also plunged into a loveless marriage with Kishore Kumar and lingered on for nine years till her death on Februaray 23, 1969.

She did have the odd release in this period like Passport (1961), Half Ticket (1962) and Sharabi (1964) but they were mostly old films that managed to limp towards release, Sharabi after six years. And Jwala released after her death in 1970! She did try making a comeback opposite Raj Kapoor in a film titled Chalak in 1964, which she was supposed to direct as well, but collapsed on the sets on the very first day of shooting and the film was shelved effectively ending her film career for good.

A true icon, even today the very mention of the name Madhubala conjures up the image of those dancing eyes, that crooked smile, that bubbly efferversence...





 

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