“When you have forgotten yourself, what can you tell people about yourself?” once said Madhubala, the tragedy queen of Indian cinema.
The New York Times recently featured Madhubala in their obituary section, recollecting her tragic yet beautiful life. The segment titled ‘Overlooked’ paid tribute to 14 other remarkable women like Sylvia Plath, Ada Lovelace, and Margaret Abbott.
The segment said, “Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we are adding the stories of 15 remarkable women.” Madhubala was compared to Marilyn Monroe in the section as she was referred to as a “Bollywood legend whose tragic life mirrored Marilyn Monroe’s.”
Originally named Mumtaz Begum, Madhubala debuted in the Indian cinema at the young age of 9 as she became the only earning member of a large family. The article says, “Her dazzling career, unhappy love life and fatal illness more dramatic than any movie she starred in.” Her life was indeed more dramatic than all of the movies that she starred in. She was a problem child and while she had it easy she never had it happy.
“Asked once to describe herself, Madhubala said she was so young when she entered the “maze” of the film industry — she made her debut at 9 — that she had lost herself,” rightly remarks the article. Madhubala was sucked into the dazzling world of cinema so early and so fast that she had to compromise her vision as she lost a sense of self.
Madhubala had a talent so natural and so unique that while her style was recognized it never got rewarded. The article says, “Unlike other actresses of her time, she wasn’t typecast. Her natural, understated acting style brought her equal success in serious social dramas like “Amar” (Eternal) and in lighthearted comedies and period pieces.”
Madhubala was a star in the truest sense and owing to her porcelain beauty and charismatic persona she was soon a well-known name throughout the world. “Madhubala’s movies also hit abroad, even in faraway places like Greece. Theater Arts, a New York magazine published from 1916 to 1964, called her the biggest star in the world.”
“She lived a far more liberal lifestyle than most Indian women, with romance itself an act of subversion in a conservative society.” Madhubala was a woman way ahead of her time both in the way she worked and in the way she lived. This probably is an answer to why she never got an award despite being widely appreciated. “Despite her success and the breadth of her work, Madhubala’s acting skills were still underappreciated. She never won any awards, even for her biggest hits.” And probably this was the tragic part of her life. She performed but was never rewarded, she loved but never got the same love back.
She met Dilip Kumar on the sets of Jwar Bhata (1944), and their relationship began two years later while shooting Tarana (1951). They had a 9-year long relationship during which they even got engaged. But things turned sour as the ego reared its ugly head. Unfortunately, the problems began when Dilip Kumar had a spat with her father that broke the two apart. Dilip asked her to choose between her father or him, and the obedient daughter who even went to her sets following her father’s schedule couldn’t abandon her family.
“Yet, a scene when Salim caresses Anarkali’s face with a feather is considered one of the most erotic in Indian cinema. But by the time the scene was filmed (the movie took about a decade to make), the two were long estranged, according to Kumar.” This ironically was the essence of Madhubala’s life, as illustrious, it seemed on the silver screen it had a tendency of verging on the grey in real life. While life gave her all the fame and success she ever asked for, it always kept her devoid of inner peace.
The article goes on to discuss the next big tragedy of her life. “She was born with a ventricular septal defect, a hole in her heart, diagnosed after she began working. There was no treatment for her condition, and she continued her punishing pace, completing more than 70 films in her short career. She told a friend: ‘No sooner had I learned what I was doing, God said, ‘Enough.’ ”
When she met Kishore Kumar he was well aware of her medical condition. “In 1960, the year “Mughal-e-Azam” was finally released, she married her frequent co-star Kishore Kumar, a talented singer. While their pairing in a string of comedies was cinema gold, offscreen the two were quickly estranged.” At a time when people questioned Madhubala for choosing Kishore, it was he who deserted her. While they remained married for 9 years until her death, he bore her medical expenses but was never around her when she was suffering and needed him the most.
“In her final days, according to her sister, Madhubala would say: ‘I want to live. Please God, let me live.’ She died on Feb. 23, 1969, nine days after her 36th birthday.” She had a lot of life to live, a lot of things to do and a happy love to find when she was on her deathbed. She, however, did the fatal mistake of asking God to let her live. Like always God gave her what he thought was right for her and not what she deemed fit for herself; a peaceful eternal sleep!
Looking at her life, now in this age, I wonder had she lived how much more would she have suffered? I don’t know. Maybe it was a cruel cosmic joke projected towards everyone as a life lesson through a person that so many knew. One thing I am certainly sure about though- the fact that she might be an actress of yore but she would remain a star forever.
H/T: The New York Times