Touted as Bollywood's very own Marilyn Monroe, Madhubala has been ruling the hearts of billions with her breathtaking smile and ethereal beauty.
It has been 51 years since she passed away, yet, the legendary actress continues to reign as the poster queen of Bollywood, reports the Print.
The Internet has recently been flooding with the images of the silver screen beauty that were aesthetically shot by photographer James Burke for Life Magazine in 1951.
Madhubala looks brimming with life in these images, human yet enchanting, not a screen goddess but a beauty more basic and all more powerful.
That sculpted face needed no make-up but the crimson lip colour she wore in some famously shot photographs was more than just make-up. The voluminous soft shoulder-length curled hair added to the playfulness of her classic beauty.
The actress's on-screen roles were as dramatic and complex as her off-screen personality, with many layers and many stories.
Madhubala not only captured the hearts of Indian men but also of the people in the west. She was called, "The Biggest Star in the World – and she's not in Beverly Hills" in a full-page feature on Theatre Arts Magazine in 1952. Legendary director Frank Capra Jr wanted to cast her in a Hollywood film but her father wouldn't let that happen.
It's not without irony that an actor of such high calibre who successfully portrait the serious character in Amar (1954) to comic playfulness in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)— was later typecast as a tragic beauty in the wake of her death.
It's a tragedy that her role as Anarkali in K Asif's magnum opus Mughal-e-Azam (1960) came to define her life and legacy.
The transition from Mumtaz Begum to Madhubala
Madhubala, born Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi in 1933, was the first cast in the critically-acclaimed movie Basant (1942) at the age of nine. Born into an impoverished Pashtun family, the burden of earning bread and butter landed on the delicate shoulder of 'Baby Mumtaz', as she was then known. It was on the sets of Basant that she was named Madhubala, or "honey belle", by actor Devika Rani, who produced the film.
Madhubala had made a formidable name for herself after the release of Mahal in 1949. Between Neel Kamal (1947), where she played Raj Kapoor's love interest and Mahal, the 16-year-old acted in 12 other films driven by the need to keep her family afloat.
'Happiness comes first'
Madhubala was the perfect cocktail to inspire awe and a kind of voyeurism that grips anyone whose gaze happens to fall upon her. She was reticent and charming. Her quiet existence — never attending public functions, rarely giving interviews, maintaining a stringent sense of punctuality and fastidiousness to her craft — made her all the more bewitching. Her premature death at age 36 served to further exalt her to the status of a goddess, paralleled only by Marilyn Monroe.
"To be beautiful means a lot to me, but not everything. Happiness comes first," Khatija Akbar, her biographer, quoted her saying in the book I Want to Live: The Story of Madhubala.
And happiness for Madhu, as she was fondly called by her colleagues, was work. During her 22 years in the show business, she acted in 70 films.
"People tell me I ought to get married," she reportedly said in 1954. "But I am too busy right now, too much in love with my work."
Despite this, public acknowledgement for her acting skill has always been an afterthought. She never won an award, not even for Mughal-e-Azam.
Men and Mughal-e-Azam
Madhubala's performance in Mughal-e-Azam has set an indelible standard in Indian cinema.
Akbar wrote in her biography that denying Madhubala the award for best actress "cost the Filmfare awards their credibility in what was one of their worst gaffes ever".
It also resembled the arc of her love affair with Dilip Kumar, her co-star. The film, which took nearly a decade to produce saw the beginning of their romance which drove fans nothing short of crazy.
The rift between the duos couldn't hamper the performances in the decade-long production. It has been told that by the time they shot one of the most iconic (and erotic) scenes of Indian cinema — where Dilip Kumar brushes a feather across her face and leans in for a kiss — they weren't on talking terms.
Between the love of her life, her eventual husband Kishore Kumar and her father - Madhubala's life rolled faster into her impending doom and finally ended up with her untimely death.
Given the popular narrative, it's important to note heartbreak wasn't the cause of Madhubala's early demise. What caused it was a hole in the heart, diagnosed in 1954, for which at the time there was no cure.
In fact, the title of Akbar's book — something Madhubala told her sister before she passed away — is a testament to her desire to live long and work. As her health began to decline, she told her sister, "No sooner had I learned what I was doing, God said enough."
Why then, with knowledge of her impending death, did Madhubala remain so inaccessible to the world that only loved her? She was genuinely afraid of overwhelming crowds and attention. Her sisters remembered her driving them to get ice cream dressed in a burqa so she wasn't recognised.
Even writings of hers — if any — are impossible to find. Akbar, rather ironically, found that this was because she feared committing to any version of herself.
"I have got into the habit of not saying things rather than saying them and later suffering the added agony of having misrepresented myself," Akbar quotes her.
The irony is baffling. Madhubala's reclusiveness has inspired all kinds of wild rumours — one, published in an 'unofficial biography' after her death, claims Kishore Kumar kept her shackled like Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam.
In refusing to write a self-portrait, she once told Filmfare magazine: "…it is only then when you have learned to forget yourself and everything that concerns you, that you can act well…You will lie, you will paint a character about yourself and call it you. But I will not do that because I think a self-portrait is an inner picture of yourself, and in my case it has no face, no figure that can be painted on paper."