Madhubala, born as Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi, was an Indian film actress and one of the most captivating superstars Bollywood has ever produced. Known for her beauty and sensitive portrayals of characters, she appeared in over 70 films in a variety of genres in a career spanning over two decades. However, only fifteen of her films were successful at the box office. Madhubala, who is widely remembered for playing the role of Anarkali in the critically acclaimed film ‘Mughal-e-Azam,’ was also known as the “Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood” as both shared some striking similarities: smouldering good looks, brief career, and tragic end. Born in an extremely poor family of Pathan Muslims in Delhi, Madhubala entered the world of Indian cinema at the tender age of nine. After playing a few child roles, she finally arrived on the big screen at the age of 14, when she appeared as the romantic lead opposite Raj Kapoor in the movie ‘Neel Kamal’. Often called “The Venus of Indian Cinema" and "The Beauty with Tragedy", Madhubala managed to capture millions of hearts with her beauty and talent. Her tumultuous private life also received much attention. From an uncertain relationship with Bollywood superstar Dilip Kumar to her troubled marriage with Kishore Kumar, the Indian beauty faced several hardships in her personal life. She died from a prolonged illness at 36.
Childhood & Early Life
Madhubala was born as Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi on February 14, 1933 in Delhi, British India, as the fifth of eleven children to Attaullah Khan and his wife Ayesha Begum. After her father lost his job, the family relocated to Bombay, where they endured many hardships.
Her two brothers and three sisters died at the ages between five and six. Her surviving sisters were named Altaf Kowal, Kainz Balsara, Chanchal Ibrahim, Madhur (Zahida) Bhushan and Shahida Kazi.
On 14 April 1944, the infamous dock explosion and fire incident wiped out their home. Fortunately, the family survived as they were at a local theatre to watch a film.
At a young age, Madhubala began to look out for work. She would pay frequent visits to film studios and finally got her start in the industry at the age of nine.
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Madhubala made her debut in the 1942 film ‘Basant,’ appearing in a child role. The film was a box office success and also became the highest grossing Indian movie of that year.
She then had child roles in a number of films including ‘Dhanna Bhagat’, ‘Pujari’, ‘Phoolwari’ and ‘Rajputani’. ‘Phoolwari’ was extremely successful and featured Motilal and Khursheed Bano in main roles.
Madhubala then got her first major break in 1947 when she was cast opposite Raj Kapoor in ‘Neel Kamal.’ This was the last movie in which she was credited as Mumtaz. That year, she was once again paired up with Kapoor in another romantic flick ‘Chittor Vijay’.
During 1948, the actress appeared in a number of films, all of which failed to impress the audience. However a year later, she achieved stardom when cast as the lead in Kamal Amrohi’s ‘Mahal’. Also featuring Ashok Kumar, the film was Bollywood’s first reincarnation thriller and the third hit at the box office that year.
Following the immense success of ‘Mahal,’ Madhubala appeared in another box office hit ‘Dulari.’ The romantic flick gave the hit track "Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki, Na Jaane Tum Kab Aaogi".
In the year 1950, the Indian beauty played Usha in ‘Beqasoor’, a film about a married woman who is caught in the crossfire of a sibling rivalry between her husband and her brother-in-law. That year, she also starred in ‘Hanste Aansoo’, the first ever Bollywood film to get an "A" – adults only certification.
In 1951, she had roles in the films ‘Tarana’, 'Saiyan', 'Aaram' and ‘Badal’. ‘Tarana’ featured Madhubala and Dilip Kumar together for the first time. ‘Saiyan,’ a remake of the 1946 American movie ‘Duel in the Sun,’ revolves around two brothers who fall in love with the same girl, a character played by Madhubala.
Also in 1951, Madhubala caught the interest of Hollywood when photographer James Burke photographed her for the ‘Life’ magazine and referred to her as "the biggest star" in the international industry. Soon after this, she was once again paired opposite Dilip Kumar in ‘Sangdil’. The film went on to become the seventh highest-grossing movie of that year.
In 1955, Madhubala became a producer when she came up with her project ‘Naata’ in which she also acted. The same year, she gave her first comic performance as a wealthy heiress, Anita in ‘Mr. & Mrs. '55’. The film was the fifth highest-grossing film and produced the hit songs "Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Jee" and "Thandi Hawa Kali Ghata".
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The year 1958 proved to be one of the best years of Madhubala’s career. That year, she gave plenty of hits including ‘Phagun’, ‘Kala Pani’ and ‘Howrah Bridge’. ‘Phagun’ was the sixth highest-grossing movie of that year and yielded a hit song titled "Ek Pardesi Mera Dil Le Gaya" by Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi. In ‘Howrah Bridge,’ Madhubala appeared alongside her future brother-in-law, Ashok Kumar.
She was featured in ‘Barsaat Ki Raat’ opposite Bharat Bhushan in 1960. The film became famous for its qawwali songs. The actress next had roles in ‘Jhumroo’, ‘Half Ticket’ and ‘Jwala’. ‘Jwala’ was released two years after Madhubala’s death.
In 1958, Madhubala appeared alongside her future husband Kishore Kumar in the romantic comedy ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’. The film, also featuring Kumar’s two brothers Ashok Kumar and Anoop Kumar, was the second highest grossing film of the year. Its songs "Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhagi Si", "Babu Samjho Ishaare" and "Haal Kaisa Hai Janab Ka" became immensely popular.
In 1960, Madhubala was seen in ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, an Indian epic historical drama film that marked what many consider to be her greatest characterization, as Anarkali, the doomed courtesan who falls in love with the Mughal Prince Salim (aka Emperor Jahangir).
The film ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ broke many box office records in India and went on to become the highest-grossing movie of that period. Madhubala’s performance was highly appreciated and earned her a Filmfare Award nomination—her first and only one.
Family & Personal Life
In 1954, during the shooting of ‘Bahut Din Huwe,’ Madhubala was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect. Her health deteriorated over the years. During this time, Kishore Kumar proposed to her against his family’s will and she decided to tie the knot with him after realizing that Dilip Kumar would not marry her.
The couple married in 1960. By that time, her condition had aggravated and the doctors told her that she had just two years to live. Kumar bought a flat for her in Bandra where they stayed for some time and eventually left her with a nurse and a driver. According to Madhubala's sister, Madhur Bhushan, the actor said he couldn't look after her. He would visit her once in two months.
On 23 February 1969, a few days after her 36th birthday, Madhubala breathed her last and Kishore Kumar went on to marry actress Yogeeta Bali after a few years. To date, every year on her birthday, various articles are printed and TV programs are aired to commemorate her.
On 18 March 2008, India Post issued a commemorative postage stamp featuring her in order to honor the legendary actress.
In August 2017, her statue as the famous courtesan Anarkali was unveiled at the New Delhi center of Madame Tussauds.
Madhubala was proposed to by Pradeep Kumar, Bharat Bhushan and Kishore Kumar. She eventually married Kumar, who, according to some sources, converted to Islam to marry her.