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The unknown side of Madhubala

What set me off on this one was a phone call from an old friend who too has had the misfortune to be a bureaucrat. He made enquiries about my operation and then came over. The fifteen-minute formality stretched to two hours. My friend lives in Noida and we go back a very long way. In our service there was a rumour that he had known the famous actor of yesteryears, Madhubala, when they were both kids.  It was even rumored that every year in February, he made a trip to Mumbai, placed a rose on Madhubala’s grave and read a “kasida”. The rose it seems symbolized a gift Madhubala made to him before she left her Chandni Chowk house in Delhi for the glitz of Mumbai. She was then eleven and my friend was her neighbour. Now with both him and me in retirement and he having come with five kilos of assorted fruits, I took courage to confront him about the rumour. Imagine my surprise when he said that it was true. My natural response was “Begum ko Maloom Tha”. (Did your wife know?). He said of course she knew and she never objected. My friend told me most of what follows, barring chronological references. After I heard him out I did feel that the stuff deserved a wider audience. And let me add. My friend is clued on fifties films and music but insists that I have a better knowledge. His “forte “ is Urdu shairi. In fact he began answers to my impudent questions with one.

                 “Khat Ka Mazmoon Mujhe nahin yaad hai

                   Bus Itna Yaad Hai Ki Peshani khoon Se Likhi Thi”

I do not remember the contents of the letter. All I recall is that the heading was written in blood.

              In early forties Ataullah Khan, Madhubala’s father was working for the Imperial Tobacco Company in Delhi. He had a foul temper and one day had a fight with his English boss. He lost his job, and with a family of wife and five daughters, was in dire financial straits. My friend says that a Muslim mendicant had advised the family to seek their fortunes in Bombay and had even predicted a great future for the third and by far the most beautiful of the daughters then known as Mumtaz. The same mendicant had told my friend’s father that he should not go to Pakistan. His son would have a bright future in India. Mumtaz had given my friend a rose and the latter had put in the pages of a book. It remained there for over twenty years before it was lost. Within two years Madhubala was dead. Once in 1962, he went to Bombay, but did not try to contact Madhubala or send her any gift. In fact Madhubala had been told that my friend and his parents had gone to Pakistan and she believed the story. When he passed the IAS, he wanted to tell Madhubala, but her secretary deflected him. He had too much of the IAS in him at the time to make another effort.

            For one whole  year in Bombay, Ataullah Khan struggled. The family lived in a cowshed in Malad. In the famous film of the times  “Basant” directed by Amiya Chakravarty and starring Mumtaz Shanti, Baby Mumtaz got a small role as a child artist. Mumtaz did make an impression and was hired on Rupees Three Hundred a month, which was huge money for Ataullah. His job in Delhi had paid him only Rs. 150.00. A flat in Andheri replaced the cowshed in Malad. Between 1942 and 1945 there were five more films as a child star, Dhanna Bhagat, Mumtaz Mahal, Pujari, Phulwari and Rajputani. All films were done for Ranjit Movietone where Kidar Sharma was working.  Bombay Talkies paid her regularly but did not give her a role. Her mother complained. “Khan Sahib, Manjhali (the middle one) ab Badi ho gayi hai. Baby waale Role nahin karegi Koi Bade ka role dilao”. Kidar Sharma had already decided on casting her for Neel Kamal, which was to have a new face for the hero-Raj Kapoor.

          Devika Rani changed her name from Mumtaz to Madhubala when the latter grew up.  She had also changed a Muslim actor’s name to Dilip Kumar and the two names were to clash gloriously in more senses than one in due course. Before Neel Kamal came out, another Director had stolen Madhubala from Kedar Sharma. This was Mohan Sinha, who made the first “adult” film of Madhubala, “Chittorvijay” in 1947.This too had Raj Kapoor as her hero. Mohan Sinha made four films with Madhubala, the others being Dil Ki Rani, Khubsurat Duniya and Mere Bhagwan. Then came Neel Kamal in late 1947. The movies were all forgettable but by then as the sole breadwinner in a family of seven, Madhubala had become wise beyond her years. She got both Mohan Sinha and Kedar Sharma to dance to her tune and she used them shamelessly. She may or may not have had an affair with Mohan Sinha but with Kedar Sharma she certainly did. He cast her in “Neki Badi” with himself as the hero. It was a thoroughly forgettable film, and only showed how foolish Kedar Sharma could be. Madhubala was noticed by contrast. Madhubala at that point had not a care in the world. She had her thirty thousand for three months work and was now living in Peddar Road. Later at her death bed Madhubala got a piece of poetry written specially for her by Kedar Sharma who did not have the courage to bring it himself. “Radha Ko Na Sataa Shyam Pachtayega, Nain Chalak Aaye to Goverdhan Baha Jaayega”  (Do Not Tease Radha Oh Shyam, If she starts weeping, the whole of Goverdhan will be washed off) After seven films as an adult Madhubala had got past two lovers, and learnt the ways of Bollywood. It is said that her father exercised iron control on her, but that is industry gossip. Most producers knew how to get round the Dad. He got ten percent commission on the money paid to Madhubala. She never knew and only found out after Mughal-e-Azam was released. Madhubala had the freedom to sign new contracts and once they were signed, she let the impression prevail that he called the shots. Also two things must be said for Madhubala. She had not been to school but through teachers provided by the producers she learnt Urdu and English. She spoke English in later years as if she had majored in that language. Her Urdu of course was faultless. And she could act. There was little doubt about that. She also knew how men could be handled or possibly manipulated, in a profession that was completely male dominated.

     .  Now Bombay Talkies began taking an interest in her or rather Kamal Amrohi did. The movie “Mahal” had been conceived and he was searching for an ethereal beauty to play the main role since the heroine frequently came on the screen, gave a glimpse of herself and then disappeared. She was heard more often. Kamaal Amrohi chose Madhubala over Suraiya. Ashok Kumar agreed and Suraiya and Madhubala became sworn enemies. “Mahal” became a runaway success and Madhubala now commanded a fee of one lakh. She had also acquired her third admirer in Kamaal Amrohi but he wanted a second wife and she insisted that he divorce his first. He refused and that romance got buried six months after Mahal was complete.

         If you see the film “Mahal” today it will seem dated. Allahabad viewers will also fault it for the fact that it puts the High Court near George Town. In 1948 however it shot through the box office. Much has been written about it and we shall not spend time here. Let me just say that, according to my friend, the success of this film, made Madhubala very secure and she even challenged her father often times in the studio itself. After Mahal came “Badal”. She was now attracted towards Prem Nath but Ataullah let it be known that he saw no percentage here. Madhubala was disgusted and told her older sister Kaneeza that Abbu was shameless and lived off her hard work. At the age of twelve she had coughed on the sets of “Phoolwari” and out came a litre of blood. She was hospitalized and the immediate symptoms were arrested but the prognosis was clear. There was a hole in her heart that would not admit of surgical intrusion. Heart surgery was unknown in 1944. The day after she came back home, Ataullah Khan only said drink your milk and let us go for shooting. Heartless, mean, money minded, she told him there and then that she was not ready yet and would rest for a week. How does my friend know all this? He says his back channel was Kaneeza, the elder sister of Madhubala. The fact that she had fallen ill was also a closely guarded secret and it came out only in 1957 that she had an incurable heart disease. Earlier when shooting Bahut Din Huwe in Madras she had fainted and SS Vasan had her taken to the hospital. There they told him the terrible truth, but Ataullah and Madhubala prevailed on him to keep the matter a secret. He never told anyone, and the public had to wait until 1957, i.e. after “Naya Daur” was released. A lesser person would have been crushed but Madhubala went on shooting. Some scenes for Mughal-e-Azam were done when she was in breaking health, (see the film closely and it would be clear). Palliatives helped her to get through “Kalapani and a few other films. Mughal-e-Azam was more difficult since Asif the perfectionist did reshoot the same scene a dozen times and it told on our heroine.

          We must get back to the chronology. After Mahal Madhubala did eight films in 1949 all hits in some measure or the other. However Dulari, Singaar and Imtihan stand out. She was rated above Suraiya and Kamini Kaushal. The love life of both had taken a toss.  Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar respectively, were the culprits on paper. The real culprits were in fact Kamini Kaushal’s brother in the Army and Suraiya’s grand mother. They both had the same reason. You must not marry outside your religion. When the two faced the “Grahan” Madhubala moved into the vacated space.  She had learnt to play the game but not get involved in it. She was like the cricketer who would get a hundred in one match and claim that he was not available for the match next weekend. Also she defined feminine beauty. She had a genial side too. Her mother had become pregnant and there were complications. This was in 1946 and the family was still hard up. At that time Ratibhai Shah, Chandulal Shah’s nephew gave her two thousand rupees. Her mother survived. Our heroine did a movie for Ratibhai in 1950 absolutely free, when her fee was one lakh. They did return favours in those days. Madhubala also got into controversies. East Pakistan refugees were flooding into India and she donated Rs 50,000 at a public function attended by Morarji Desai. Film Industry Muslims in those days were in two camps and one camp did not like what she had done. Hers was a humanitarian gesture but they claimed that her donation as a Muslim was showing all Muslims in bad light. It made for some deliberate bad press and it taught her a second lesson, or rather her father learnt one. Keep your mouth shut before the press and make sure you have dedicated friends in the press who get the nuggets.

            The dashing hero, Premnath her costar in “Badal” was also her lover for a while. Then Dilip Kumar took over for a grand affair that went on for seven years. This was as catastrophic for Ataullah as it was for Madhubala. Ataullah considered Dilip Kumar the son of a fruit seller, a low choice for the daughter of a real Pathan. Also here there was more chance of a marriage coming through and that meant the breadwinner would be gone. My friend says that with Madhubala the problem was something else. She was really in love with Dilip Kumar from day one but she knew that her future was anything but certain. She did not want to subject Dilip Kumar to the pain of widower hood and she also did not want to lose him. So it all went on as an affair.  When Uran Khatola was being made with Dilip as the hero, Madhubala could not be taken and Nimmi was. She was the first one to stumble on to the fact that her hero was already involved. She kept her mouth shut. Madhubala confessed to Kalidas Batabyal (he made Adalat with Nargis and Pradeep Kumar and was his brother) who directed her in “Police “ (1958) what her real problem was.  Dilip the persistent lover had asked for her earlier in “Tarana”. Thereafter he made sure that he always had a film with her on the floor, and that did not include Mughal-e-Azam. We had Sangdil, 1952) and Amar (1954) Madhubala never tried to outshine Dilip Kumar. She let her good looks do everything. When K.Asif introduced her as Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam, he made her a sculptor’s imagination, getting her to come out of a statue. Dilip Kumar also persuaded BR Chopra to sign her for “Naya Daur” and then he proposed marriage. She backed off. She knew she was ill but Dilip Kumar did not and he thought she was messing around with him. He broke off the affair and that left Madhubala even more depressed. The common story is that after nine reels Madhubala walked out of the film, as her father opposed outdoor shooting. This is not the whole truth, which is that as Dilip Kumar was not pursuing her and she did not want to be in the film. Doctors also told her that outdoor dust might precipitate things. Neither reason could be publicly admitted. Chopra filed a case. The moment Dilip Kumar took the stand and admitted that he had been in love with Madhubala, the case was settled out of court. Still Mughal-e-Azam was on the floor and had to be finished. For Dilip it was a disaster. He lost Madhubala and Asif the rake managed to seduce his own sister.

           Ataullah Khan had lost his control on Madhubala and with that on all his daughters. Only one the fifth Shahida married a genuine Muslim Vijay Kumar who was the younger brother of Johnny Walker. He brought a lot of bad luck by producing bad films for Ataullah Khan. The oldest Kaneeza married one Balsara a Parsi. The second Altaf Jahan also married a Parsi, Homi Kotwal. Chanchal the fourth first married SK Prabhakar the writer-director. He died after five years and this time she married a Muslim, named Ibrahim who was not close to the industry. The youngest Zahida married a Hindu, Brij Bhushan. Among those who have listened to and still do listen to classical music, this name is fairly well known. Madhu of course married Kishore Kumar, but she did get him to convert and get the name Abdul Karim. Later he married her a second time under Hindu rites.

         After the Naya Daur case, using the statement of Dilip Kumar, Madhubala filed a breach of promise suit against Dilip Kumar. This was in another court and this case too ended after seven months. My friend says that at this point Madhubala had told Dilip Kumar that she had a heart problem and did not expect to live long. That the case had been filed only to detract producers who were suspecting her illness and not signing pictures. Dilip had replied that he understood and the matter was then dropped. The bottom line probably is that Madhubala wanted to continue the affair without marriage but Dilip was not willing. The general view is that one has to understand Madhubala to understand all this. A young beautiful woman desirable but afflicted with a heart problem. Thinking in such cases is often lopsided. Most people believe that, her marriage to Kishor Kumar was a farce and to day Bollywood does not even talk about it.  Prior to marrying him, Madhubala also had small inconsequential affairs with Bharat Bhushan and Pradeep Kumar.

        Ataullah Khan had money and gambled on horses. He lost and Latif says that when she made “Sharabi” in 1964, she used to go by bus from Bandra to Andheri for shooting. Five cars in the family had all been sold and it is said that in the last days, it was Dilip Kumar who helped out the family with a stipend until Kishore married Madhubala. Madhubala made 66 films as an adult between 1947 and 1971. The best remembered are Mughal-e-Azam, Mahal, Mr and Mrs ’55, Amar, Tarana, Sangdil, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Dulari, Kalapani, Barsaat Ki Raat, Howrah Bridge Aaram, and Badal. The coincidence is that each of these films had outstanding music. The ones that failed at the box office failed because of poor music. She stepped into adult roles at the age of sixteen and died at the age of 35, on 23/2/69. At her deathbed (Kishore Kumar her husband was absent) she is said to have quoted an Urdu couplet

             Jab Kashti Sabit-o-Salim Thee, Sahil Ki Tamanna kisko Thee

             Ab Aisi Shikasta Kashti par Sahil Ki Tamanna kaun Kare’

When the ship was in good shape, who thought about the coast? Now when the ship is broken down who can hanker for the coast. 

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