If the name Madhubala stands for boundless beauty, it also stands for limitless pain. But few could see the other side of the face that continues to be the ultimate parameter of beauty in Bollywood. When others of her era have been long forgotten, Madhubala's posters graced with her mischievous smile can still be found jostling with Aishwarya Rai and Katrina Kaif at the roadside vendor. Similarly the Internet is brimming with wallpaper options with her face.
“Her face is a rare combination of innocence and mischief. You could never predict when one will give way to the other,” says Sushila Kumari, who has revisited the painful side of Madhubala's journey in her biography, “Madhubala – Dard Ka Safar”.
The seasoned writer says people were so mesmerised by her beauty that they never cared for the actress. “Nobody appreciated her performance. She never won an award. She was even ignored for her performance as Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam.” It was Bina Rai who walked away with the Best Actress trophy at the Filmfare Awards that year for an average performance in Ghoonghat.
Sushila agrees things could have been different had she gone on to do “Naya Daur” opposite Dilip Kumar. Talk of the film opens the tormented personal life of the actress, who started as a child artiste to help her impoverished family make ends meet.
“Her father was a disciplinarian Pathan, who didn't want his daughter to mingle with her co-stars. She was not allowed to go for on-location shoots. When she was signed for Naya Daur, she was deeply in love with Dilip Kumar. But Kumar had a condition that she has to leave her family and work after marriage. Her father feared this prospect as she was the sole earning member and hence didn't allow her to go for the on-location shoot of the B.R. Chopra film. Things went to court, where it is said that Dilip Kumar accepted his love for the actress, but Madhubala could not cut her links with her family and hence the two parted ways on an acrimonious note.”
But rumour mills are abuzz about her affairs with director Kidar Sharma, Kamal Amrohi, Premnath and even Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. “See, all these were one-sided expressions of love by men who were besotted by her beauty. Even Shammi Kapoor is said to have evinced interest. She was bubbly and at times used to greet her co-stars with a rose. Some used to take it otherwise. Bhutto was a frequent visitor on the sets of Mughal-e-Azam.”
Working in pain
Despite all this attention, nobody cared that Madhubala was suffering from congenital heart disease. “She kept working in pain. Neither her father, nor her so-called benefactors understood her problem. When her husband Kishore Kumar took her to London it was already too late.”
Sushila says Madhubala's tie-up with Kishore Kumar was a marriage of convenience. It never worked. “Madhubala apparently wanted to show Dilip Kumar that she can marry anybody. Kishore Kumar was the antithesis of everything Dilip Kumar stood for. Kishore Kumar was going through bad times and wanted some financial security by marrying Madhubala. However, when he realised her medical condition, he lost interest in her.”
Sushila calls Madubala's story a reminder for all those girls and parents who are blinded by the glamour world. “It shows what it takes to be successful in this heartless world. When Filmfare magazine approached some big stars to write a self-portrait, only Madhubala refused. She said when she has lost herself how can she write about herself. She is only living a character from childhood.”