If you go and ask the magic mirror who is the fairest of them all?, the answer would be Madhubala. In absence of a mirror go ahead and ask your parents and the answer won't change. In an era where the internet was unheard of and worldwide popularity was rare, Madhubala ruled the world. Her life wasn't an easy one and her early death was incredibly tragic. Born as Mumtaz Jehan Dehlavi, she was the fifth of the eleven children born to Attaullah Khan and Ayesha Begum. The family met with a series of unfortunate circumstances which included Attaullah Khan losing his job and moving to Mumbai and their home being a casualty of a blast at the docks in Mumbai. These led the father-daughter duo to Bombay Film Studios to look for work and Mumtaz was introduced to the world of cinema at the age of 9.
She entered Bollywood as Baby Mumtaz in the movie Basant (1942). She went on to do another five movies as a child artiste before making her heroine debut in the movie Neel Kamal (1947). It was after this movie she adopted her screen name, Madhubala. Her success as an actress was quick and her beauty was not the only thing that played a part in it. Super hit movies like Mahal (1949), Dulari (1949), Beqasoor (1950), Tarana (1951) and Badal (1951) made her the queen of Bollywood during the 40's and the 50's. It was in the year 1951 when James Burke, a photographer for the Life magazine, conducted a photo shoot with Madhubala as his muse. The shoot was followed by a full page feature in Theatre Arts with the caption "The Biggest Star in the World – and she’s not in Beverly Hills" which symbolized her iconic status and worldwide popularity. This was also the time she was noticed by Hollywood and Academy Award director Frank Capra wanted her to star in his next movie. It would seem that Madhubala's stardom couldn't rise any higher but you'd be wrong.
In the year, 1960 came a movie that not only set a benchmark for all the movies after that but also increased Madhubala's popularity to a whole new level. That movie was Mughal-E-Azam. The movie starred Madhubala and Dilip Kumar as the Saleem and Anarkali in a love story that is still considered to be one among the best. Dilip Kumar and Madhubala had already worked together in movies like Tarana (1951), Sangdil (1952) and Amar (1954). Their on-screen chemistry was loved by the audience and there were day-long queues outside the theatre to buy tickets for this movie. This is also the only Bollywood movie to have been colorized and re-released. The re-release met with the same welcome as the original.
Madhubala belonged to an orthodox family and most of her decisions when it came to choosing movies were taken by her father. She was not allowed to mingle with her co-stars nor was she allowed to go for on-location shoots. Her father had not permitted her to accept Frank Capra's offer or star in Naya Daur because it required for her to go on location. Her seven-year long courtship with Dilip Kumar ended on a sour note when he resented the interference of her overbearing father. The affect on their relationship was so bad that Madhubala and Dilip Kumar were not even on speaking terms when they shot the iconic feather scene for Mughal-E-Azam. She later married Kishore Kumar. Her personal life did not affect her on-screen person but on the other hand the on screen persona shielded the audience from the pain behind the facade.
It is often said that she was ahead of her time. She learnt how to drive a car when she wasn't even a teenager. She was a private person once the camera's were off and chose not to attend premiere parties. A hole in her heart was discovered when she was shooting for Bahut Din Huwe in 1954. She continued with her commitments till her body allowed her to. After the ordeal her body went through due to the long shoots of Mughal-E-Azam, she tried to finish her other work commitments. Failing that, she tried her hand at directing but the movie was halted due to her untimely death.
Hailed as the Venus of Bollywood, Madhubala was a star that everyone aspires to be and she faced her struggles head-on with a strength we all admire.