If one was to talk about the most beautiful woman Indian cinema has ever seen, the name of Madhubala would come up on top. Though we younger generations haven’t grown up on her films, the charm has been bright enough to dazzle our eyes. Born as Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi in Delhi in 1933, Madhubala immortalised some of the industry’s most iconic songs and films. Her vibrant smile and expressive eyes added a dreamy effervescence to the screen and made sure onlookers were smitten, even decades after.
Paying tribute to the timeless beauty, New York Times featured her in its obituary section called ‘Overlooked’ on Women’s Day. The newspaper said about its section: “Since 1851, obituaries in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we are adding the stories of 15 remarkable women.”
Madhubala, with her exceptional beauty, quick stardom and tragic end, has often been compared with Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe – the NY Times piece subtitles it as “A Bollywood legend whose tragic life mirrored Marilyn Monroe’s”. Written by Aisha Khan, assistant editor at The Times, the piece pays tribute to the ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ actress.
“Besotted poets called her ‘a living Taj Mahal,’ but Madhubala’s radiant beauty was not cold or forbidding. Her dreamy eyes, vivacious smile and mischievous laughter gave her a girl-next-door appeal.” she writes.
“She died 20 years later as an icon of beauty and tragedy – her dazzling career, unhappy love life and fatal illness more dramatic than any movie she starred in,” Khan says. Madhubala was born with a hole in the heart, a defect that was detected after she started acting. She came from a humble background and entered the world of Indian cinema at the young age of 9, before being spotted by Devika Rani who mentored her into stardom. There was no looking back from then on.
Whether it was the seductive pull of ‘Aaiye Meherbaan’,
or the innocent tease of young love in ‘Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab ka’,
Madhubala managed to immortalise every shot she was part of. She was the distressed damsel of ‘Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si’, looking every inch of a goddess in her drenched saree, establishing a new Bollywood trope for mainstream cinema in the years to come.
Her infectious smile, natural beauty and easy abandon made her a people’s favourite as well as a director’s favourite. A photographer’s delight, her pictures are proof that she is still one of the most beautiful women Bollywood ever saw.
A still from ‘Mughal-e-Azam’:
© Sterling Investment Corporation
© Facebook/Madhubala. Photography by James Burke for LIFE