If you’re a Bollywood fan and have always been mesmerized to see women on top of Swiss mountains in colorful Sarees, just for a song, then you would most probably know that Madhubala is regarded as the most beautiful actress to appear on the silver screen from the Indian film industry.
Today, when the world talks about the legendary artist in sugar-coated words, there is a life that has always remained hidden from the public. While you can read a number of articles on Madhubala’s talent and filmography, we managed to get a letter written by her dear sister Madhur Bhushan that sheds light on what the unforgettable beauty went through in her personal life.
So, without keeping you in more suspense here is something you would love to read
“Apa first fell in love with Premnath. The relationship lasted six months. It broke on grounds of religion. He asked her to convert and she refused. The next relationship was with Dilip Kumar.
She met Bhaijan (Dilip Kumar) on the sets of Tarana. They later worked in Sangdil, Amar and Mughal-e-Azam. It was a nine-year-long affair. They even got engaged. Unki apa aayee thi, chunni lekar (his sister had come with a chunni as is the custom). Bhaijan was also a Pathan.
Contrary to reports, my father never stopped her from getting married. We already had enough money by then and were financially secure. Apa and Bhaijan looked made for each other. He’d often come home. He has even seen me in my school uniform.
He was respectful towards us children and addressed us with ‘aap’. The two would go for a drive or sit in the room and talk. The breakup with Dilip Kumar happened due to the court case during Naya Daur in the mid ’50s. The unit was to shoot somewhere in Gwalior.
During the shooting of another film Jabeen Jaleel, at the same location, a mob had attacked the women and even torn their clothes off. My father was wary and just asked that the locale be changed. It’s not that he didn’t let her go outdoors.
Apa had shot in Mahableshwar, Hyderabad and other places before. Bhaijan called my father ‘a dictator’ in court and sided with the Chopras (late BR Chopra was the director). Darare padh gayee, rishtey toot gaye (relationships were broken).
We love and respect Bhaijan but I have just one question, ‘Aapki mohabbat yahan thi, aapki chahat yahan thi, phir aapne aisa kyun kiya (why didn’t you side with your love)?’ Bhaijan could’ve simply said let’s change the location. Or remained neutral.
Apa used to cry a lot those days. They had conversations on the phone trying to patch up. He kept saying, ‘Leave your father and I’ll marry you’. She’d say, ‘I’ll marry you but just come home, say sorry and hug him”. It was zid (ego) which destroyed their love. But my father never asked her to break the engagement or ever demanded an apology from him.
Right through my childhood, Apa (as she addressed Madhubala aka Mumtaz Jahan Begum Dehalvi) remained busy shooting. Coming from a conservative Muslim family of Pathans, my father (Ataullah Khan) wasn’t keen that we study. But fortunately, I was sent to St Joseph’s Convent, Bandra.
Yes, she was the only earning member. My father worked with the Imperial Tobacco Company in Peshawar with the British. But being a Pathan he was hot-headed and self-respecting. He couldn’t bear being badly treated and lost a 15-year-old job in seconds. He brought all of us to Mumbai. Apa, who was just seven, had talent; she could sing and dance. So she did her first film Basant as a child actor. She remained the earning member till the last.
All that we are today, we owe it all to her. Abba (father) was a disciplinarian. Apa had to begin shooting at 9 am. At 6 pm, the car would be sent to the studio and she’d be brought home. My father never went to the studio. He was not difficult as is believed.
He was disciplined and insisted on punctuality. That was what she imbibed too. Once she was to shoot at Ranjit Studio. But there were heavy rains. Abba said, ‘You must go; your name shouldn’t be tarnished’. Those days Ranjit Studio was a 15-minute drive from our home in Bandra.
But it took her an hour and a half to reach. The gates were locked. No one had turned up. She waited for half an hour and returned.
What do I say of her beauty? The fact that she’s spoken about even 42 years after she passed away is proof enough.
We suffered from a complex when we stood beside her. Being Pathans we were all tall, fair and had long hair. But none of us sisters looked like her. Our mother was short. We had taken after our father. But we weren’t a patch on Apa. She loved wearing plain white sarees.
At home she’d wear maxis. She loved mogras in her hair. She was fond of gold and kundan jewelry. She was also fond of sher-o-shayri (poetry) as she knew a bit of Urdu. An English tutor also came home to teach her. She loved eating chaat — ragda pattice, pani puri — and kulfi.
She’d never diet. Those days actresses were healthy women, not size zero! She’d drive all of us to Chowpatty in her imported cars, Hillman, Buick and Station Wagon. But she’d wear a burqa to hide her identity. When she’d be pulled up by the traffic police for that, she’d plead,
‘Please let me wear it or else I’ll get mobbed’. She even went to watch movies in a burqa. Apa became a craze because she was never seen in public. She wasn’t allowed to attend any function, any premiere.
She had no friends. But she never resisted, she was obedient. Being protective, my father earned the reputation of being domineering. He was asked why he’d made her join films in the first place. He’d say
‘I had 12 children. We would’ve starved to death. I’ve lost my sons who could’ve been my support’.
Apa was emotional by nature. She’d be in tears in seconds. We’d keep wondering what had happened. And she’d laugh easily too. The moment she began laughing, she couldn’t stop. So that day’s shooting had to be canceled!
She wasn’t religious but was God fearing. She didn’t fast but prayed once a day. On the rebound Apa got involved with Kishore Kumar who was going through a divorce with Ruma Devi Guha Thakurta (actor-singer). What attracted her to Kishore?
Maybe it was his singing or maybe his ability to make her laugh. Their love affair went on for three years through Chalti Ka Naam Gadi and Half Ticket. They got married in 1960, when she was 27. After marriage, they flew to London where the doctor told her she had only two years to live. After that Kishore left her at our house saying, ‘I can’t look after her. I’m on outdoors often’. But she wanted to be with him. He’d visit her once in two months though. Maybe he wanted to detach himself from her so that the final separation wouldn’t hurt.
But he never abused her as was reported. He bore her medical expenses. They remained married for nine years. The hole in her heart (ventricular septal defect) was detected when she was shooting for SS Vasan’s Chalak in Madras 1954.
She had vomited blood. She was advised bed rest for three months but continued working as her films would suffer. While shooting for Mughal-e-Azam she was tied with chains and had to walk around with them. That was stressful. By the end of the day, her hands would turn blue.
She’d even refuse food saying that she had to look anguished and weary for the jail scenes. The ‘feather scene’ between her and Bhaijan (considered the most romantic in Hindi cinema) was shot after the breakup. Due to her ailment, her body would produce extra blood.
So it would spill out from the nose and mouth. The doctor would come home and extract bottles of blood. She also suffered from pulmonary pressure of the lungs. She coughed all the time. Every four to five hours she had to be given oxygen or else would get breathless.
She was confined to bed for nine years and was reduced to just bones and skin. She’d keep crying
‘Mujhe zinda rehna hai, mujhe marna nahin hai, doctor kab ilaaj nikalenge (I want to live, I don’t want to die, wonder when the doctors will find a cure).
During her last days, I was suffering from chickenpox and so was advised to stay away from her. But when the doctor said that she was sinking, I rushed up to see her. But she had passed away (February 23, 1969). She was only 36 to my 19.
Though Bhaijan never visited her when she was unwell, he flew down from Madras to pay his last respects at the Kabrastan (cemetery). Food was sent from his home to ours for three days (as is the custom).
I remember when Bhaijan married Saira Banu, Apa was sad because she loved him. She’d say, ‘Unke naseeb mein woh (Saira Banu) thi, main nahin’. But she’d also say, ‘He’s got married to a very pretty girl. She’s so devoted. I’m very happy for him’. But a vacuum remained in her heart. A few years back her tomb was demolished as it was in a Wahabi (a Muslim sect that doesn’t allow building of tombs) cemetery.
They wiped away the last memories of a legend.