India's youngest superstar ruled box office at 16, was betrayed by boyfriend in court, abandoned by husband, died alone

This actress was Bollywood's leading star while just a teenager, but her personal life remained tragic

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India's youngest superstar ruled box office at 16, was betrayed by boyfriend in court, abandoned by husband, died alone
Madhubala during her days as a singer on All India Radio

As India was flexing itself as a newly-independent nation, its biggest film industry – Hindi cinema – was also throwing up new stars as aspirational figures for the audiences. Over the next two decades, the triumvirate of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand would dominate the theatres and people’s minds. But among the actresses, there was just one name who could rival these gents in terms of stardom. And she too, did it only briefly before heartbreak and sickness snatched her from the world.

India’s youngest superstar, who ruled Bollywood at 16

She was born Mumtaz Jehan but came to be known to her fans as Madhubala. Born in 1933 in Delhi, Madhubala and her family moved to Bombay in 1941 to enable her film career. She began work as a child artiste in films like Basant, Mumtaz Mahal, and Phoolwari. Till then, she was credited as Baby Mumtaz. In 1947, she signed her first project as a lead actress – Daulat – but it was delayed. Hence, her first release as a heroine was Neel Kamal. The film was a success and young Mumtaz signed 24 more films. Actress and producer Devika Rani then suggested her screen name Madhubala.

Madhubala in the 1960s

Between 1948 and 1949, Madhubala starred in seven huge hits, starting with Lal Dupatta, and followed by Paras, Dulari, and Singaar. But her biggest success came with Kamal Amrohi’s noir horror Mahal, opposite Ashok Kumar. The film’s stupendous success turned her into a superstar at 16. By age 20, she was the highest-paid star in India, ahead of her male counterparts. In the 50s, she appeared in some of India’s biggest films, such as Mr & Mrs 55, Kala Pani, Howrah Bridge, and Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. In 1960, she starred as Anarkali in the historical epic Mughal-e-Azam, considered India’s biggest film ever. Till her sabbatical from films in 1964 due to health reasons, Madhubala was the biggest star in Bollywood.

Madhubala’s tumultuous personal life

In the 1950s, Madhubala began a romance with Dilip Kumar, the reigning box office king of Hindi films. They were Hindi cinema’s original ‘It’ couple. But in 1957, a court case ended their relationship. Madhubala and Kumar were working in BR Chopra’s Naya Daur, but Chopra replaced her with Vyjanthimala accusing Madhubala of being unprofessional. He also sued her for damages. In the court, to Madhubala’s dismay, Dilip Kumar testified in favour of BR Chopra and against her. It ended their relationship and also any personal and professional equation between them. They continued working together on the unfinished Mughal-e-Azam but were not on talking terms.

Madhubala with Dilip Kumar

In 1958, Madhubala and Kishore Kumar began a relationship, which led to their wedding in 1960. By now, the actress had been diagnosed with an incurable ventricular septal defect in her heart. As her conditioned worsened, it took a toll on their marriage too. Kishore Kumar left Madhubala with a nurse and maid and moved out. The actress is said to have felt abandoned and returned home just two months after they had wed. Kishore only visited her occasionally after this. Madhubala died of her illness in 1969 at the age of 36. Although she was still married to Kishore at that time, he was not with her in her final moments.

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